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.