Follow Your Dreams: 4 Ways to Meet Your Goals (While Staying Practical)


Woman planning future on a cliff


Laura Berlinsky-Schine
Laura Berlinsky-Schine

When you were a kid, you probably had plenty of ideas about what you wanted to do when you grew up. Perhaps you dreamed of being an actress, singer, or zoo keeper. Maybe you thought you’d be a Disney princess, or, simply, famous.

Now that you’re older, your goals may have changed. Perhaps you realized being on the stage didn’t match your skill set. Maybe being a Disney princess doesn’t seem as glamorous as it once did.

Passions and interests can change a lot from childhood to adulthood and throughout life. And of course, some ideas you have as a child just aren’t practical later on. Still, you should be doing something that makes you happy now.

If you hate your career, every day can feel like a slog. It might be hard to get out of bed in the morning. You could be spending all day watching time tick away. It doesn’t have to be like this.

“Follow your dreams” might seem like a fool’s errand. When your dream is far from the reality you’re living, it can feel out of reach. But you should be doing something you love. It’s a cliché, but life is too short to spend it doing something you hate.

You can do work you love. It takes courage and hard work, but it will be worth it when you realize your passion.

But how do you follow your dreams while staying practical and realistic?

Find joy in what you’re currently doing

Nobody loves what they do all the time. Jobs can be stressful sometimes and boring other times. But finding joy in the moments in between—when you really enjoy what you’re doing—will help direct to a career that fulfills you most of the time.

Even if you don’t love your current job, think about the moments you do enjoy. It’s unlikely that you hate everything about it. Something led you there. What was it? Identifying the moments that bring you comfort will allow you to understand where your passion really lies and pursue a talent and passion that brings you those moments more frequently.

If you’re just starting out in your career, keep in mind that many people need to start at the bottom, which may involve grunt work. Understand this before you dismiss a career about which you don’t feel immediately passionate. It could be that you need to put in your due before the work gets more exciting. That doesn’t mean you should settle for a Devil Wears Prada situation; if you really, really hate what every moment of your job, you should probably find something new. However, you should give something a little time before you dismiss it completely.

Take incremental steps

Think big, but start small. You can’t expect to find complete success overnight. If you take big leaps, such as impulsively quitting your job without a plan or backup, you’re bound to be disappointed.

Start by setting small, achievable goals for yourself. If you’re applying for jobs in a new career, it might be fully revising your resume one day, creating a standard cover letter the next, and so on. Once you’ve achieved smaller goals, you’ll recognize that you can do it, and it’s only a matter of time until you’re able to conquer your big-picture goal and achieve the success you want.

Focus on one idea at a time

You may have a lot of big ideas. Right now, you want to do it all. Perhaps you want to start your own company and write a book.

Take it one step at a time. If you try to do everything at once, you’re not going to get very far with any of your goals. Fulfilling your ambitions can take time and hard work. If you’re trying to fulfill them all at once, you’re only going to set yourself up for failure.

Instead of trying to tackle everything on your bucket list right now, focus on one idea at a time. Once you’ve met your initial goal, you can proceed to the next one. You’ll probably still need to nurture your initial passion, since there’s rarely a finish line for big ideas—for instance, you’ll still need to cultivate and grow your new business, if you’re an entrepreneur—but you’ll be able to devote more time and care to your individual pursuits.

Never say “it’s too late”

Julia Child didn’t learn to cook until she was nearly 40. Laura Ingalls Wilder was 65 years old when Little House in the Big Woods was published. She had spent more than 20 years revising it and received numerous rejection letters along the way. Vera Wang started designer wedding dresses at 40 after stints as a figure skater and Vogue editor.

Success isn’t limited to your 20s. In fact, few people become wildly successful when they’re very young.

That doesn’t mean you can’t start working on your goals when you’re in your 20s. But it does mean you shouldn’t ever feel like you’ve missed out if you’re older. It’s never too late to start doing something you love—or loving something you’re doing.