The most frequently shared piece of inspiring advice in the last twenty years for achieving career success and happiness might be "Follow your dreams".
26-year old Tanner Broadwell and 24-year old Nikki Walsh bought into it and followed their dreams--right to the bottom of the Gulf of Mexico.
Disenchanted with the rat-race (in their case selling timeshares and driving for uber), Broadwell and Walsh sold everything they had, including their car, and put it into a 49-year old sailboat on which they'd navigate the Caribbean. After saving $5,000 for the boat, then another $5,000 for repairs, the couple set sail with a "pirate's life for me" dream in mind.
The very next day after they embarked on their dream, the admitted sailing novices struck something in a tricky channel of water known as John's Pass off of Madeira Beach, Florida, ripping the keel off the boat and sinking it.
They were left with nothing save a few important papers, some clothing, and their pug.
No boat. No savings. No job.
To add insult to near injury, the Coast Guard informed the couple they must tow the wreckage out of the channel, at a cost twice that of the boat.
Harsh Reality 1. Dreams 0.
You might not like this, but "follow your dreams" is terrible advice. And this from a guy who left the corporate world behind to pursue his dream of speaking, writing, and teaching. Let me explain.
The sentiment of "follow your dreams" now comes with a suspension of reality for far too many. It's too often taken as an emotional proxy for proper, well-seasoned reflection, disciplined thinking, and fastidious planning.
Is it important to do what you love? Of course. Should you take risks in the pursuit? Absolutely. Is life too short to wait around to go for it?
Now hold on.
It's not so short that you shouldn't lengthen (and deepen) actual success behind the pursuit with thorough preparation.
There's nothing wrong with emotion on deck as long as careful evaluation is the captain. So before you set off on whatever your dream-journey is, remember this.
Don't follow your dreams. Let your dreams follow you. They follow when you intentionally lead. You lead the process when you ask yourself these four questions:
1. Can I be happy right where I am?
If I'm honest, I'm not sure a 24 and 26-year old have logged enough work hours to warrant the need to "leave it all behind". Now, in full disclosure, I left behind the rat-race to pursue what I wanted to do too.
After 25 years.
I was happy for 20-ish years in corporate. The last five years were more uncertain and spurred very careful soul-searching and reflection on whether or not I could continue to be happy. Was that too long a contemplative period? Maybe. Am I asking millennials to be as patient as my generation in this kind of evaluation? No way. But I am saying this.
I didn't follow my dream until I was absolutely sure I wasn't already living it.
Or until I was sure some adjustments to my situation couldn't bring me deep happiness.
2. Am I running to something, not from something?
So many times I've seen people leave a bad situation and confuse their next destination as a potential dream in waiting when it was really just an escape route. I get the need to get out. But you're not getting on with a happier life if you move too fast. Be sure of your true intent.
3. Have I done all I can to increase the odds of success?
Bottom line, you've got to have a baseline of knowledge and a solid, thorough plan before you leave the dock. I'm not saying you need to have everything figured out because it just doesn't work that way. But you have to know enough about what you're doing that you'll materially increase your chance of succeeding.
There's a reason successful entrepreneurs do side hustles, often for years, before they make a leap to executing their dream. Have you done enough scenario planning, financial planning, test-runs, and so on? Are you prepared for the worst case scenario? Could you be happy if, in reality, you achieved a smaller scale version of your dream?
4. Is my dream grounded in servitude?
When you pursue a dream that involves something bigger than yourself, it increases your resilience in the face of adversity. You have more reason to pick up and carry on and are more forgiving if something goes wrong.
I'm not saying you can only pursue a dream of volunteering in a soup kitchen versus becoming a photographer. I'm saying if you can find an element of service in your dream, it strengthens your fortitude in the pursuit.
So no way am I saying don't get after your dream. Just be sure it's time to set sail and that you have a well-charted course in tow first.