The word "dreamer" typically has negative connotations, and those in our society frequently direct many backhanded compliments toward people who follow their dreams. Even when "meant well," these comments reflect the assumption that people who chase after their goals, especially women, are impractical, reckless, and struggling. In reality, though, this assumption couldn't be further from the truth.
Gloria Steinem said dreaming is a form of planning. Henry David Thoreau said there's nothing wrong with building castles in the sky — you just must then build foundations under them. Dreaming and realism can coexist. But people don't usually teach this.
My dream since childhood was to be a writer, but I didn't even realize that until my mid-20s. Adults told me I needed to do something practical, that writing and the arts in general were hobbies and if I was lucky, I'd have a stable day job that would allow me to write on the side. So I got one. But despite what people say about the stability of full-time jobs, the majority of my company was laid off. When I decided to pursue writing after that, people were very concerned, unable to understand why I wouldn't do something that supposedly had more financial promise.
I now know that was all B.S. I now make a living completely by writing and know many others who also survive by acting, running their own businesses, and other less conventional careers that truly fulfill them. Because I've seen following dreams pay off, I want others to know they owe it to themselves to at least give their dreams a try and not dismiss them by default.
In addition to hearing so many warnings about how we won't make it, we often hear so-called compliments when wedosucceed that reflect the belief that our paths were impossible or impractical or will not last. Here are some of the supposedly positive messages we send those who achieve their dreams that contribute to the same mentality that makes people, especially women, scared to follow them.
1. "I Commend You For Not Chasing Dollars."
Is it bad for women to chase dollars? There's a lot you can do with money, like go on vacations, buy your loved ones presents, and live in a nice apartment, so I think it's understandable to chase dollars. But — get ready for this — you can do that while you follow your dreams! Part of the whole philosophy behind pursuing your ambitions is standing up for what you want, which often means getting high-paying gigs and negotiating. That shouldn't be frowned upon.
2. "That Must Be Such A Hard Lifestyle."
I guess? There are challenges to all different lifestyles. There is a fair amount of rejection for some of us, particularly those in the arts, but it's so normal that it's hard to take personally. Some of us may have unpredictable incomes, but not all. It depends on the person, but there absolutely are ways to follow your dreams without constantly hustling or getting rejected.
3. "Way To Go For Taking Risks. Practicality Is Overrated."
Hey, wait a second. I am practical. I wouldn't do anything to put myself or my livelihood at risk. Passion and practicality do not have to be at odds.
4. "This Should Be The Time To Have Adventures."
People especially tell young women following their dreams that they're right not to settle down yet because this is their time to sow their wild oats. But here's the thing: We're not all letting off steam until we feel compelled to do something more serious. We're building sustainable careers for ourselves now. We don't plan to grow up and do something more "practical." This is it.
5. "That's So Brave."
Women are called brave for all sorts of things: showing confidence, asking people out, wearing bikinis when they're fat. But if we believe only brave women do these things, what does that say about your average woman? It reflects a default view of women as passive and scared to try new things. Regardless of gender, following your dreams takes a bit of bravery, but it shouldn't. It should be something we're all encouraged to do.
6. "It's Good That You're Also Doing Something Practical."
Some people who follow their dreams simultaneously have other jobs they're less passionate about that help pay the bills, meet people, or whatever else they're looking for. Since we're often looking to eventually quit these jobs, it can be disheartening and confusing to be praised for holding them. Think about it: If we're practical for having another job, what will we be when we don't?
7. "You're So Ambitious."
Would you say that to a man, though? Some people are very determined and high-powered, but we need to be careful about calling women ambitious because it implies we don't expect them to be and can have negative connotations, as if they're doing something risky or stepping out of line. I hope one day, being ambitious enough to follow your dreams is considered the norm.