Why I love and hate the whole “follow your dreams” crap

“It’s great to have dreams, just as long as you don’t believe in them too much”
– the parents from Zootopia

A rambly post where I let out my feelings of failure and frustrations with growing up.

When I first watched Zootopia, I had just consumed it passively, and didn’t think too much about this line. When CinemaSins on youtube did the Everything Wrong With video for it, they pointed out this line, and man, are they right. Yeah, yeah, it’s all well and good to tell kids to follow their dreams, but not everyone achieves those dreams.

I’ve fallen back into one of my more hopeless episodes today, so that’s where I’m writing this post from. But sometimes life just gets really hopeless. And you start to wonder- what would it have been like if I had just been more practical? If I had held myself back from dreaming too much? If I had just stepped back for a second and thought more about all the possibilities out there? If I had just been more prepared for life? Some of the things I say will sound like “stereotypical millennial selfishness” or a typical teenager tantrum, but god damn it, I’m allow to air out my thoughts on my own blog.

The more I think about it, the more I don’t like the way I was raised. Don’t get me wrong, I love and appreciate my parents so so so much. But sometimes I just wish that they had told me things earlier. Guided my way differently. I think it might be something a lot of former high achieving kids think as well. Parents always like to believe that their kid is the best. Is the most special of them all. Is the one who will someday discover the cure for cancer or extraterrestrial life. Is the one who is going to be the top of their class and have all of the successes and none of the failures. These are the parents who encourage their kids to follow their dreams with not real backup plan. These are the parents who, when their child calls them in a panic during their second year of college naively saying that they want to switch their major to psychology and pursue the long and hard road of becoming a professor, say go for it. Somehow, before I knew it, my life has become just an unbreakable cycle of trying for this achievement or that prize, as if my worth as a human being hinges on it. This is what happens to the talented and gifted kids- the ones who were told they were special, but that can’t be right, because there were over 50 kids in the talented and gifted program and the chances of us all going on to do things that the world thinks is great are depressingly slim. All the expectations on my were for test scores, honors awards, my class ranking. I had always effortlessly met those expectations, and began to think that I was invincible. I am not. But now it’s too late, because now every little thing I fail at hits me so hard it triggers anxiety attacks and suicidal thoughts. I start to spiral into a mindset that if I don’t get this achievement or that prize, I am a complete failure of a person. What happened? I had always been able to get all the achievements I wanted with little effort. But I never learned to put in effort. And now when I try my best with what little effort I can dredge up, it always always falls short. I ask myself how it turned out like this, because I thought I could do anything, but really I can do nothing. I started out life sprinting ahead but I’m no long-distance runner. I’m falling behind and my muscles are breaking down and I am never going to be able to catch up unless I drop out of the race.

And here is where the irrational blaming starts to happen. Why did my parents have to keep pushing me into becoming more and more? Why did everyone around me just take for granted that I would become some sort of amazing, high-achieving adult who gets a six-figure job within a few years out of college? Why did no one tell me that there actually are some dreams that are so improbable that they might as well be impossible? Because those are not the kind of stories that people like. In all the movies, the books, the articles in the news- they only tell the stories of people who made it. You hear about the millionaires who dropped out of college, who started out as waiters or cashiers before they miraculously becoming society’s definition of wildly successful. And those people will turn around and say crap like it’s because they never gave up and worked hard. And yeah, they did. But they also were in the right place at the right time in the right circumstances at some point or points and then things start get going and then with hard work and effort, they make it. It’s a nice story. It’s exactly the kind of story that Zootopia is. Sure, Judy dreams big, and she keep going at it and going at it until she achieves her dreams. But also remember that she gets shunted into some throwaway job and then gets fired and then goes into vigilantism. There were so many little things that could have gone any other way that could derail the entire thing. But no, she just happens to discover a huge crime ring and saves the entire city. I’m not devaluing her efforts or anything, because she’s got a truly admirable work ethic and dedication. But I also think that you can’t deny the very convenient circumstances that leads things to ultimately work out for her. And then the curtains close on a happily ever after.

Look, all I’m saying is that dreams are great. They are great motivators. But I’m also saying that aiming a little lower and becoming a carrot farmer can also be pretty great and is just as valid. (Okay, yeah, because of movie reasons, Judy is needed to save the day so she had to go back, but it’s an analogy okay) I just really wish that someone had told me this earlier. You don’t have to chase your dreams to such an extent to be happy, and you don’t have to try to make your dreams come true in your career. Saving the world is all well and good, but you don’t have to do it by discovering the cure for cancer. You never hear about all the people who dreamed of landing on the moon only to fail because it’s boring. But those stories are every bit as valid as the success stories. Plenty of people drop out of college only to end up working in dead-end jobs until they die, but you only hear about the ones who go and hit entrepreneurial gold. All my life, I’ve been told and then internalized the notion that I will be one of the success stories, except without any of the failure. But failure is a part of life, and it’s very devastating to learn it later rather than sooner. And no one points out that even though these are the people who got back up, there is always the possibility that you can get back up only to fall down even more. People tell you that you can’t gain anything without taking a risk. And yeah, that’s true. But I regret that I never learned how to properly evaluate those risks to determine which ones to take. I’m at a period in my life where it’s incredibly easy to fall into thinking that it’s too late to do anything without taking on too many burdens (debt, wasted time and potential). I keep thinking in if only’s. If only I hadn’t fooled myself and everyone around me with an overestimation of my potential.

At this point in the post, I’m just thinking in circles. I’m not even sure anymore what I want to say. All I really know is that my mental state at this moment is not all that great, and I don’t know what to do with my feelings, or my thoughts, or my life. I keeping trying to tell myself that everything can turn out okay. I’ve even written a post before about the growth mindset and how it’s so helpful but I always think in the back of my mind that it’s most helpful when you’re younger and still in school with more possibilities open to you. It feels like the more I grow up the more doors close. And those closed doors have keys that I can’t use. I just, I don’t know.

I feel a lot better now that I’ve just word-vomited in this post. At least it’s true, what they say about writing out and verbalizing your feelings. Better out than in. See? I’m feeling good enough to make Shrek references, so I’m going to take that as improvement. I still think it’s great to had dreams, and to follow them to an extent. How can I not, when I grew up with One Piece, which is all about following your dreams?

And now that I think more about it and more consciously try to bring myself out of all of these depressive thoughts, I think it’s working. I’ve been dealing with some level of depression for a few years now, so I think I’ve gotten pretty good at re-evaluating everything and doing more positive thinking and stuff. I’m also good at lying to myself, though, so I don’t know. But yeah. Just like how there are never any guarantees that you can achieve your dreams, there is also never a time where you are completely out of options. Yeah, those options might all be kind of crappy, but hey. Positive thinking, right? It does wonders for me, at least for a brief time. So, eh. I’ll take what I can get at this point. I can at least talk myself out of suicidal thoughts pretty quickly still, so I can still just kind of at least plod along in life. Flourishing is better than languishing, but languishing is still better than despair, so I’ll take it.


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