Why I Stopped “Dreaming Big”

6 Nov 2017

Julia Clausen | March Consulting Copywriter 

All my life I have been encouraged to dream big.

Generalities such as – “You can be anything!” “Follow your heart!” “Your possibilities are endless!” – were the bedrock upon which I built my imaginary future.

I designed my own multiverse in which I lived a life as a physical therapist, a film producer, the CEO of a consulting firm, and a chorus member in a Broadway musical. These futures were exciting because they were stories I told myself. I knew none of them would actually happen.

Not that I was incapable of living these lives. Rather, the problem was the distance I kept between the dreams and how I lived my life.

For instance, physical therapy naturally requires lots of science classes. I abhor science classes. If I actually thought I wanted to be a physical therapist, I would have taken AP sciences, applied for a physiology degree, and made plans to go to grad school.

Instead I majored in English and wrote for the school newspaper.

So in the end, as encouraging as those high-minded phrases may have been, they were also pretty useless.

They offered no concrete steps forward, no guidelines to decision-making, no criteria for which of my “endless possibilities” might be best for me.

Plus, I went to college because that was the next step in life. That’s just what we do now. I had never really thought about whether or not I wanted a college degree, or what I wanted to get out of it.

So when I graduated, suddenly I was stuck with no sense of direction.

What did I really want to be?

I felt like I was treading water in the ocean with my infinite career possibilities just beyond the horizon. If I picked a career path and started swimming, maybe I would go the wrong way, and then drown and die. Much safer to keep treading water and hope an island with any random job on it would just appear in front of me.

I thought this was what “dreaming big” and “staying open to opportunity” looked like, but actually my dreams were getting in the way of me making a decision.

When I was honest with myself, I realized that I enjoyed Broadway, but not in the same way I LOVED teaching kids how to write. I could talk about film with ease, but when I really got into the best techniques for exploring narrative voice in short stories, nothing could shut me up.

So rather than view my opportunities as endless, maybe it was time to get into specifics – to focus on the areas of my life where I had both passion AND experience. What was the natural next step based on how I had spent my time in high school and college?

Plus, if you were to ask literally anyone who knows me, these would probably be the first vocations they would assign to me. Of course Julia is a writer, they would say. And she helped me with multiple essays growing up. I hope she becomes a cool English teacher.

Making a career decision wasn’t about choosing from the terrifying stretch of infinite possibilities. Instead, it was more like being a detective. I gathered the evidence of my experiences, my interests, and the opinions of the people closest to me, and then made an informed plan with short and long-term goals.

So whether you’re about to start applying to college, or trying to choose a major, or freaking out about your future career, take a minute and examine the evidence. While, yes, you can be anything, you don’t have to choose a direction at random.

What is your favorite class in school, and why? Which activities do you spend the most time doing? What kind of work do you find most fulfilling? What qualities do your close friends and family see in you?

If you take a closer look at who you are and how you spend your time, the next step will be more obvious than you might think.

Want to talk with someone about figuring out your next step? Contact us! We’d love to help you sleuth out your college and career possibilities.

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