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. :)