Dear Graduate: Do Not Follow Your Dreams

Dear Graduate: Do Not Follow Your Dreams May 5, 2015
Flickr Creative Commons Copyright: Jason Bache (photo cropped)
Flickr Creative Commons Copyright: Jason Bache (photo cropped)

Dear Graduate,

If memory serves, this month, as you are nearing graduation, you will be getting a lot of advice from a lot of well-meaning friends, family, and advisers.

Unfortunately, it’s often a fair amount of bad advice.

For example, they will tell you  to follow your dreams. And you will be tempted to do just that, to trust them as you always have, that seductive suggestion that the world is your oyster waiting to be harvested. While that may be true for some of you, the hard truth is that, for most of you, it won’t be.

So please, on your graduation, do not listen to the suggestion that you should follow your dreams.

It is the worst advice you could ever get upon your graduation.

Dreams are no longer what they once were. Today, they are merely clever coverings to clothe naked ambitions. In the pursuit of your dreams that you’ve likely held for years by the time you graduate, you have already poured yourself into a mold to fit your dreams. You’ve attended summer camps, maybe even at elite or far-flung institutions. You’ve tailored extracurricular activities to your specific dreams. You’ve focused your electives to reflect your interests. You’ve taken trips, shadowed professionals, and perhaps even subscribed to professional organizations as a student to show the seriousness of your dreams.

And, without anyone noticing — least of all you and your loved ones — your dream has become a prison. Because that’s what happens to a dream when you fashion yourself into the shape of a resume.

Instead, I have a different suggestion for new graduates.

Don’t follow your dreams.

Don’t even trust them.

They are too fickle.

Instead, follow your curiosity.

Follow your questions, not your dreams.

Follow them down any road or path or unmarked trail they might lead.

Follow the questions that burn in you, that keep you up at night, that lead you not to answers but to deeper questions.

And do not fear those questions. Or your curiosity. I believe those two things lie at the heart of our identities, of our deepest souls. Too often we bury them because we fear who we are, we fear looking at ourselves undisguised, without our naked ambition clothing our most profound passions.

So as you go forth a graduate, do not ask yourself what your dreams for your future are. Do not dream about where you will be in five years or 10. Ponder instead that burning uncertainty, that creative wonder, that unanswerable question. And wonder, not what you will be doing in five or 10 years, but what questions you might be asking then.

Because if we follow our questions, we might just bump into ourselves along the way. We might just bump into God.

Of course, it won’t be God in the form of an answer or an epiphany. Rather it will be God in the form of a question — a question so profound, so unfathomable, so life-giving it can’t be anything other than God, or the union of you and the Divine, or that thin place where, to paraphrase Frederick Buechner, your deepest longing meets the world’s deepest needs.

It will be that question that both can never be answered because it’s not worth answering. It’s the question meant to be lived. And in the living of it, that question might just lead to a dream, unclouded by ambition, you’d never even dreamed of.

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  • Rust Cohle

    I followed my curiosity, and found out religion is just a coping mechanism as described in terror management theory, and that Christianity has hopelessly conflated 2 of the 4 popular stories religions tell us to deny that we will eventually die.

    • Glen Olives

      Thank you for sharing this video, I had not seen it before. It touches upon much of I’ve written about mortality. An article of mine will be posted in the next few days on The Friendly Atheist titled “In Praise of Life (It’s Time to Ditch the Cult of Longevity)”. The central thesis of which is that we find solace in religion because of an irrational fear of death. Irrational because death is not something we could ever experience, and fearing something that we can never experience is…well, absurd. I hope you look for it.

      • sg

        I think the fear of death is pretty rational. I mean, that is why I look both ways before crossing the street.

      • Glen Olives

        Well, it depends on how narrowly or broadly you would like to define “fear of death.” Without getting too deep into the weeds of metaphysics and epistemology, being careful in crossing the street for being killed by a car is, of course, rational behavior. But fearing the inevitability of something that we will never experience is the antithesis of rationality. And yet we do, but not because of reason, but rather because it is genetically instilled in us through evolution by natural selection.

  • bill wald

    Good outlook. A job should either be lots of fun and/or more than pay the bills. If it does both . . . Jackpot!

  • Glen Olives

    Exactly the right message. As a law professor in Mexico for more than a decade, I find that the vast majority of my students, who I love dearly, have no interest or passion about law. Many of their true interests surround art, history, literature, and a whole host of other things, none of which are particularly lucrative here. Much to the chagrin of my colleagues in university administration who are primarily concerned with enrollment numbers, I tell (actually preach to) my students that their lives will be more fulfilling and better lived if they pursue their curiosity, their passion, rather than status and wealth. Not only do kids entering university not know what they want to do professionally, they don’t know HOW they can know what they want to do professionally.

  • Secret Blue

    To some extent I agree. In some case though if you follow your curiosity you can end up in a very, very dark place. Though the world isn’t like an HP Lovecraft story there are a number of curiosities that should never be indulged.

    • Ygritte Snow

      but without those dark places, the light wouldn’t be visible.