We live in a society that really, really likes its dreams. You see it everywhere, from the TV Lifestyles of Awesome to the much more subtle water cooler rumblings every time someone wistfully sketches out their lottery-winning plans. We make big decisions for the pretty pictures in our heads that get us through the day.
So, let’s talk about the Dream.
You know that scene in Terminator 2, when the Terminator stoically marches into an almighty blizzard of high velocity lead, its comforting outer covering shredded to reveal its true, metallic nature? If not, here you go:
I’ve been a freelancer for a long, long time, and I’ve worked with a whole lot of freelancers, startups, and errant dreamers on their way towards Doing Something Awesome. And I’m not here to prison-shank anyone’s hopes and good intentions. If you can do it, do it. Change things up. Be more. Rock the world. I’ll applaud and back your ass every step of the way.
But I’m going to give you a word of advice, especially if you’re just starting out: beware the Dream.
The Dream is that voice that tells you that once you get started, everything’s going to be great. You can go work at the beach every day, don’t have to quietly take crap from idiot bosses, can be your own boss, whatever it was that kicked you off and keeps you going through the scary “I’m thinking of quitting my job for this” period. You know, the motivational stuff. That’s the Terminator’s pretty skin covering.
The Dream is there to get you through the honeymoon phase, but it’s a fickle bitch. It turns on you quickly. And, worst of all, it knows you better than you know yourself. It knows what you really want, what you’re really willing to settle for, what you really fear and love and hate and need and secretly will do anything for. And it’ll fuck with you if you let it.
Those freelancers and startups I mentioned? You know how many are still around?
And it’s not the odds, or the quality of their ideas, or luck, or even how much money or hard work they were willing to put in, that distinguishes the survivors from the ones who go back to their day jobs. It’s how they deal with the Job when they’re done with the Dream.
Because, see – and getting back to the Terminator up there – here’s what happens. Setbacks happen. Bad days happen. Plenty of good days, too, don’t misunderstand me here, but still a whole bunch of days when you didn’t make it out to the beach. Days it rained. Days you lost the big client, or the magazine you hoped to write for folded, or things just plain didn’t work out. And every incoming slug shreds that pretty Dream a little more. This starts to gradually look more like work, and harder work than you worked to escape.
After a while, maybe a year, maybe two, there ain’t much of the Dream left. It’s a job, a chore, and a tough one, and you have plenty of days along the way when you question your sanity for ever starting down this road in the first place.
Then you hit a point where you really can’t believe in the Dream anymore. The cartilage is gone, it’s bone on bone now, and you look down the road and all you can see, stretching clear to the horizon, is an endless march across broken glass.
If you’re just starting out, I promise you, you’ll find that place. We all do. And if all you have is the Dream, you’re screwed, and the only thing left to do is go home. You tried, did your best, got beaten by the system, and no one’s going to blame you for growing up and accepting the loss and getting back to a normal life. Surrenders keep our world going, for better or worse. There’s no shame in making better decisions and building a comfortable life for yourself. Really.
For a few of us, though, that’s not the end of the story. Because we’re blissful idiots, fools beyond measure. We burned our ships.
The ones who make it are the ones who face that stone cold reality and start the march. Knowing that the glass isn’t an illusion, that it really does entail a lot of pain and struggle, without the fuzzy comfort of the Dream. Those addled aspirants set out to discover just how much blood they have to lose.. and, it turns out to be quite a lot, in fact. More blood than we knew.
And somewhere out there, across the horizon, there really is something beyond the glass that approximates a real version of the Dream. It’s not what you once thought it was. It’s not what you once valued, or once desired, or once thought you couldn’t live without. It’s something else entirely. But it’s good, and it’s good because you’re a very different person than you were when you started the march. You’re a lot more of who you always were, the false faces left in tattered bits, scattered over years and years of broken glass.
The Dream – the first one – is the dream of false faces. Be prepared to sacrifice it, all of it, just to learn who you really are.
That’s the real work: You. Everything else is daydreaming.