Is “Follow Your Dreams” A Bunch of BS?

You know, I get lot of “follow-your-dreams” style questions around here. Should I or shouldn’t I? Usually there’s a money issue involved; otherwise, why wouldn’t you follow your dreams?

Unfortunately, it seems few of us “dream” of jobs that pay a truckload of money, are easy to get and easy to do. I guess that’s because there aren’t any. That leaves us with three basic types of “dream job”:

1) Those that pay big bucks and are very rewarding, but require LOTS of advanced knowledge and study that you may or may not be able to hack. You know, brain surgery, rocket science, heart surgery, inventing the cure for cancer — that type of thing.

2) Those that pay big bucks and are lots of fun, and DON’T require any advanced knowledge per the above — and because of that are so overcrowded with competition that any one person’s odds of making it are very slim. Here, I’m talking about actors, models, rock stars, rappers, etc.

3) Those that are extremely enjoyable, satisfying and fulfilling, but pay shit. This is the biggest group. I’m sure we could put our heads together and list thousands of these, but let’s stick with: teaching, religion, writing, art, dance, community service. Basically, most things that involve foregoing a profit motive in order to directly help people who need it — poor people, sick people, kids, etc. If you want to do any of that stuff, big bucks are probably not in your future (although there are exceptions, and I hope you’re one of them).

A lot of the advice you hear on this site (sometimes from me, but more often from the community of commenters) is to follow those dreams, whatever they are. Sometimes doing so pays off, but other times, it just leads to a lot of — well, broken dreams. And when Adrian wrote me the note below, that got me to thinking: Is the whole “follow your dreams” thing a good idea to preach, or is it just setting you up for pain and disillusionment later on? First, though, I’ll let Adrian talk:

First of all, I really appreciate your daily advice. Here’s my situation. I want to become a medical missionary, maybe through getting a master’s degree in public health.

Cool. You could probably be a medical missionary without that degree, too, if you wanted. Just sayin’, if cost is a factor.

However, my real passion lies in music composition and recording. My grandma tells me that pursuing music isn’t practical, though, and that to make a living I need to pursue something else (she’s also against me becoming a missionary).

Grandma sounds like a real downer, although I get where she’s coming from. She doesn’t want to see you starve. Parents and grandparents have been telling their kids that music isn’t practical for eons. Then again, if everyone listened, there’d be no rock, metal, hip-hop, jazz, blues, country, electronica, or — well, you get the picture.

My grandparents have convinced me that I should try to save up enough money to pay for school without falling into debt. So right now I’m trying to find work in medical coding and billing, which, by their suggestion, I became certified in through a couple correspondence courses (through the U.S. Career Institute).

If you’re even a semi-regular around this site, you know that I’m all about keeping student loan debt to a minimum. But it’s a rare person who can get through an entire college education with ZERO debt. Like most double-edged swords in life, if you must use debt, moderation is the key. Should you rack up $120,000 in loans for a private school’s Master’s in Public Health program? Probably not. But should you turn down any opportunity for educational advancement because you don’t have the full tuition bill sitting in your checking account right now? No, that’s even worse, I think.

So far I haven’t had much luck, even with offering my services as just a volunteer. I’m sure part of it is in the fact that I live in a part of Oregon that (at least a few months ago) had the second highest unemployment rate in the nation and the fact that we’re in a recession. Even if I do find work, it seems like it would take me forever to earn enough to pay for school.

Hey, buddy -- who wakes up next to Angelina Jolie, me or you? That's what I thought.

Well, if medical coding is a skill that you can’t even give away for free, then it’s not a good fallback for you. You’re better off waiting tables or working at McDonald’s, because even in ridiculously high-tax, economically-ravaged Oregon, people still have to eat. And you still need money!

So I’m stuck between avoiding student debts and being stuck potentially at getting by with a minimum wage job. I’m honing my music skills in my free time, learning what I need to know to do what I have a passion for. I’m itching to go back to college (I’ve already done some general study) where I can be a college student again, but don’t want to fall into debt, but don’t want to have to wait forever to earn enough money to avoid the debt, even if I can get a job where I can save up that much money.

Adrian : )

Without much more than minimum-wage skills, you’ll never be able to save the money a person would need to pre-pay for college. That’s just not going to happen. My best advice to you on the schooling front is to enter a community college and start knocking out your general-education requirements. Community college is a great place to do that for the lowest possible price. (You may also find fellow musicians, fans, potential groupies, etc., there).

I do think you probably need to choose, though, whether your top priority is the medical missionary work or music (and just for the record, what specifically are we talking about with regard to music? Composing? Electric-guitar shredding? Managing up-and-coming Pacific Northwestern rappers?). Not that you can’t work toward both of them, but educationally speaking, they’re divergent paths.

While you’re figuring that out, keep your debt load as low as possible by doing general courses at a community college and working. That’ll probably take you a year or two, and by then, you’ll have had time to look into the possibilities for medical missionary-ing or whatever your music interests are, and take the next steps are toward them.

Yeah, so back to the whole issue of whether telling someone to follow his/her dreams is B.S. You know, it seems obvious to me that there’s a superior answer to this question 95% of the time, and it goes like this:

Follow your dreams, but have a backup plan. Surely someone’s told you this along the line, right? If not, then your trusted advisors have done you wrong.

The backup plan is key. Failing to emphasize a practical backup career and instead blindly telling people to follow their dreams at all costs and “everything will work itself out” is the worst kind of malpractice from anyone in a trusted-advisor role (and I’m specifically talking about counselors, parents, grandparents, etc.). It’s what people say who are too lazy to help you think through your real options, and in that case, you need to find new advisors.

Now,  if the person who tells you that has a secret stash of millions waiting to bail you out if you fall flat on your face after investing your life in your dream career.

But seriously, I have very little patience for people who abuse their roles as trusted advisors by glossing over the sometimes-harsh realities of life. For instance, you may decide to study dance, become a dancer, then come home to your old hometown and open a successful dance studio that makes you very happy and satisfied, which is exactly what my friend Andrea Muehl did in my town.

Or, you may decide to study dance, incur a lot of student loans to get your dance degree, not get many dancing gigs, decide it’s too hard, and end up working at a Nordstrom makeup counter your whole life to make your ungodly student loan payments, regretting what might’ve been had you made different choices.

Both of these things are entirely possible. Your advisors owe it to you to present you with both scenarios before you make up your mind. You are a big boy/girl. You can handle it.

If you’re going to chase your dreams, you also should realize as EARLY as possible the things you may have to give up in order to achieve them. To stick with the dancing example, don’t confuse “realizing my dream as a professional dancer” with “realizing my dream as a professional dancer AND having every material possession and freedom that all of my other friends with better-paying and more-flexible jobs have.” They are not the same thing, trust me.

Long story short: you may have to give up a lot of things that other people take for granted in order to live the dream. Are you willing to do it? Are you willing to rent a shabby apartment in a rough neighborhood while your friends are buying their first (or maybe even second) home? Are you willing to drive a 14-year-old car long after your friends with a steady salary have new ones? Are you willing to finish a hard day of work at the job you love — to go work another 5 hours at a part-time job you hate, just to pay the bills?

These are the REAL questions you have to ask yourself before jumping off the “follow your dreams” cliff. If you’re willing to tackle those risks and consequences, then you’re ready to follow your dreams. If not, you may want to re-think them.

Having said all that, you need to hear this true story:

There was a dude who went to the same school as I did, the University of Missouri School of Journalism, a few years before I did. He was a good student, apparently, but get this — THREE WEEKS before graduation, he decided to ditch his education, packed up everything and moved to Hollywood to try acting. I’m serious. Three weeks before graduation.

If that guy wrote me today, I’d have told him that he was beyond lunacy. What difference would three weeks make? If he could make it in Hollywood right now, he could make it three weeks from now, right? Right.

Turns out that dude was Brad Pitt. And despite him completely ignoring the advice I would’ve given him, he’s done OK for himself. 🙂

Take all that for what it’s worth, and let me know what you think in the comments section below.

29 thoughts on “Is “Follow Your Dreams” A Bunch of BS?”

  1. @Amanda – Confidence and knowing the right people are both skills/resources that any one can have with enough hard work. 🙂 It just takes guts.

  2. Claireanne Rementilla

    Great article. Usually I just skim these but I decided to really read through this one because it tugged on something inside me. I’m 18, just finished my first year at college. One of my good friends dropped out. I was sad to see him go but to be completely honest with you, I saw in him more motivation and passion than I see in more than half of those zombies walking around campus. So many kids have to put up with so much bullshit just to get where they want to be, whether that’s finally getting their hands on their six figure paycheck or playing with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. I have a friend in NYU who is going through the pre-med program NOT for pre-med, but for general research in stem cells. However, he told me that out of his giant lecture halls of hundreds upon hundreds of students, he and only a few others were the only ones there NOT pursuing a medical field. He said that they literally have blinders on, only looking at their monetary goal, slaving away at the work that they probably hate, miserable at that. I knew from a very early age that I wanted to travel and I wanted to write. My dream is to be a travel journalist and photographer. Yes, I know, this is one of the jobs under type #3. After a year in college i’ve realized that virtually NO ONE wants to start from the ground up anymore. I hear parents urging their children to “graduate and already start earning at least $60,000 a year!” Not saying that’s a bad thing, but is that what they really want to do?

    Life is short and after certain events, it was reaffirmed to me again. I hate to dampen the party but recently there was a suicide in my dormitory. He was a first year, great boy with good intentions and a caring personality. His parents forced him to go for dentistry but his heart belonged to music and performance. Of course there were more factors in this but my point is that there is A LOT of pressure on kids. We as human beings have probably 80-100 years of life only. There is so much to see in this world, so many people to meet, so many foods to tastes and smiles to see and I honestly will live like a monk on bread and water if I have to. If I have to never own a nice car or a big house just so I can travel and see the world and experience beautiful things that I can appreciate when i’m not on my 2 weeks out of the year vacation time, i’ll do it in a heartbeat. What is important to you? What do you want to look back on when you’re lying on your deathbed?

    I know this is long but I just want to answer that last rhetorical question. A friend asked me that and I had to think about it for a while. I then told her that I envision myself on a meager bed with a projector screen set up in front of me. All I want is to see a slide show of photographs of all the places i’ve been, all the people i’ve met and touched, all the foods i’ve tasted, all the breathtaking views and beautiful memories and I know, I know with all my heart i’d be happy. Even if I died dirt poor and I had all of that to look back on, i’d be happy. I’d know that my short existence on this earth was worth living–and dying for.

    I’m only putting up with college just so I have the degree, just in case. College is my back up plan, actually. Thanks for listening.

  3. Great advice from the judge as usual. I have two cents to add that I only learned AFTER making mistakes.

    In my experience there were two types of people: the ones who were wanted the life they could achieve with a job and the people who felt their life would be unbearable without a great job to pair with the rest. Now I think it’s sweet that you’re considering your grandparents suggestions. But you have to choose what you can reasonably do to support yourself. Also, you’d have to pick a career aim, look for schools that offer it, and find the cheapest price available before you can even start saving. You’ll be making more to pay that back quicker after college than before. Course this all depends on your families socioeconomic status with aid and scholarships to begin with.

    Now, if you decide to go the school route there are options. I know it’s not what a lot of students imagine but several students work part-time while in school or take classes part-time while working full time. Then you can pay off your interest. Plus, community service after work can get you money or even get you some loan forgiveness. While in school you’ll be eligible for more grants and you’ll be getting experiences that will also help you to decide what you truly want to do.

    However, don’t forget that we have a bad economy right now. Your better off getting an education that makes you feel secure applying to several different jobs. Volunteer your butt off if you have a very straightforward degree aim. Experience breeds confidence.

    Employers today love getting employees who can do more than is expected from them. Imagine getting a secretary who is also a banging web designer. It’s two job positions for the price of one and you know she can work on the website when she’s not working on secretary stuff, which means she’s always working and your getting a bargain for your buck. So while you’re young get in whatever you can so you’ll stay competitive out there.

    Being a musician can give you really great skills and self-selling points for interviews. You could potentially be artistic, extroverted, animated, entertaining, unique, talented, good at public speaking, adventurous, a positive risk-taker, motivated, driven, and a number of other strengths. Do you have a band or are you planning to go solo? Those are things to figure out. Persistence is key in anything that is competitive. That and networking. I’d record some music and bring it to someone in the music business who is somewhere on the bottom of the totem pole and not as busy. See if your grandparents are being honest or just worry warts. Maybe you sound generically classic and you don’t have a new sound. Or maybe you give a fresh new outlook that will guarantee you results. That feedback can help you make up your mind.

    So I’d make a list of pros and cons to start with. Why do you want to be a musician and why do you want to be a missionary? What the the benefits? What are the risks or problems? Are there people who know you who could vouch for the strengths you already have that make you a good candidate for those jobs? This is important because even after education you have to be able to confidently explain your passion and explain why you chose it.

    Oh yeah and research college student savings alternatives. Get some budgeting skills. These are great ways to penny pinch. Don’t live in the overinflated on campus dorms. Trust me.

    Remember, if you love both concentrations, you can always make the focus your major and the less appealing your minor. I have many musician friends who play gigs on the side as their part-time work. They sell shirts, cds, and have their own entourage in the area. That’s a good way to try on professional musicianship. In school you can take music theory or something.

    By the way, we could always use more social workers. I find missionary type people would be great with that kind of degree. Best of luck to you!

  4. Following your dreams or not, keeping your options open to any opportunity is also a big key to success. For example, I’ve known too many people who have set their mind on being animators at Pixar, and because they where only set on working for ” Pixar” they closed their mind to other opportunities that came their way…opportunities that are a lot more realistic and in all honesty, a lot more worth while and enjoyable careers then working at pixar.

  5. I was really anxious to read your advice on this “follow your dreams” issue because I have found myself in a situation that I was not expecting and definitely looking for answers. Except, I didn’t get them….see I have a “dream” of becoming a physician (good pay/hard work) with a backup plan of becoming a pharmacist (also good pay/hard work.) I appied for a government scholarship that would pay for tuition and supply a monthly stipend in exchange for working in an medically underserved area (also a goal of mine.) I was told by my coordinator (person that answers all questions concerning the application) that no matter which health prof. I applied and received acceptance for, I could always declare a change of major later. Meaning, I could apply as a pre-pharm student (it was a little easier to get than pre-med because they fund less of them) and after one year in the program, I could change my mind if necessary. And that is exactly what I did, HOWEVER, the same year I was accepted they changed the rules, and now, if you want to change health prof. majors, you have to re-compete as a new applicant=no guarentees! My plan from the beginning was to get B.S. in Biology, apply to both med school and pharmacy school and see where the chips fall, so to speak, and let the admission boards be the final decision maker. But with the new rules I am faced with the following dilemma: “Follow my dream” and re-complete for the pre-med scholarship while giving up a pharmacy school scholarship that has alway been my “backup plan” OR say forget med school and take what I have been given and run with it. It may seem like an obvious answer but I am not seeing it BECAUSE of my dream. I keep thinking that if I don’t even TRY to apply to med school 20 years from now I will be a frustrated pharmacist filled with regret 🙁 How sad. Just a side note-I have been a certified pharmacy tech in a hospital for the last 17 years and have seen both the good and bad side to both professions. Help? Any advice is greatly appreciated! Sincerely, Stacie

  6. Counselor Buddy

    One of my hardest jobs is that bit of ‘reality counseling’ that involves getting students to look at the nitty-gritty of their career aspirations (amount of education needed versus prospective job market and salary, their ability to handle the course load required to obtain their desired degree, etc.). Students tend to have a hard time listening when they aren’t getting the answers they want to hear. But I think that to sugar-coat and not open their eyes to the [sometimes] harsh reality is doing the students an enormous disservice.

    On the flip side, I think I tend to rely too heavily on the practical and forget that sometimes people who follow their *wild* dreams certainly are successful and reap the benefits of taking the risk.

  7. I think the first thing you need to do is to seriously assess your strengths, and weaknesses, and the pros and cons of each career path. It is nice that you’re considering the thoughts and feelings of others, but when it comes down to it, you will be the one with the debt, the degree, and actually pursuing the career!

    I actually started as a music major at a community college a few years ago, and have been working full-time the whole time so I can save money for my university transfer and be self-supporting (I wouldn’t suggest working full-time and doing school full-time for everyone, but I did it because I had to). I’ve learned so much about music theory, harmonization, choral singing, have bettered my vocal technique and have built up a LOT more self-confidence. I’ve also had the opportunity to meet a lot of talented musicians and interesting people with all kinds of life experiences. However, I’m very aware that the well-paying jobs in music are few and far between – and while I may be a well-trained singer, I realize I’m not the best out there and that it’s VERY competitive. One thing that I feel I learned too late is just how important piano skills are for all music careers – solo careers, education, producing music for others, accompanying others and for advanced music theory. Music schools, record companies, school districts and even private students are looking for people who can sightread well, play piano well, sing decently in a choral setting, and you have brownie points if you can play another instrument (or a second instrument if you’re major is already an instrument – i.e. you can play both the saxophone and trumpet well). Also, I’m not saying this is the case for you, but many people don’t realize just how much work being a music major is! You need to be practicing etudes, hymns and other songs on the piano – both in class/lessons and for hours outside of that time. If you sing, you have to practice for HOURS outside of your lesson/class. For music theory, you have to take the time to play out the chords and make sure you fully understand the concepts and how they’re applied (I’ve found discussing them with other students makes it a lot easier). You need to understand and memorize why music from different areas and time periods is different. You will need to participate in ensembles, and for extra experience may want to participate outside of school in smaller ensembles and productions. You also have to keep up with your academic non-music classes. Your days will be long, busy, exhausting… but fun! =) It can be done though! I’ve done well – but at the end of the last 2.5 years, I’ve just realized it wasn’t for me (and I’ve realized this at the community college level, where my tuition has been free!). Now I’m a Parks & Recreation management major! High paying-jobs are also slim in this field, but I know I will have a blast while helping the community, and that I will have a wider range of careers I can pursue once college is done. And I can still do music in my freetime! =)

    You can always do music outside of an academic setting, too or instead! If you already have the equipment to do it, record a couple of tracks, setup a website (even a music myspace, as those websites are becoming acceptable means for showcasing and networking) and see how people respond! Invite friends and musicians alike to offer their critique, and listen to them. Find out what you need to work on. In this sense, you can still pursue a medical career, and keep music as something you enjoy – though you will probably earn little to no money doing it.

    As for being a medical missionary… hats off to you! That takes a lot of work and dedication. If you do decide to go that route, you would have the medical degree which I’m you could fall back on (maybe not in Oregon – but even now if you’re willing to move, I always see positions open on CareerBuilder for medical billing coders here in the Palm Springs area!). And I don’t know all of the specifics – but if you obtain your degree than join the peace corps for a couple of years after, I think you’re able to have a portion of your debt forgiven and help less fortunate people all over the world (and you’d be a shoe-in with your medical degree)! Americorps also does a similar thing if you want to stay in this country (they even pay a small wage/allowance).

    Sorry to ramble – hope I helped a bit! =)

  8. I think the great misconception of young people (myself included) is that dreams have to be realized right now or just after college. If you live to an average age and let’s say you’re 20 now, you have 60 years ahead of you. I think it would be worth investing a little time in something that can support you now so that your dream can be realized later.

    The cool thing about community college is that they often offer career-giving certificates that still count toward your degree and general studies. For instance since you are interested in the medical field you could get certified as an MA. They are in HUGE demand by doctor’s offices becaus they are cheaper to hire than RN’s ect.

    Plus don’t fall into the trap of thinking that college is the ONLY way to develop your talent. I think it’s great you are developing your skills by yourself. I think it shows that you are a self motivated person who is willing to do what she has to do. That being said college is one of the best places, but I only mean don’t limit yourself to it. Don’t be afraid to look outside the box if you have to.

    I assume by aspiring to be a missionary you are religious so that last bit I would encourage you is to pray and ask God for wisdom. “He gives (wisdom) to all liberally and without finding fault.” James 1 He made you with your dreams and desires. He also made you with your talents and gifts. He has a plan for you and loves you very much. 🙂 I pray that you have success.

  9. I think it is absolutely great advice. It gives people hope. But do many people get to make those dreams successful? Not unless you have money, confidence and/or know the right people. Some people are deprived of all those. How are they supposed to make their dreams come true? Just a question.

  10. I originally went into undergrad with the intention of getting a Ph.D in Sociology. Towards the end of my junior year I realized that although I loved Sociology I wouldn’t be happy being a Sociologist. So I finished school and decided to hold off a year on my Masters. After doing a lot of soul searching and being totally honest with myself I decided I wanted to go to film school for my masters. I knew I would regret it for the rest of my life if I at least didn’t try. So I applied to film school and I was accepted. I’m now entering my 3rd year of a MFA program. I’ve consistently gotten opportunities and jobs since I decided to enter this field. I’m not saying I make a lot of money, but I do get work. And my income will steadily increase as I gain more experience. More importantly I’m doing what I loved. I can tell you one thing I have no regrets whatsoever. There are a lot of ways to make money as an artist and they might not be clear cut on paper. Sometimes you won’t realize how many different ways there are to make an income until you explore an industry.
    My advice, if your anything like me and you know that if you didn’t follow your dreams you would regret it for the rest of your life you should do it.

  11. Josh,
    I am so glad you posted this blog about following up your dreams or not. I have been thinking about it now that I am on summer break until next semester and I wonder if I made the wrong decision going into architecture instead of doing just like my sister (RN in just 18 months and making $30 an hour) I even posted a comment on one of your blogs asking any advice about those of us going out there in 2 years with at least $50k in student loans and no prospective jobs in sight. Through this blog, I actually find the answer. “Follow your dreams, but have a backup plan” This sounds simple but I never thought it could be the answer to my constant worries.
    Now I am a 31 year old undergrad in architecture who 2 years ago decided to drop her full-time job of almost 5 years, move to another state, to continue her lifelong dream of becoming an architect. I returned the keys of my 1 bedroom apt, kissed my family goodbye and moved to a new state where I knew no one. Now, let me remind you that 2 years ago is when the economy started to be really bad and if you had a job, you better pray that you will still have it by the end of the year.
    Now going to school with a bunch of 18, 19 year old kids is not fun. You realize how far back you went and how crazy you are to do what I did. It is however, a learning experience.
    Long story short, do I ever regret what I did? No. Am I afraid of what will happen to me once I graduate? YOU BETCHA. How do I deal with this? Well I have my plan B. My plan B consists of having 2 resumes: one that I send to architectural firms and a second one where I accentuate my transferrable skills specially those that I learned from working for 5 years as an assistant event coordinator. I figurred one of those would get me somewhere. Now, if I get the archie job, it is HEAVEN, my dream really becomes reality. However, if it does not happen, I will accept the other job but still keeping my eye on finding that archie job. In the meantime, I have to live, drink, sleep, eat, and pay those student loans.
    I figured, I AM living my dream. I got to move to one of the most beautiful cities in the US and I have learned so much here, more that I thought I could ever learned. I met people, learned from people, places, culture, you name it. It would be nice to be able to take all of this and find a job where you can put it at work and even learn more. I however it may not happen straight out of college. I might have to work outside of my “dream” career before I can get it, hence the 2nd resume.
    This may seem a little “simplistiic” to some but I am a firm believer of plan B especially after looking at what is going on right now with the economy. Sorry for being so long but I felt I needed to elaborate.
    Thank you again Josh.

  12. If you never have a dream that what is life about, those who die with the most win? You have to have a dream and it is a good idea to have a dream job instead of having to go to a place of work that you hate. Who wants to spent the majority of their lives somewhere they can’t stand to be and worse than that have to pay thousands of dollars to get a degree so that they can work in that pit.
    I think that we all have some dreams that we can make it a hobby or wait until later in life to pursue, but when we stop dreaming we only exists and there is more to life than that. I want to live and enjoy my life. I only get one chance and why is money so important anyway. I can be rich and miserable or enjoy time with friends and family and learn to live within my means. Why do people have to chase the money when it only leads to more problems. I would love to have the best of all the worlds but this is not utopia, this is reality. Reality says we work to support our families not to become the next millionare. We should learn to relax and find happiness. That is the meaning of life not dying with the most. When we spend our lives accumulating things we just leave problems for our children. Why would we want them to fight over stuff that they really don’t want when what they really want are parent to love, laugh and show them what the real meaning of life is.

  13. In my pragmatically- biased opinion, fine art and music have no place alongside other fields in higher education because they are essentially leisure activities in which very few people can find full-time employment after their training. By offering such majors at state-funded institutions, in particular, we are essentially sending the message to average-Joe college kids that “Yes, you CAN follow your dream to become a painter or cello player”, and it seems many kids interpret this as “I can make a living doing what I love because State U. offers a major in that area”. Logically, it makes sense that kids would think this because why would the state fund educational programs that do not yield employable graduates? In other words, why would the state devote resources to academic programs that don’t, in turn, pragmatically benefit society in some way? Well, I think it’s because that’s just the way it has always been… for some reason we’ve always treated music and fine art like necessary ACADEMIC fields even though they are not. This is an unfortunate and irresponsible fleecing of taxpayers and prospective artists/musicians alike because we both lose in the end. We, as taxpayers, get to fund people (albeit a select few) to sit around painting and playing music all day at State U.; and the rest of the kids who want so badly to have such a leisurely lifestyle take out loans to get the validation they are looking for, but ultimately end up failing to find sustainable employment in their area. Worse yet, they are stuck with the college bills, but have no real way to pay them back on their fast-food worker wage.

    I can already imagine the protests along the lines of “artists and musicians ARE needed in society!” and “how can you say art and music are LEISURE activities!?” In response to these protests (probably coming from people who appreciate art and music), I would first ask “how many job postings have you come across for ‘artists and cello players needed’?”, and “what are the percentage of fine art/music graduates that find fulltime employment in art/music following graduation?” Assuming the answer is “not many” or “none”, then there’s your evidence that society doesn’t really NEED them. And then I’d ask “would artists/musicians still paint/play their instrument if nobody paid them to do it?”, and if the answer is “yes” (which it is), then this is evidence that art/music is a leisure activity. Think about it: if painting pictures and jamming on an instrument was actually a sustainable life ambition, wouldn’t almost everyone choose this path? I know I would. But not to fear, art/music lovers!… the fact that people WILL do it without being paid is a testament to the fact that art and music will always be around, regardless of whether or not it is packaged as a legitimate field of study in state-funded higher education.

    Anyway, in response to today’s posting, I do believe “follow your dream” can be a bunch of hooey, but not necessarily. If your dream is to pursue a career that is sorely needed by society (as evidenced by the availability of jobs in that field), then by all means, follow your dream. However, if your dream is to pursue a career that is NOT sorely needed by the greater society (e.g., painters, musicians, etc.), it’s probably not going to work out how you’d like, and you’ll be stuck paying back your college debt on a 7-11 worker salary. Pursue your dream to work in public health, and do your music gig on the side in the evenings (e.g., open mic night at your favorite coffee shop or bar). That way, you will have an occupation that actually supports a decent lifestyle, AND you can contribute a much-needed service to society. Who knows… maybe you’ll still get lucky at open mic night and land that sweet record deal you’ve always dreamed about.

  14. WOAH! that Bradd Pitt piece has sent a shockwave to my brain that is going to last a couple of hours. Very informative piece. =)

  15. “Follow your dreams” is actually pretty important, but yes, it has to be done with calculation and thought – no cliff diving on this one. I live with a dream following success story….

    My boyfriend, Matthew, knew he wanted to be an animator and work in film. Fresh out of high school the guy goes to Art Institute and graduates with a degree in animation. The man hasn’t had a “real job” in his life. His first job out of college? Working for Fox as a colorist on the movie Titan AE. (Don’t remember the movie? Who cares!!?? He got PAID to color cartoons….that’s the coolest thing ever).

    To this day, he has friends who work in music, film, graphic design, web design. Has made good money too. Owns his own graphic design firm that he started before even turning 30. Bastard.

    Me? My dream was to be a skydiving videographer/stunt woman while doing modeling/acting jobs for extra cash. Genius right? I was a skydiver for a short time…not very good at it, tho….even shot some video…got to do a little modeling. but my dream fell short after realizing I wasn’t making any money at the skydiving thing…and I was too short and my skin was too tempermental to let me model. Now I’m pursuing law school and I live pissed off everyday listening to my boyfriend brag about his awesome life while I pretend to not be jealous ….. Call me a jerk but its hard knowing I get to push paper around for the rest of my life while I watch that guy do exactly what he wants. But I’m good at pushing paper so I stick with it.

    Follow your dreams…..but be open to the bigger picture of what you want and don’t get so hung up on specifics. If you aim in the direction of what you want, at least you’ll be closer to the picture and not locked in some office forever.

  16. Former Marine

    People really feel very strongly about this… In America we do have this ideal about following your dreams, and what nobody is bringing up are hobbies. I am very passionate about quite a few things, my top 3 are probably helping people, Biology, and Video games. Does that mean I should pursue a career designing video games, no! I am doing very well as a pre-med right now, and I play video games as a hobby. This can be applied to a number of things that people really enjoy. Volunteering, Religion, History, Music, Dancing, whatever you want. Maybe what you really love won’t even suit you as a career, and then you may grow to hate it. There is nothing wrong with choosing a career that is valuable to society, that you don’t hate, and then have hobbies in your spare time. Although I wouldn’t go so far as to call music and art valueless like one of the other guys ( lol ). Music and Art give our dreams shape and try to unify us as a human race. But I digress…

  17. I personally always go with, follow your dreams. Why have a job you hate doing everyday just to get a check? Who wants to punch a clock everyday anyway? I’m a communications major and i so far regret nothing about it. I hate science and i hate math and i would never put myself through that crap for money. If i have to pay back student loans, i at least want a degree that i love.

    I live in Michigan people, you know how bad our job market is? I fear my soon coming graduation (december 2010), but i want more than anthing to make my dreams come true and i’ll risk it to be happy. I love so many things and i honestly don’t know what career i want. I honestly feel like i’ll be able to care for myself and manage whatever income i make. My happiness everyday is way more important that a job a i hate.

  18. Orson Edwards

    I really want to follow my dream of becoming a helicopter pilot but i ‘m from Trinidad & Tobago thats in the Caribbean,the thing is finance and a sponsor which i have none of i have a visa to travel to the us so i don’t think thats not a problem,every time i think about what i really want it brings tears to my eyes ( like right now as i type this)
    can you help me with some suggestions on where to look

  19. Better than what??? Integrity, intention? ulcers?
    and once again the underlying conversation turns to lack and greed. I’ve lived life on my own terms and I know as I continue to do it MY WAY I am more and more content and every nickel is exactly what I am supposed to have.

  20. I think it really is bad advice. Especially for a black kid living in Africa with very very little chance of getting any sort of recognition in the field that he wants to be recognised in. Its really heart breaking for me man!

  21. Good advice 🙂

    I love how you presented it as grey area. I am lucky enough to have a dream that I’m pretty safe with career wise and love doing (forensic psychology). I understand that not everyone has such lucrative dreams I was always taught to have 2 back up plans. Even though my job is pretty secure I always have two back up plans in the case I get sick of it or life happens and I can’t afford to make my dream happen when I want to. Thanks for the awesome advice. Always great to have another side of reason in the crazy world of education and college.

  22. These comments come from an older student – most people my age are coasting towards retirement, that old. And yet here I am, trying to start a new career. Why? Part of it has to do with the question of “follow your dreams”, tempered with a good dose of experience and reality. A few years ago I came to the conclusion that the concept of retirement that was forged years ago with the start of Social Security and companies offering lifetime retirement has changed radically. My father retired from the Army at age 37, and although he had a good 30 years of life left, he never essentially did anything with that life in retirement. My mother worked at an Army base for 30 years, retired once, got out of retirement to go back to work, and retired again for good a few years later. Both parents worked for one employer – my mother worked in one place all that time. Look around and you’ll see people who have spent their entire working lives at one place but they are an aging, dying breed. This is my point – that kind of retirement doesn’t exist anymore, with people changing careers several times during their lives, rapidly changing technology and companies coming in and out of existence. I imagine a few years ago there were people who would have said they intend to spend their lives working for MCI, Enron, even in some of the steel mills in Pennsylvania and Ohio that have since shut down. My personal conviction is that I will never retire, and I have spent many years working just to do what I have to do – therefore, I want to spend the rest of my working years doing what I want to do, free of artificial restrictions and as much as possible free of “becoming obsolete”.
    So, I agree with Josh’s advice – go follow your dreams, but know that:
    1. Your dreams and goals will change over the years, by necessity and by choice.
    2. Before turning your dreams into action, do the research – what is the average income; what is the future of the occupation in terms of demands and technology; and most importantly, how well do you know yourself?
    3. Your dreams of one thing could actually be something else. For example, someone’s desires to become a rock star could actually be a desire to be accepted and loved; or wanting to be a novelist could be wanting to do well in an area that requires great intellectual skills.
    To me, “follow your dreams” is another way of saying “be yourself”.

  23. Lahna Johnson

    Student4life’s close-minded redundancy really got to me. There are in fact many jobs available to people with artistic talent. Yes, most of it is commercially infused but it still requires artistic ability and vision. There are plenty of people who have majored in art and came out successful by working for places such as Nintendo, Pixar, Dreamworks, Microsoft, Disney which is anything but a “leisure job” when there are deadlines to meet. People with artistic vision are needed in order for these companies to prosper.

    In the art industry, you really have to have a passion for what you do and you have to execute it well. People who are recognized for their talent eat and breath their trade. They are not the average lame citizen who attends college and decides that an art degree will be an easy way to get through college. If the passion and direction isn’t there, they won’t make it. If it is your dream and if you are willing to eat and breath your passion so you can do what you want to do every day of your life and be happy, then do it. Artists, don’t let people break down your trade because they can’t do what you can do..and wish they could.

    The people who will succeed are the people who have been living their dream since childhood; they learn as much as they can on their own and college is merely a way to get the technical guidance that they need in order to become a well rounded artist with a degree to make it complete.

    There are plenty of artists out there who have the imagination and the skill to work for companies that are in need of it but they still need to work on certain aspects of their trade. An example would be the amount of time it takes an artist to complete a piece. Let’s say you’re a great self taught background artist but you take twice as long as you should in completing a piece, not many companies will keep you on the payroll if they can get someone with artistic vision but ALSO does the work in half the time. That’s where college can be very helpful for artists. Artists can get the guidance and time they need from instructors in the field to master a certain aspect of their trade.

    People who are admired for their skill are people who specialize. They have one passion in mind and they become great at it. They never stop learning and they always challenge themselves to do better. It applies everywhere from a doctorate to an art degree. And whether you like to hear it or not, art is needed in today’s society. Art is all around us from the colors it takes to make the lobby in a corporate office look presentable (color theory is needed here) to the animated characters on a commercial to sell a box of cereal. If you think of about it, art is needed in all aspects of selling a product. It’s all about display and presentation. Art IS needed.

    As an FYI to anyone who cares; I am an artist pursuing a BFA in Animation because it is my dream. If it doesn’t work out, oh well, at least I tried and I know I gave everything I could in order to make it a reality. Right now I work full-time in office job doing mundane menial work every day and I can’t put into words how much it depresses me. I spend all the free time after work on the bus, shopping for groceries, studying or working on my art (which isn’t very much). I get maybe 5-6 hours of sleep a night. I used to dedicate all day every day to my art and being on the computer for my digital art and now I’m thrown into this world that I hate but I know in the end it will be worth it if I can save money to go to school and spend every waking moment with my art. Hopefully with God on my side, this is His plan for me. If it isn’t his plan, it just means there is something better for me in the future. I will not give people the benefit of the doubt in saying that artists don’t work hard. I dedicate time to my academics and my art because I know it is not one sided. In order to get into the college of my dreams with the greatest art department I admire, I need to study hard.

  24. Following your dreams isn’t a load of BS! The first time I tried out college, I went for web design because I liked to watch my cousins when they made pages for clients. If I would have realized my own dream and followed it then, I wouldn’t be in debt without a degree. Now that I realized I have a love of global affairs and journalism, that’s what I’m applying for this time around.

  25. Wow, you have no idea how eerily on time this article was. My mom forced my to go to a tech school for a year to “consider all my options” before I run off to a nyc conservatory for musical theatre. After 12 weeks I know there isn’t anything that I’m good at here or gives me nearly as much joy as theatre. But at the same time I know my chances and I’ve been like depressed all week stressing out about what to do. I want to be financially sound- have a nice house, maybe adopt a child and just be secure- but what happens if I don’t make it? I was even considering journalism or photojournalism! Just so I’d have a “reasonable” career choice but wouldnt take like 10 years of school. But I know I wouldnt be happy.
    Those questions you had us consider at the end really made me think and I’m more confident then ever that I want to do musical theatre. Maybe I will get my degree in journalism too cause I am good at writing. You have no idea how much this article helped me- thanks for lifting me out of a slump!

  26. I think its good to follow ones dream if the environment( interms of sociological and financial factors) allows it. The financial state before and after the dream job is attained is quite important.I say this because at times getting to our dream jobs cost alot and the out put of the job itself is too little to compensate for all the costs you put up for it in the first place. i guess it all depends on the kind of dream one has in mind not that it can be termed as BS even on those low outputs.

  27. I`d say its pretty simple. I believe that if you follow your dreams things have a way of working out. Who knows, maybe that means finding something totally different that you didn`t realize you would like, or it is doing exactly what you had always had planned in your mind. Anyways, I am a vocal performance major going into my 3rd year of University and I couldn`t think of anything better to do with my life.

  28. Well following your dreams might not be all about money.

    I know crazy concept, but I did the practicle job and school route. The end result is I have lots of skills for a practicle “real” career and no job in that realm in over 6 yrs. I am below the poverty line for the area I live, and only getting poorer by the minute. Thanks to the economy on top of it my rent has gone up the past 4 yrs, while I have had hours cut in the job I have. My rent is now 65% of my monthly income and I support myself and disabled parent.

    I hate the job I hvae but can’t afford not to have it. I have been out of the industry that was deeemed to unrealistic to support me for 20 yrs. So going back to it is a huge money hurdle to start over in a filed I was building a solid reputaion in back in the day. Oh and as for the money part… I earned $2,000 – $4,000 at that unreal job amonth. I make almost $1,500 now. Plus I often got bonus commissions from sales and extra consulting I did related to that unreal job (horse training).

    Everyday I wish I had kept that job, at least part-time. I do feel it was important to help my mom stay in her home instead of a nursing home. But that stable realistic job, that was supposed to be a fallback became my life. A life that has saddled me with so much debt that if I work 3 jobs for the next 40 yrs I will still be in debt.

    So if you have a shot at what brings you joy, and pays your living costs–even if it doesn’t make you rich or famous–go for it. You don’t know when, or if the chance will coem around again. Yes, get an education. I say this because it helps you decide, it also helps get you better than min wage jobs–usually. Try and find an educational path that compliments your passion so your back-up plan is at least related to your dream. But be careful of letting that “real” career overshadow your passion.

    No amount of money makes up for being miserable at a job that kills your spirit a little everyday.

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