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F*ck Your Dreams.


When I was in high school, I had a dream: I wanted to work in international Relations. Doing what, I couldn’t tell you, but it sounded prestigious and cool, and I wanted to travel — so often, our adolescent/college dreams involve as much travel as possible, no matter how impractical. And this dream, my future-International-Relations-self, has effectively controlled my life for the past nine years.

I went to college with a plan that I’ve over-simplified into five steps:

  • Go to a small college in the city. This would allow me to make close connections with my professors for the purpose of “networking,” as well as access more opportunities for jobs.
  • Major in something I loved, not necessarily something “useful.” The rationale for this was that I would get a kickass GPA, which would serve as the icing on my résumé cake, instead of the actual cake, which was reserved for…
  • Internships. I would pad my résumé with internships so that I would be one step ahead of the people who listed “Vice President of the Knitting Club” as work experience. (Side note, everyone who was on the board of the Knitting Club has been much more successful in their professional life than I have.)
  • Upon graduation, I would get a job two months out of college at a non-profit organization in the Boston area, focusing on “international development,” which sounded both interesting and prestigious.
  • I would move into the city a few months after my start date, meet a boy, and live an interesting life of travel and Doing Good.

I knew this was improbable. But as everyone who has seen a meme says: If you try hard enough and dream big enough, you can do anything. Of course, as anyone reading this with the benefit of some adult life can see, there was a gaping flaw: I did not account for the complete randomness and coldness of the universe. The universe doesn’t care how hard I try, and it couldn’t care less about my dreams — not just me, of course, but pretty much anyone who has dreams. I assumed if I tried hard enough, things would work themselves out. I was wrong.

Now, I’m five years out of college, and the only answer I can give to someone who asks me how my career is going is ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. (And this isn’t to say that I think I have it particularly bad on the scale of the world’s problems, or even millennial post-grad problems, but it was still enough to feel utterly defeated about.)

And I’ve spent the past five years being bitter about this, which has manifested itself in clinical depression, no confidence, and a career that is going nowhere. I felt left behind, stupid, and incomplete, because I am nothing like how I imagined myself when I was in high school. I felt like I failed my younger self.

Like many desperate people, I looked to YouTube for advice. And then one day I came across this video (not a TED talk) of a speech called “Fuck Your Dreams.” I suggest watching it before continuing, but to summarize: You might not want what you thought you wanted. You have no obligation to your former self. Fuck your dreams.

This seems like bad advice. It seems like you’re walking on a path, and the path diverges into a million other paths, and they all lead to a dark unknown, so you just stay at the junction for the rest of your life, because each way is more terrifying than the last.

But given all the experience I’ve had with my own dreams, and how they can transform (and utterly fall apart) even if you are doing everything “the right way,” maybe he’s right. For so long, I’ve been hung up on this arbitrary image I had of myself when I was in high school that I haven’t even bothered to explore other passions that I didn’t have back then — things like yoga, beer, cooking, personal finance, writing. I was putting on hold the person I was becoming to cling onto a hope of the person I thought I’d become.

Instead of embracing the things that were wonderful about my current self and life, I felt an irrational obligation to teenage me, who had questionable decision-making skills and bad taste. I owned dozens of butterfly clips. Why would I ever let that person be in control?

Having dreams is important. They are especially important when you’re in high school and college, because they give direction and purpose in a time filled with nothing but change. But when you’re an “adult” like I am, holding on too hard to a dream can get in the way of living your life.

So, fuck your dreams.

I am a person who contains multitudes. Multitudes that are every bit as deserving as my professional life. Multitudes that remind me that I. Am. Not. My. Job., and that there are other paths, interests, and pleasures out there for me to enjoy. I hold no obligation to my former self, and neither do you.

Fuck your dreams. Freeing? And how!

There’s a line in The Great Gatsby where the main character, Nick, describes Tom Buchanan as “one of those men who reach such an acute limited excellence at twenty-one that everything afterward savors of anti-climax.” I don’t want to be a Tom Buchanan.

I won’t lie and say that I no longer consider myself a failure. But I’m making a mantra of “fuck your dreams.” Life is mostly trial, with lots of error. Do not limit the idea of yourself to what you believed when you were eight. I wasted years doing just that. I’m done. There are too many craft beers out there to try.

Jackie is a recovering worrier and dreams of being a freelance writer. She is on Twitter and Instagram (and YouTube!).

Image via Pexels

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  • Etinosa

    Loved this piece. I once came across a quote on tumblr [ikr] that said “don’t give “do what you love” advice to people living “do what you must” lives” and that’s always stuck with me for some reason.

    • This is my favorite piece that has been written about that very topic.

      • Etinosa

        There are SO many great quotes from this article, I’m pulling all my faves here:
        -“According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient.”
        -“Under the DWYL credo, labor that is done out of motives or needs other than love (which is, in fact, most labor) is not only demeaned but erased.”
        -“emotionally satisfying work is still work, and acknowledging it as such doesn’t undermine it in any way.”
        -“Women are supposed to do work because they are natural nurturers and are eager to please; after all they’ve been doing uncompensated childcare, elder care, and housework since time immemorial. And talking money is unladylike anyway.” [[HA!]]
        Thank you for sending me the link. It basically vocalized everything I’ve been ruminating on since I saw that quote.

  • dylansdream

    i can definitely relate to this. for the longest time i was sure i wanted to be a photographer. i even got a degree in it, luckily i live in a country with free education so the degree didn’t end up being waste of money. not that it was necessarily a waste of time either, i learned great technical & computer skills and met great people and got to do exciting things (like live in a small island in Estonia while doing a course on nature photography).

    but it was also really hard to admit to myself when after graduation i slowly realized, that being a photographer was nothing like i thought it would be and that although i still have the passion for the art, i had zero interest in the career aspect of it. i worked as an assistant to some really great photographers for awhile, did some freelance work and even applied to study more photography abroad. eventually i admitted to myself that this was not the career for me. luckily i realized this before i accepted an offer to study abroad (since that was going to be a ridiculous financial choice given that as i said, education in my country is free).

    now i’m studying at university, about to finish my BA and going into my Masters in English & International Relations. i have very vague idea what i want to do once i graduate (doesn’t mean i’m not focused & or not gathering valuable experiences). and i like it that way. i was so set on one thing once and it took me so long to admit i didn’t like the path i had chosen, now i’m trying to go more with the flow, while at the same time attempting to acquire useful skills considering my future job (or dare i say it, career).

    love this post. thanks for it!

  • Court E. Thompson

    Loved all of this. I went through the same stuff around 25-27: full-on quarter life crisis. It gets better on the other side when you let yourself be who you are rather than who you think you should be. Cheers!

  • McKenzie Rainey

    Jackie, as someone who also got a degree in International Relations and then realized that being a diplomat comes with a prerequisite of an international background (and some luck) this article really hits home. I didn’t nurture passions and things I was good at when I was younger (like writing and graphic design) either, because I thought a BA was the only appropriate route, and striving for something ‘harder’ made me a better person. Sometimes holding onto the dream that you had when you were younger can hinder you from realizing the things that you are good at now!

  • chelster759

    I think realizing the things you thought you wanted or enjoyed might not actually be what you want, and enjoying experiences you didn’t think you’d like or discovering new passions, is a big part of becoming an adult. I recently listed to a podcast with Dax Shepard that stuck with me. From his past experiences with addiction and even being totally surprised by how much he enjoyed working on a tv show, he realized that he had no idea what he actually liked and what was best for him. What struck me was how completely he embraced that idea and how freeing it was. I think it’s hard to know what we’ll like or want until we’re actually doing the thing, especially with careers, so the best we can do is try explore our options and take life as it comes.

    • Vv

      This is spot-on (or at least feels spot on as I just recently realized that I have no intention of ever moving on in my current career) but not sure my next step is the right one. Going to try the “do it first and see” method before freaking out about not knowing if my plan B is the right one!

  • Erin Marie

    If you are going to invoke the advice of Hank Green you should probably mention him in the article.

    • Jackie Onorato

      I did, check the youtube link.

      • Erin Marie

        As I said, I meant mention his name in the article, which you did not do. Then people will know who to credit the idea to even if they do not click the link.

        • Jackie Onorato

          I’ll email the editors to ask. I interpreted your initial comment as thinking I stole the idea. I am a huge admirer of Hank Green. This speech was an enlightening moment for me and I wanted to pay tribute to it.

          • Erin Marie

            I should have been more clear in my initial comment. I enjoyed the piece.

          • Jackie Onorato

            A+! Polite internet discourse! Would discuss again! 😉

      • I think the OP meant that there no explicit mention of Hank Green’s name in the article specifically. You say: “And then one day I came across this video (not a TED talk) of a speech called “Fuck Your Dreams.”” You could have said “And then one day I came across this video (not a TED talk) of a speech Hank Green gave called “Fuck Your Dreams.”

        I was also pleasantly surprised that you linked to a Hank Green video, and I loved this article in general. : )

  • “You have no obligation to your former self” is excellent advice. Present & future self (plus those we care about and those affected by our actions) is where it’s at. Tough, but crucial, to remember.

  • Christine L.

    After a D on a midterm wrecked me for over a week last semester, I made an astonishing discovery about myself – I don’t actually want to go to graduate school, which means I didn’t have to keep killing myself to get the perfect GPA. Fuck your dreams indeed. New dreams are born every day, and we aren’t beholden to the old ones.