I was only a few months into my ad agency job when an older, more seasoned colleague asked me about my five-year plan:
“So after you master the whole copywriting thing, what is the next step?”
I paused for a long time, because, quite frankly, I had never thought about it. My dream was to write. Period. To be paid to string words together on a page, to make stories come to life.
And I was thrilled that I was being given the opportunity. Thrilled to be crafting website copy and learning the ins and outs of SEO. Thrilled to be able to say that I was paid to write things for a living.
So when she asked me what comes next, I was totally thrown off.
But by the tone of her question—and by the question itself—all I could think was that, in her mind, being a writer wasn’t good enough. There had to be something bigger, grander, loftier that I was reaching for.
Creative Director. Strategic Director. CEO.
Something like that.
So I thought for a moment about which of those appealed most to me and I told her I’d probably move onto strategy (which I did, though I never stopped writing).
But you know what?
Strategy wasn’t actually my dream. It hadn’t even been on my radar.
My answer was simply me trying to live up to other people’s expectations, me not being able to say: hey, this is my dream. It’s what I want most in the world. And it’s a good dream. It doesn’t need anything more.
Of course I couldn’t say that, though. It goes against the very grain of our culture.
In America, we’re taught to be discontent. To make five-year and ten-year plans and lengthy to-do lists. To celebrate our promotion by thinking about the next promotion. To enjoy our new home for one week before we start thinking about the next, bigger, more perfect home we’ll buy. To buy the new iWhatever the moment it is released because the one we bought three weeks ago isn’t good enough anymore.
So it makes perfect sense that my colleague asked me about my next step right as I was achieving a massive life goal—and perfect sense that I couldn’t bring myself to say that I was wildly happy living in the now and had no interest in next steps at the moment.
This happened to me years ago, but it’s been on my mind lately. Probably because I finally admitted to myself that my childhood dream—to be a travel writer—was still my dream. Probably because I finally took the first step to fully realize that dream. And probably because I keep seeing the same thing happening over and over again.
So many of the messages we put out are dream bigger, go farther, do more. And of course it’s important to remind yourself to dream. But I think we sometimes forget that encouraging people to dream and pushing them to a societal standard of success are two different things.
If your dream is to live a simple life with a cute country cottage, to grow your own food, to raise a child, to change a handful of people’s lives…that’s a beautiful dream. And it’s not less good than the dreams of visiting every country or becoming a CEO or being the first person to build a house on the moon.
The point is that there’s no such thing as a dream that’s too simple, a dream that’s not good enough.
Not everyone is meant to be a CEO, a Creative Director, a manager. Not everyone wants to climb the ladder. Not everyone wants fame. Not everyone wants unconvention.
Which is why I wanted to push the pause button on my travel adventures for a moment today to remind you:
Whatever your dream is, it is your dream. It doesn’t need other people’s expectations or embellishments. It doesn’t have to look like anyone else’s dream. It also doesn’t have to be wildly unconventional. It just has to be yours.
In other words, what you want is good enough.
So if you, like me, find yourself cornered and asked “what’s next?”, it’s okay to simply smile and say “this is what’s next. This is my dream.“
Then go and live it.
So glad to read this. I’m very happy with my life as it is and don’t see the need to make changes but feel pressure from others to ‘discover my life mission’ and act on it. It seems to me that my mission is to ‘be the light’ exactly where I am.
This is exactly what an important person in my life told me just last week. I’ve been clinging to it for inspiration to keep pursuing MY dream just because it isn’t others. Thanks for the reinforcement.
So glad it was timely. :)
Thank you for the great post. You are right we are pushed into wanting more. At an interview for a job I was asked the big 5 year question and I responded that I wanted to be gainfully employed and maybe get married again and have a kid. As you can imagine I did not get the job ah, well I think it worked out for the best. I really had no answer because I never plan my life that far into the future. To me there are too many variables and too many things can either go wrong hence dream or where you see yourself in five years goes wrong or it goes great and you get all of those promotions etc.
I hear that. I can’t even tell people what I’ll be doing six months from now, let alone five years. :)
It’s a balancing act for sure – I actually think some people who feel directionless and overwhelmed can often use a (flexible) roadmap for the next six months, two years, five years, whatever so they can think through their aspirations and break them into manageable, shorter-term pieces. A lot of people I’ve met speak passionately or despairingly about what they think they’d like to do in life, and it’s clear that they don’t feel special or smart enough to achieve those goals – they don’t trust in their own agency. I think that’s why one of the most common regrets of the dying is that they didn’t take enough risks. They imposed arbitrary limits on themselves and they could have afforded to dream bigger.
But all that said, I definitely agree that dreams don’t need to be in the shape of quintessential capitalist success to be meaningful. I find the five-years-from-now question to be obnoxious for a lot of reasons, not least of which is that anyone who isn’t on a fast track to a highly specialized career like law, medicine, or welding isn’t going to have a satisfactory answer. Most of our paths are shaped by a complex network of opportunities and relationships that can’t be precisely mapped out years in advance. In most cases you don’t need to be working toward a specific Point B to be able to knock it out of the park in Point A (or for Point A to be worthwhile for everyone involved), and any employer who thinks otherwise doesn’t understand the current job market.
“I think that’s why one of the most common regrets of the dying is that they didn’t take enough risks. They imposed arbitrary limits on themselves and they could have afforded to dream bigger.” <-- Absolutely! As you know, I'm a big fan of encouraging people to take risks and dream big. "But all that said, I definitely agree that dreams don’t need to be in the shape of quintessential capitalist success to be meaningful." <-- Also yes! I also definitely see "dream big" being misused to mean "dream this specific dream, dude," which I think is soul stifling. Dreams are so vulnerable anyway, it's particularly tough when someone is implying (or outright telling you) that yours isn't good enough or grand enough.
[…] Every once in a while you come across a blogger that blows you away by how they seem to have everything figured out. I’ve been following The Ramble at gigigriffis.com for some time now and recently I read one of her posts that I identified with so much, it was called What You Want Is Good Enough. […]
I just found your site and read through some posts – and then I found this one. THANK YOU!
I’m in sort of a rough spot right now … I feel like I am being ushered into a certain conventional pattern after ending my education. I have a husband and a kid, so the pressure is: “get a good job, buy a house, don’t dream for more than a fancy car. Oh yeah, and don’t you want to get on with having another kid soon?”
But really, I don’t dream of a fancy career. I just want to go after my dream of writing and travelling, minimal possesions and freedom – while not letting go of my loving family. A bit tricky, but I have some ideas for moving on. So, I’m trying to promote courage in myself. This post was very therapeutic in that regard, so thanks again :-).
I’m so glad it was so therapeutic! I love all those things you mentioned. It sounds like you want a beautiful and simple life with your family. And it also sounds like the kind of life that would be really healthy and beautiful for a kid to grow up in.
[…] And I hope you’ll do the same. That you’ll start from the positive. Love yourself. Dream big (but don’t let anyone tell you that your dreams are too big or too small; what you want is good enough). […]
Great words. Thanks for sharing them. There’s no point in living someone else’s dream, or what you think might be expected of you. Just go for whatever it is that makes you happy.
“If your dream is to live a simple life with a cute country cottage, to grow your own food, to raise a child, to change a handful of people’s lives…that’s a beautiful dream.”
Thank you sooo much for this! I kind of knew this already but I somehow needed someone to remind me of how true it is. And that I should live MY dream and MY life not society’s or my friends’ or my family’s.
And by the way I really like your site! I just stumbled on to it a few days ago but I’m going to follow it regularly now ;)
Thanks! So glad I could offer some encouragement.