July 21, 2015

Are You Dreaming or Doing?

Woman daydreaming with text: Are We Dreaming or Doing?

Schools around the U.S. recently let out for summer, and that means the clichés of graduation speeches were echoing across the land. Variations of “this is only the beginning,” “seize your future,” “be true to yourself,” etc. resonate because they’re all true.

However, every time we start a new journey, whether that’s graduating or starting a new job or project, we’re likely full of dreams based on the potential of that new phase. We imagine how awesome our life might become, now that we’ve taken this next step.

There’s nothing wrong with those dreams, but they are—themselves—just the first step. And that’s where many rah-rah graduation speeches fall short.

Potential Is just the Beginning

A harsh truth is that most people won’t reach their dreams. For an unfortunate few, they’ll fall short through no fault of their own. Life happens, circumstances can be insurmountable, or tragedy can strike too close to home.

But for many others—probably for most others—they won’t reach their dreams because there’s such a gap between wanting something and making it happen. Just because the potential exists doesn’t make it so.

It takes work to make our dreams happen. It often requires us to change, and change is hard.

We might have to take risks, do things we don’t want to do (but that are required for the journey), or get over self-doubt and other fears. Plus, as I mentioned last time, just because we love what we’re doing doesn’t mean it’s easy. It’s still work.

Work Toward Our Dreams

Back when I was of the age to be at the receiving end of graduation speeches, I heard the advice to “not rest on your laurels”—and I had absolutely no idea what that phrase meant.

I probably even thought that was a stupid piece of advice. What was the point of working hard if you never got to enjoy it, right? *smile*

But that’s the difference between thinking of life as a destination and as a journey. When we’re young, we might think that we’ll suddenly reach a point where we’re an adult. Where we’re done growing and striving. Where we’ve reached our goal.

We eventually realize that we can be 30, 40, or 50 (or more) and still feel like we’re merely impersonating an adult. *raises hand* At the same time, goals keep us young because to strive is to live.

In fact, if we reach a goal of publishing a book, we might expand that goal to publish five books. There’s no finish line when we can proclaim ourselves done other than death itself.

Time and experience has helped me understand the laurels phrase, but I prefer the Will Rogers version:

"Even if you're on the right track, you'll get run over if you just sit there." ~ Will Rogers

We might be in the right place at the right time, but if we’re not grabbing opportunities and taking chances, if we’re not learning and improving, we can still lose.

Working for Our Dreams Will Lead to Failures

Wait…what? Chasing our dreams will lead to failures? Yep.

Pursuing our dreams often means that we need to take risks. Will we spend money to attend that workshop that might help our craft? Will we quit our unfulfilling job to work toward our dream full-time? Will we submit our work to an agent or editor?

Every one of those actions (or any other steps we might need to take) comes with risk. The workshop might be a waste of time or money, we might struggle to pay the bills without a day job, and we might be rejected.

So yes, unless our life goes perfectly 100% of the time (in which case, let me go in on a lottery ticket with you *grin*), some of the risks we take will lead to failures. The point isn’t that we failed, it’s that we tried.

Most mistakes we make won’t be fatal. We can learn from them and improve our chances next time. In other words, even failure leads to growth that avoids the “just sitting there” problem.

Taking action to pursue our dreams is the opposite of just sitting there. If we don’t take any action, we definitely won’t make progress. For as unlikely as it is that our life will go perfectly 100% of the time, it’s even more unlikely that our dreams will be handed to us through no effort on our part.

It could be easy to get discouraged. The world is scary. Taking risks is scary. Things often go wrong, and we can fail horribly.

When we push ourselves, we’ll make mistakes. But if we don’t even try, we will lose.

What Actions Are We Taking to Reach Our Dreams?

So if we don’t want to get run over by just sitting there thinking about our dreams, we have to do something. This is why goals and plans and self-imposed deadlines (with flexibility built in) are so important.

We need a plan for what steps we’ll take to get from our current Point A to the Point B of our dreams. Those steps can be almost anything:

  • Make Decisions:
    • What genre appeals to us?
    • Which agents do we want to query?
    • What publishing path will we follow?
    • Will we accept a contract offer?
    • What cover artist do we want?
  • Seek Help:
    • Find a mentor and/or supportive friends
    • Attend a workshop
    • Search for beta readers or critique partners
    • Gather feedback
    • Build an indie publishing team
  • Pursue Self-Improvement:
    • Change our attitude
    • Identify what skills we’re missing
    • Understand our options
    • Study what we need to know
    • Learn from feedback

Most of those aren’t big steps, and that’s okay. As I talked about last time, the slow and steady can add up over time.

The point isn’t that we’re reaching our goal within a certain time frame or that everything will go smoothly. The point is that we’re making some kind of progress every day we can. And that’s how we can turn our dreams into reality. *smile*

Do you know others who have dreams but never follow through? Have you ever struggled with that issue? What do you find hardest about moving forward or making progress? What advice would you give to someone who seems “stuck” and needs to take action? Do you have suggestions for other ways we can make progress?

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Comments — What do you think?

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One thing that I find causes a lot of folks (including me) to stumble: Stop focusing on what you “can’t” do. Like, if you want to write a novel but literally don’t have time to sit at a computer and write, don’t focus on that inability to sit at a computer. Focus on what you could do, like maybe dictation while driving between the grocery store and picking up the kids, or one of those waterproof notepads for when you’re relaxing in the shower or bath (and then you could pay a kid some low rate to type it up for you). When you don’t think you can do something, why not? Unless it’s an actual physical limitation, the answer to how you can actually do whatever it is can often be found by digging into that “why not?” Maybe it won’t be the exact same form—like, you want to be an editor, but you can’t afford to be an unpaid intern at a major publisher, so you consider what specifically you want to do and jump from there. As for “physical limitations”, I mean actual physical limitations. For example, though I’d intellectually enjoy hiking on nature trails, I’m literally allergic to the outdoors (grass, trees, shrubs, flowers, cacti) and have chronic fatigue/adrenal problems. It would be foolish of me to even try…unless I can get those health issues mitigated, less severe. But you know what? If I can never safely go on a day-long nature hike, that’s okay. My…  — Read More »


This saying goes around in my martial arts circles: “Behind every black is a person who never gave up.” Black belts aren’t magical or superhuman, they just kept going to class and training. They kept showing up. That’s my piece of advice for new people. “Just show up.” It’s pretty amazing how much we can accomplish when we simply take the time to go to class and train regularly, small step by small step.

I also like to focus on how good it feels when I’ve taken a step, no matter how small, towards accomplishing a goal. A good day writing is a step in the right direction. Yay for me!

I think we also need to remember our limitations, not the least of which is time. I’d love to learn how to draw better, but my time is better spent doing the things I really love to do, things I’m already good at but could be better. My goals have to be in alignment with the amount of time I have. If I took the time to learn to draw, I’d have to cut out something else, and I’m not willing to do that. Knowing our limitations also allows us to let go of a goal that isn’t working.

Thanks for the thoughtful post!

Tamar Hela

Great post, Jami! Words of wisdom, and an apt reminder to work towards your dreams. I recently listened to a great “transformation” webinar, where the speaker said, “The antidote for despair is action.” One of my new favorite quotes. 🙂


I’ve definitely struggled with this issue. Still am actually. It’s hard to admit publicly because I don’t have anything to complain about. I’m not busy with kids, don’t have a severely stressful or demanding job and have a very supportive husband.

So the only thing holding me back, is me. Low self confidence, doubt, anxiety, lack of accountability by someone other than me.

My biggest excuse in the past was my health issues. But I can’t hide behind those. I have to live my life.

One of the obstacles for me is decision-making. Your advice about making mistakes is spot on. I just have to keep remembering that.

Also, what you said about finding support is definitely key. A mentor, someone who knows exactly what you’re going through, but can keep you accountable and help you work through problems.

Great post and great advice from commenters!

Serena Yung
Serena Yung

Hey Jami! I love the slow and steady approach as well, and it seems to me that too many people don’t realize the importance of the “small steps forward”. It doesn’t have to be something as big as selling a hundred books to count as a “step”; it could be something as simple as finishing your first draft of a novel. So I agree on your list of things to do that are small steps towards our goals. Lol I love that train track analogy! Yeah, honestly I would die of boredom if I achieved all my goals and had nothing else to strive for. 🙁 And the constant learning of new things in writing (and drawing!) is a big part of what makes writing so enjoyable and fulfilling. If I don’t get to learn new things anymore, I would also get bored to death eventually, lol. Also, I’ve heard the saying that great ideas are a dime a dozen, but executed and realized great ideas are what’s rare. I agree with this, because I hear people talk about some very interesting (to me) story ideas, yet they still haven’t written anything or written much, so those cool things are still only in their imagination, not written down to share with others. Not that they have to share the ideas if they don’t feel comfortable doing so, but I just think it’s a shame to keep great ideas only in your head and not have them put down in a…  — Read More »

Deborah Makarios

I just realized recently that having taken small steps to get to the goal of leaving my job to write full-time, I’d thought that was it, and if I didn’t have it all together with all this time available, I never would.
Now I realize that while my circumstances might not change – don’t really need to change – there’s still a lot of steps to take in myself, taking myself more seriously as a writer and being more serious about doing the work. I’d plodded along for months, but now I feel like I’m actually moving!

Karen McFarland

Excellent post Jami. Good to have you back. I hope, other than illness, you enjoyed your visit and vacation with the family. Goals. That’s always been a touchy subject for me. I tend to not set them anymore because every time I do, it never happens. Something always comes along and wipes out those plans. So, I’ve learned to just roll with it and do my best. But that doesn’t mean I’m not driven. I still push to get things done. And maybe someday, I’ll get something back in return.

Glynis Jolly

When I first decided it was time to stop fooling around and do something about the thing I feel passionate about, I worried about following a pipe dream. So many other things I had tried fell down the virtual rabbit’s hole never to be seen again. But this time was different. The only problems I’m having with my dream is finding the money to do online workshops (because of limitations, in-person ones aren’t possible) and figuring out what skills I’m missing or need improvement on to catch up to the level of other skills. Skills will always need to be improved but some fall back and need more attention sometimes.


[…] reminder to be kind to ourselves is important in the context of my last post, where I asked what actions we were taking to achieve our dreams. Depending on our mindset, we might feel ashamed for not having reached our dream […]


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