THE BLOG
08/26/2014 12:58 pm ET Updated Feb 23, 2015

Is Following Your Dreams Unrealistic?

Most of the e-mails I get echo the same sentiment: "I wish I could follow my passion."

These people write to tell me they've been stuck in a boring routine for far too long. They're desperate for change, to start working on things that energize them. Projects that make them feel alive.

Does this sound like you?

If so, you've probably heard your fair share of criticism for wanting to pursue things you enjoy.

I read an article recently where the author argued why people shouldn't settle with 9-to-5 jobs they hate -- that there's more to life than toiling away for a paycheck. Then I came across this in the comments section:

"People don't make history by reading books on the beach. They make history by working hard and being committed to something."

This kind of criticism is pervasive. For every ten people that are on board with the idea of following your passion, there's always one person that's vehemently against it.

"I can't stand people that think they can just follow their dreams," someone I know said recently. "It's unrealistic."

So which is it? Are you a spoiled brat for wanting more than just earning a paycheck? Or are the critics right -- are you supposed to just suck it up, put your time in at work, and stop dreaming?

Is following your passion unrealistic?

To answer this question, we need to first define a crucial concept: Art.

What is art?

Ask any group of people what comes to mind when they think of art and you're likely to get some very similar responses. Most imagine art as something that's tangible -- a chiseled marble sculpture or a colorful abstract painting.

But art is much more than that. Art is receiving a warm smile after paying someone a compliment. It's two strangers making conversation in the middle of the day. It's the businesswoman resolving a conflict between her two colleagues at work. It's the teacher inspiring the children in his class with words of encouragement before they leave for the afternoon.

Art is visceral. It's doing or creating something that challenges and inspires others -- that creates impact.

Shamefully, few people think of themselves as artists. But the truth is, all of us are. All that's required is being human and having a commitment to making a difference, no matter how small.

The Misconception of Following Your Passion

Following your passion means creating art.

For some strange reason though, people seem to associate following your passion with expecting a life of luxury without having to put in much effort. But that isn't the case at all. It doesn't mean laying in a hammock reading a book on the beach, or sipping on lattes in some exotic location.

There's a difference between relaxing versus working on projects that fuel your fire. The people committed to following their passion -- that want to create art that benefits the world in some way -- know that it takes a lot of hard work to succeed.

But of course, all of this hard work won't be in vain. Because when you're working so diligently on what you believe in, others take notice. People will draw inspiration from what you do and crave more of your work. These people, your followers, make the difference between having a fun hobby versus earning a living doing what you love.

Create value and the rest will fall into place

When it comes to following your passion, people have a tendency to ask themselves the wrong questions. There's too much emphasis on the how:

"How am I supposed to make money?"

"How do I pay my bills?"

"How will I survive?"

As an artist, choose to focus instead on the what and why:

"Why do I want to pursue this?"

"What drives me?"

"What impact will my work have on the world?"

Remember the two ingredients of pursuing your art: do what you love and add value to the world.

A Note On Self-Doubt

It's normal to have your doubts when people constantly try to remind you that you're chasing a fruitless endeavor. One common setback is thinking you're not good enough to do what you want; we have a tendency to drastically underestimate ourselves. We look at others pursuing similar projects and immediately feel inadequate.

Here's the solution: Stop thinking of your art as something to be compared. Each person has a story -- a unique lens from which they see the world. Your art should reflect this. You are the only person in the universe with your story.

Remember: You're better than you think. Someone out there (likely more than one) will appreciate your work. It's your duty to follow your passion and share your art with the world.

Final Thoughts

Following your passion isn't unrealistic. This misconception exists because people misunderstand the phrase, taking it to mean having lofty, impractical expectations for oneself.

Commit to your art, work hard to create value, and cultivate your following. Doing these things creates a positive impact on the world that others will notice. And what's so unrealistic about that?

If you enjoyed this article, check out my guide, Stop Dreaming and Start Doing: How To Actually Do What You Love, for free at peoplepassionate.com