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09 October 2008 @ 09:51 am
pursuing dreams  

I was reading Greg Rucka’s blog yesterday and there was an entry about pursuing dreams and their fragility, and the comments discussed some things about facing reality vs pursuing dreams. It all got me to thinking. And now this is getting to be a very long entry, so I’m going to put it behind a cut tag to spare the flist….

I would imagine anybody who reads my LJ regularly (or even irregularly) grasps the idea that I fundamentally believe people should pursue their dreams. It’s not that I think it’ll always be easy, or that to do so is without risk, but that I’m inclined to believe the risk is worth it: better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. Furthermore, I’m also heavily inclined toward the Zen attitude of “Leap and the net will open,” (or, as Ted prefers it, “Learn to embrace the bomb”).

In the comments on Mr. Rucka’s LJ, though, somebody was talking about a friend or a sister or somebody who wanted to be (paraphrased wildly because I haven’t re-read it) a high-level New York executive, and who was just out of college and who couldn’t get the job she wanted and felt her family was stepping on her dreams by telling her to aim lower.

This, I feel, is possibly a basic problem with people pursuing their dreams: *lots* of people think they’re going to start at the top, and in fact refuse to consider starting anywhere else. One of the rotating quotes on my homepage is “Set priorities for your goals. A major part of successful living lies in the ability to put first things first. Indeed, the reason most major goals are not achieved is that we spend our time doing second things first.” (Robert J. McKain)

I’m pretty good at pursuing my dreams, and it’s in large part because I put first things first. It’s taken more than five years to get “Take A Chance” off the ground, but I went at it methodically (which I talked a bit about here on Magical Words), and in the end that approach worked. It was not fast. It was not meteoric, and it didn’t start anywhere near the top. It started in the trenches. That’s where pretty much everything starts. So I would implore the girl who wants to be a top-level ad executive to dream, but to also have a plan of attack.

A plan is not always going to work. I know that. “Man plans, God laughs,” and “no plan survives the first encounter with the enemy.” I could go on. :) But I would also argue that it’s better to *start* with a plan (I’ll write short stories until I’ve got some name recognition, I’ll win a few Hugos, then I’ll write novels) and be prepared to modify it (actually, it turns out I’m really kind of crap at short stories, maybe I should turn to long fiction now and see if that works better for me) than to take a stance of “I am unpublished, but I will consider myself a failure unless I hit the NYT bestseller list.” That’s not a plan. That’s setting yourself up for disappointment.

I gather that breaking things down into bite-sized methodical steps is harder for many people than I find it to be. It’s partly, I think, that you have to be confident of what you want. But it’s also the problem of packing up to move house. At the beginning there’s *so much* to do, you just don’t know where to start. But eventually you have to grit your teeth and pick a room. It becomes easier after that. And building almost any plan is like packing. Get a box. You can’t do anything without a box. (Get an artist. You can’t do a comic book without one. Get a pencil or a word processor. You can’t write a book without one. Get a job in the mail room. You can’t become an exec without experience (George Bush nonwithstanding). Etc.) I genuinely think that most goals are achievable, with a determined and methodical enough approach. It’s not a very romantic way to look at it, but I’m working in a business that looks romantic from the outside and which, from within, is a business just like any other. I don’t think people who want to get into it (or, hell, any other career) can really afford to be romantic if they want to succeed.

A note: I suspect that some of this, coming from me, may sound…I don’t know. Superior. Snotty. Something like that. Because my plan has essentially worked: I decided in 2002 that I was going to get published. I gave myself a 3 year window to get my first contract; I got one fourteen months later, and in fact my first book came out within that initial 3 year window. Then I picked up and moved to Ireland, which is one of those “ZOMG I would love to do that” kinds of bold moves that many people talk about doing in their lives. From that perspective I can see pretty easily how a response could be, “Yeah, but it *worked* for you.” And it has, generally. On the other hand, I don’t really talk very much about the down sides: about really honestly not knowing where next month’s rent is going to come from, about not having developed a social network that involves real live people except two or three times a year/having moved away from the small one we had because the town was too expensive, about having been on only one actual vacation with my husband in the eleven and a half years we’ve been married. Yes: my plan worked. But there are distinct and obvious costs to that success, costs which would very likely not be counted if I’d gone and found another job as a web designer instead of having struck out as a freelance writer. TANSTAAFL, and you have to decide how much you’re willing to pay for it.

A corollary to all of this is what’s probably my favorite Neil Gaiman quote ever: “I’ve learned over the years that everything is more or less the same amount of work, so you may as well set your sights high and try and do something really cool.”

I really think that’s true. That’s part of what makes doing a project like “Chance” worth it to me–I think it’s really cool. I’ve no idea if the rest of the world will respond accordingly, but my God, why would I spend this much time on something if I *didn’t* think it was really cool? That’s what dreams are: they’re something you think is *really cool*. Something that’s worth putting your time and energy into. Something that’s worth the risk of failing at, in my book, because at least you tried, and maybe you’ve learned something that’ll make it work next time.

I feel like I should have some kind of fantastic wrap-up statement here, but I’ve been working on this for 90 minutes when I should be working on THE PRETENDER’S CROWN, so I’m just going to give a pathetic gasp and stop typing now. :)

(x-posted from the essential kit)

 
 
Current Mood: distressedimpassioned
 
 
 
Kari Sperringla_marquise_de_ on October 9th, 2008 10:15 am (UTC)
I think both this and Mr Rucka's piece are both very true and very helpful. One thing that the US system seems to be better at instilling into people in their 20s than our UK one is this courage to plan and to try -- and to be willing to go on trying. We seem here sometimes to be far too good at teaching negativity. I held my dreams very close and very hidden for too many years, mainly because when they got out briefly c1990, I was savaged for them by someone I thought was basically decent. I let that silence me and stop me for over a decade, which I should never have done. You have to try, because sitting saying 'it won't happen for me' and doing nothing creates, well, nothing. When I look back, I had two goals in my 20s and in the end I achieved them both, which is kind of something. It took me a lot longer than 21-year-old me thought, and they happened in ways I didn't expect. But it did happen. So yes, dreams are worthwhile and should be given space to grow.
HL Henriksonveilofgrace on October 9th, 2008 11:04 am (UTC)
Bravo!

I thought I'd add an interesting tidbit - at least I find it interesting - to the girl who doesn't want to start at the bottom (mostly because you mentioned an interest in Anthropology, and it's a culture study...). I read (okay, skimmed) a study on Generation Me, America's late teens and twenty-somethings of today, some months back. Apparently, most of that age group believe it's not only possible but mandatory that companies offer them the ability to walk out of the classroom and into the bigwig boardroom. They also expect to earn upwards of $40k as a starting salary. Fewer of them (because I don't remember the exact statistic) want to be doctors, lawyers, or traditionally well-paid civil servants than in any other previous generation. At least half harbor intentions of becoming musicians, actors, filmmakers, writers, and artists. What the last generations achieved by 25 (house, family, education, stable job), they won't achieve until about 32. (In many cases, that includes moving out of their parents' house.)

Of course, as a twenty-something myself, working toward making a career in writing, married to a man striving to break into movie producing, I didn't care for much of what the study said, mostly because it was dead on. I have too many friends who make dreams and abandon them as soon as it looks like they might have hard times ahead, only to find a new rainbow to chase when they have more cash in pocket. They truly believe that if the dream is meant to happen, it'll fall into place without work. And they routinely smirk at me for not shooting for the quarter of a million dollar publishing contract while telling me I'm setting myself up for failure by being content to work on the ground. It's frustrating.

Maybe it's not a new phenomenon. But it *is* growing. It's refreshing to see a successful professional support the idea that dreams are worth the sacrifice. :) It also gives me a way to show my husband why I read your blog every day (not very internet-friendly, my filmmaker).
Laura Anne Gilmansuricattus on October 9th, 2008 11:23 am (UTC)
Yes. That. I've had a lot of people say things like "oh, it all just fell into place for you" and I laugh, hard, because every single damn step of the way was a double-step of a) work with what's on the ground and b) get the ground set up for your next step. It's just that so much of the set-up isn't visible to the outside eye....

Maura McHugh: typing hildysplinister on October 9th, 2008 11:26 am (UTC)
Great post.

I'm surprised that people don't equate a writing career with other careers: there's an apprenticeship period to become a carpenter, plumber, etc. Why do people think that it's any different with writing? It takes effort, and a steely determination, but I agree that if you actively pursue your dreams you can achieve them.

Another impediment is dealing with people who will go out of their way to discourage or ridicule your plans. Once you decide to take up a career that is outside of the mainstream you will become rather incomprehensible to some people in more conventional careers. Perhaps they envy what they perceive as your freedom. They rarely notice the sacrifices or the difficulties, and only imagine ease and glamour.

Edited at 2008-10-09 11:27 am (UTC)
wldhrsjen3wldhrsjen3 on October 9th, 2008 12:06 pm (UTC)
Well said, and something I *so* needed to read this morning. Thank you.
lady_findellady_findel on October 9th, 2008 01:40 pm (UTC)
Well, pursuing dreams is really important in life. But as you say, one needs to be realistic. And some of the times, the dream might not even be what you really want. Until I was 19, my dream was becoming a paleontologist. I was well on my way, in my second candidature of Geology, when it struck me that this might all be very interesting, but it was not going to fulfill my life like it should. So I took a leap... I abandoned a dream I had built my life around. And it was not easy. I had a plan, and I had to abandon it. (I finished the year, to get my candidature degree, so as not to have wasted these two years. And I can honestly say that a good basic understandiing of the exact sciences is a great help in life. I do not regret those two years, but quitting was the right decision.)

At the moment, I'm in between plans. When people ask me what I want to do, I just don't know. Yet, I do know what I don't want to do and that's worth something as well, I guess. I got a masters degree in English and German philology, an advanced master in European and World history, and I am know doing a master in management. The only thing I'm planning now is my graduation next year. Then we'll see. I will be searching and applying for jobs. I will be applying for anything that is remotely interesting, and then we'll go from there.

If there is one thing I know... I can be anything I want to be, I just need to know what I want.
La Mutant of Reputemutantenemy on October 9th, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
Thank you for this. Lately, myself and a few of my in-tuned, artsy-fartsy friends have been overcome with this feeling of....well...restlessness. Like we should be doing something Life-wise, but we don't know what or how. That we feel a bit lost and dare I say, slightly discombobulated. Some of us know are dreams but are having difficulty executing them. Some of us, like myself, have so many dreams of "Ooooo shiny cool stuff!" we don't know which one to go after. Kinda feels like trying to put up a 4-person tent by yourself.

If you don't mind, I would like to link your article here to my LJ because I believe it will help shine a light for some folks on my F-List.
kitmizkit on October 9th, 2008 02:19 pm (UTC)
I don't mind at all! Link away. :)
La Mutant of Reputemutantenemy on October 9th, 2008 02:21 pm (UTC)
Thank you so much!
fatbaldguy60fatbaldguy60 on October 9th, 2008 03:24 pm (UTC)
Nearly every successful person has worked very hard to achieve their success. It seems today [and I am sure our parents said the same of us]that young people today seem to think that just because a handful of people are catapulted to fame without apparent effort that somehow it will happen for them as well, with very little or no work at all.

Everything has a price, obvious or not. Every single decision we make in our lives comes at a cost, whether that be time, lost opportunities, relationships, health. etc.

Another thing, people often confuse successful with happy. I think people who live their dreams are more likely to be happy, even if they are not wildly successful. You only have to look at the divorce rate in Hollywood or among corporate CEOs to see that success does not equate to happiness.
Lauraskeagsidhe on October 9th, 2008 03:46 pm (UTC)
on the subject of dreams...
Well put...

This is one of those things I think about a lot. A long time ago (and this blog's fine author will likely remember this), I made a conscious decision to pursue one dream at the expense of giving up another. I occasionally wonder what life would have been like had I made that other choice. But I don't let that paralyze me or keep me from taking opportunities.

And that's really the crux of this whole "achieve your dreams" thing. It's great to have a dream. It's even great to have a plan. And it's crucial to know that you're going to have to work hard and not just start at the top. But in with having a dream and having a plan and being willing to work, you also have to be open to opportunities that come up and not spend your life on regrets and second-guessing.

I've achieved one of my dreams, if not quite in the form I had expected. And I did it via a path I NEVER would have planned, because I saw opportunities and I took the risk and went for them. Some went well. Some didn't. The opportunities led me on a very winding path. But I got here, and most days, I'm thrilled with what I'm doing. Taking risks, IMHO, is a HUGE part of going for dreams. It helps to have contingency plans (because paying the rent is good), but there's no combination quite like work and seizing opportunities, even if they seem weird, when they come to get you where you want, or need, to be.
cedunkleycedunkley on October 9th, 2008 04:04 pm (UTC)
When I was younger I wrote a lot. My closest friend at the time and I on occasion would have unofficial writing contests where we would meet back up on the weekend and share what each had written during the week.

About 2 years ago I decided that it was time to get serious about my writing. Becoming published was always one of those fantasies that I dreamed about but never pursued until I made that recent decision this is what I want.

Since then I have spent my time going back through what I've written and made my decision about which story I wanted to write first and embarked on that.

Earlier this year, however, I stopped and turned my attention to a stand-alone novel that would act as a prequel to the story I had initially chosen to craft into hopefully publishable form. I made this decision based upon my being unpublished at all (short stories are not my thing, though I've decided to embark upon that form as well now) and that trying to sell a 5 volume epic fantasy as a completely unproven author would just stack the already high deck against me even higher. Based upon the story structure there was no way to make Book 1 standalone.

So, I've spent this year working on my current WIP, with the bulk of the writing coming since the summer. And I'm working on short stories to try and at least get a publication or two under my belt there and to get into the habit of actually submitting my work even if it will bring some inevitable rejections.

I have a game plan as well and I am sticking to it. From reading your LJ page and the blogs of other authors it makes the journey I'm on seem more real as I don't feel I'm walking this path alone. Hearing what you and other published authors go through really helps someone like me, who is newer to this journey.

Thanks for this.
Turning the Schmaltz up to 11: interesting liespullthestars on October 9th, 2008 04:27 pm (UTC)
Part of my problem? Not knowing what that dream is.
(Anonymous) on October 9th, 2008 04:31 pm (UTC)
A dream sticks with you and keeps you moving
I'm currently reading a book (Overachievement by John Eliot) that talks a lot about this same topic. Many people have dreams, or set goals, and they end up disappointed when things don't pan out. What happens then?

Well, how truly inspired are you by your dream? How confident are you in your ability to get there, wherever "there" is? Some people keep plugging away at their dream in the face of setbacks, and some people fold up. This book points out that confidence comes before achievement -- if you believe you can do what you set out to do, you're more likely to stick with it no matter how things work out. (An example from the book: Michael Jordan, basketball god, was cut from his high school basketball team. What if he had given up?)

Confident people take risks and face pressure because they know that those risks and that pressure make all the difference. You had a dream of getting published, and you went after it -- in the face of rejection after rejection, you kept at it, and it eventually paid off. You kept at it because it was a dream that wouldn't go away. In order to pursue the chance of getting published (pun unintended), you gave up your day job (or let it pass unlamented, I forget which) and dedicated yourself to writing.

Others might lay out a lot of contingency plans, revealing a lack of confidence in their ability to eventually reach their dream. Confidence is a pattern of thought, so it can be learned and unlearned. Some people accept rejection and come to believe they aren't good at writing or whatever it is they do, and their dreams fade. I'm one of those, and I want my dreams back.

"Yeah, but it worked for you." True, but you believed in it before it happened. You took risks and made changes because it might work, not because it would. The ability to be that dedicated to a dream is within each of us, but many of us learn to settle for safety instead of growing the confidence and courage to follow our dreams.

Thank you for this posting, from another person who finds it well-timed in his own life.

-- Robert, ex-Evan
rhienellethrhienelleth on October 9th, 2008 04:35 pm (UTC)
Greg Rucka has a blog?? OMG!

I was going to say I should go ask him why he left us hanging with Atticus Kodiak (not that Queen & Country wasn't good, and all), but then a brief search on amazon turned up an Atticus book that came out last year which I never read (or even knew about), which is apparently coming to paperback in November.

Not that that matters, because I'm not waiting that long.

And, wow, none of this has anything to do with your post. I got totalling sidetrack by the Greg Rucka mention. :) *friends him*

kitmizkit on October 9th, 2008 09:11 pm (UTC)
*laughs* Glad to be of service. :)
mercuryeric on October 10th, 2008 06:50 pm (UTC)
I was going to say I should go ask him why he left us hanging with Atticus Kodiak (not that Queen & Country wasn't good, and all), but then a brief search on amazon turned up an Atticus book that came out last year which I never read (or even knew about), which is apparently coming to paperback in November.

...and, he's posting pre-release chapters of the forthcoming Kodiak, Walking Dead, on that same blog.

If you haven't read Patriot Acts yet, you should not, not, not click that link.