Perhaps we imagine it’ll be like that scene in Forrest Gump where, “for no particular reason” Forrest starts running across the country. Even though no one knows why he’s running, over time people become entranced with his quest and begin to cheer him on, seek answers from him, and run with him along the way. When he finally decides to stop, he turns around to find a huge crowd gathered behind him, waiting with baited breath to learn his next move.
For the vast majority of us, that’s not how things go down in real life.
When you decide to make a huge change in your life, when you take a gamble and follow a new passion, or when you journey down an uncharted path in life, people don’t usually follow you, cheering. At best, they are gently supportive and often maddeningly remote. Some may even be odd or downright negative. All of these behaviors say a lot more about those people than they do you and your dreams.
1. People will change the subject
When you tell someone you are following your dream, it’s not uncommon for them to nod, smile and then inexplicably change the subject. For example…
Friend: “How have you been?”
You: “Well, I’m super excited. I’ve decided to quit my job and pursue my dream of flying hot air balloons!”
Friend: “Wow. That…um… sounds exciting. So, you still gardening, too? Mine is full of weeds after all this rain we’ve been having. How about yours?”
While this kind of response may indicate the person to which you are talking doesn’t like your dream, it’s more likely they are highly uncomfortable with the whole idea of following them. For them, trying something new and untested may not be inspirational but messy and scary, like gazing into an open wound. It may also be an uncomfortable reminder to them of all the dreams they’ve ultimately abandoned in their own lives. Lastly, the redirection or change in topic may be a way of trying to keep your conversation on common ground. If you swam with sharks last week, but all they did was try one of those new coloring books for grown-ups, the conversation is going to feel awkward and imbalanced. By bringing you back to their level, they may be attempting to stay connected in spite of you changing and potentially becoming someone new.
2. People will avoid the topic entirely
When you tell someone you are following your dream, it’s not uncommon for them to become so uncomfortable they skirt the topic entirely in the future conversations. For example…
Friend: “So how is work?”
You: “Well, I’m not working anymore, remember? I told you at Christmas I quit my job to go back to school and become a teacher.”
Friend: “Oh, that’s right. I forgot. Well, how’s your husband doing? Is he still at his job?”
Again, this response doesn’t mean the other person hates your plans, (although they might.) More likely they only want to hear about the good/easy things in your life, not the challenging stuff. Because the truth is, while people love to hear about dreams that ultimately lead to happiness, fame or fortune, no one really wants to hear about the trials and tribulations endured along the way. For example, did you know the smash musical Hamilton was in development for SIX YEARS? No one ever talks about that or how scary it must have been to invest so much time, energy and money into a hip hopera about Alexander Hamilton–a pitch that sounds on paper, dubious at best. I’m sure during those six years Lin-Manuel Miranda had his fair share of conversations where people carefully avoided the Hamilton topic entirely.
3. People will criticize your ideas
When you tell someone you are following your dream, it’s not uncommon for them to act as if everything you do or say about that dream is now open to their feedback and criticism. For example.
Friend: “How’s it going with the new business?”
You: “Great! I’m really excited. Would you like to see my new business cards I just got printed?”
Friend: “Oh. I don’t like this logo at all. I think you should change it.”
If you’ve done your homework, (and I hope you have) you know what will be required to make your dream a reality–not your grandma, not your neighbor, not your old co-worker. So, don’t let those people have a seat at your decision-making table. If you need feedback or help following your dream, ask a mentor, hire a consultant, or contract a firm. Otherwise protect your baby ideas and only share them with friends or family after they’ve been researched, discussed, workshopped, vetted, tested, etc. by people you trust.
There is one caveat I want to add about all of this dream-following business. If people are doing any of the things above, perhaps it’s because you aren’t actually following your dreams… you’re just talking about it a lot. The people around you may have grown tired of humoring you by asking about things that never seem to happen. If that’s true, and the reason you haven’t pulled the trigger on your big idea is because you’re waiting for everyone to tell you it’s awesome and foolproof, I have some advice for you: stop waiting and start doing.
The biggest thing no one tells you about following your dreams is that it is a messy, and often lonely endeavor. Unlike Forrest Gump, crowds of people won’t automatically assemble to support you. But I hope you will muster up the passion, hope, tenacity, and bravery and run forward anyway.