To what degree is it worth it to follow your dreams?

One of my relatives is pretty stubborn about pursuing her artistic talents, but has an underlying medical condition that makes it impractical or downright dangerous to not have full insurance benefits that a stable job would offer.

She feels that this is an unfair situation (I agree that it is), but the truth is if something were to happen, the burden of financially supporting her would fall on her family. She doesn’t want us to have to do that of course, but there is no way we could sit back and watch her suffer due to her lack of insurance.

Currently she’s holding down a decent job, but she’s very condescending towards people who “work for money” as opposed to working for their own fulfillment. I blame a good amount of this viewpoint on her hipster friends. She’s also shown signs of clinical depression, so it’s not as easy as slapping some sense into her. Now, I understand that in the US it’s pretty standard to hate your job compared to some other countries, but how would you explain to her that sometimes you just don’t have the luxury of paying your bills with your hobbies?

For anyone else I’d suggest they go out and fail to learn a lesson, but in her case failure could be life threatening.

Well not really, as you said your family wouldn’t let that happen.

So in reality, you and others are her insurance. She knows this and you do to. It just sounds like you don’t like being put in that position.

crono35, I’m not sure what artistic talents your relative has, but could she do that on the side, in addition to her regular job, and try to make some money off her artistic endeavours in her spare time?

Depending on the type of person, their feelings can stretch from the end of the spectrum where it is never worth the risk to follow their dreams, and the other end where a person would die for their dreams.

I wouldn’t say either is necessarily wrong.

Some people gain a specific sort of fulfillment by bucking the system, enough for them to do so-called “crazy” things. Read about a fellow once who squatted in a condemned house in Detroit, then took it upon himself to fix the house up to a livable condition by scrounging other condemned houses. He didn’t have an ounce of regret for the hungry nights, the year(s) without running water, the winters without heat beyond a wood stove. His belief/dream in bucking the system made it all worthwhile to him, as well as the community he helped build.

Of course, some people talk big and never follow through, causing regrets and problems to gnaw inside them as they figure they don’t have the guts to live that lifestyle but yearn for it anyway.

Anyway, back to the more mundane shit, since I doubt she’s on that end of the spectrum. Tell her to keep the day job if she can and charge appropriately for her art, as we live in a capitalist society, and leave it at that. It’s her life to live, and it’s not necessarily your duty to carry the slack if she puts herself in danger.

Everyone should follow their dreams, but it has to be done pragmatically. For instance if one wants to be an actor, the only route isn’t to just move to LA and work as a waiter and go to as many auditions as possible. One can try working in theater or some shorts with others interested. If one wants to be in a band, I don’t need to quit my job and go touring in a beat-up minivan making $80 to split 4 ways a night. I can work on my personal stuff in my own time, form a casual band, and see where it goes from there.

A lot of people seem to have a false dichotomy about living their dreams or just giving in to the daily grind and it’s not an either or. For me, my greatest passion is my music and I spend a fair amount of time on it, but I do it purely for the passion and pleasure of it. If I eventually could make a living at it, great, but I have no such expectation at all. In the meantime, I have a job I like but don’t love, and as long as I can get in my time with my passion, I’m reasonably happy.

We all have dreams about growing up to be rock stars or astronauts or pro athletes or whatever. But I don’t see how it’s an unfair situation that, as with the vast majority of the population, the loftiest version of our dreams and passions are probably out of reach. Sure, some people who want to be an actor or musician get a lucky break at a young age, but so many more have to work really hard to make it and it still takes a lot of luck. For most people who live the life of an artist, they’ll say it’s not as glorious as the few who make it big make it look.

Instead, it’s just a balancing act of how important your dreams are against what other definitely marketable skills one has and what one needs to survive and live at a level one is comfortable. For some people, that dream is so powerful that they’re willing to live in squallor to try to make it happen, for others they aren’t quite willing to do that, or they have other needs, like medical conditions or family that don’t make that possible.

Damn right I work for the money. Again, I like my job, but I don’t love it. If I wasn’t getting paid, I wouldn’t be there. But my art, considering I do it on my own time and even spend my own money on things I need to make it happen, obviously I’m not doing it for the money. And yes, as a huge fan of musicians and artists that don’t make a lot of money, I have a huge amount of respect for their artistic integrity that they’re doing what they love rather than what will make them rich.

But it’s a double-edged sword. If you drop your job or take a reduced schedule such that, even if you’re doing what you love, that part of your survival depends on selling your art, then you ARE working for the money. If you’re a musician, and you do random gigs and people really like a cover that you’re sick of playing, because you want to do more original stuff, but it gets more people showing up and buying your merchandise, do you just stop playing it and deal with the loss in income, or do you just suck it up?

In short, at any point money enters the equation and your living depends on it, there’s going to be some conflict there somewhere. If you can make the money and don’t need it and can do whatever you want, or you’re just doing it and not making a dime, those are about the only times one is truly not working for the money. Even of the musicians I greatly respect for not “selling out”, I can pretty much guarantee you on a tour, they get sick of playing the same songs every night, and sure they vary it a little, but there’s no way they don’t get sick of playing the crowd favorites EVERY night for weeks or even months at a time. But they HAVE to. Maybe they aren’t sell outs, but they’re still in some sense working for the money.

And sometimes people need a rude awakening. I obviously don’t know her so I don’t know where that is, but a lot of these ideals are just based on that false dichotomy that we seem to learn as kids that anyone can grow up to be anything. Most of us grow out of it and get a more realistic view, but not everyone does. Either way, good luck.

You know who else followed his dreams?


Is that true? I know we have a worse work/life balance than some other wealthy countries like France or Germany, but I assumed people in Germany were just as disillusioned with careers in waste disposal, middle management and fast food as they are here.

Then again, I’ve worked full time (180 hours a month) and part time (110 hours a month). Part time was much easier to deal with than full.

Also this is pretty obvious, but someone has to do the grunt work to keep civilization rolling.

Sucks for your friend, if she lived in dozens of other wealthy or middle income countries she could pursue her passion and never worry about not getting medical care.

I was at a point in my life, in my late twenties, where I thought of pursuing my dreams of getting into acting. I had taken a class, and read a lot of trade papers. In order to pursue this dream I would have to:

Give up my stable job, and get a part time job, so I would be available for auditions.

Give up my really nice apartment, and would have to live with roommates.

Be ready to work long hours, with no pay.

I knew in order to even stand a chance, I would need to go to a lot of auditions, pay for professional headshots, work for nothing, or next to nothing for years, never knowing if it all would pay off in the end. There is plenty of acting jobs in Boston, however, most of them do not pay, or if they do pay, you only make a little in the beginning.

I weighed my passion to follow my dreams against the my stable life as I knew it.

I decided my passion and dream was not strong enough to make so many sacrifices.

I believe if you are realistic with yourself, you will make the right decision.

As for your relative, the decision should be really easy. If she cannot do it on her own, and may have to burden others to pursue her dream, that is totally selfish and not worth it.

I think people should follow their dreams as long as they aren’t burdening anyone else in the process. If someone is willing to support them and wants them to shoot for the stars, then they should go for it. If they are willing to endure poverty and the consequences of poverty (medical debt), then they should go on with their bad selves and do the damn thing.

But if they want to want the glory of following their dreams while paying none of the costs, they are simply being selfish and unrealistic. And sorry, but the “it’s unfair!” thing isn’t a good argument. Just because you inherit a couple of bad genes from your parents doesn’t mean you can take them on a life-long guilt trip whenever you don’t get what you want.

This the most coherent and accurate ways I’ve ever heard the subject discussed. Mostly I only ever hear people go down a path that is entangled with their own values and beliefs and don’t really believe that people have vastly different needs and challenges.

I think it depends on what kind of person you are and what you want out of life.

I’ve been sternly warned against every step of my career path, which has spanned a pretty wide range of stupid, from going to film school to running off to Africa to work for free for years on end. Now I have a well paid job in my dream field, and I love my work.

I think what made it work is:

  1. Flexibility. I never hesitated to close the book on something that wasn’t working. When I realized I wasn’t a great filmmaker, I packed up the camera and tried something new. Likewise, I’ve moved around the country and the world to the best opportunities. The market for what you love rarely lines up exactly with where you are. You have to be nimble and responsive, and not too sentimental.

  2. Willingness to rough it and work hard. I’ve lived in substandard conditions and worked crazy day jobs just to survive. You have to have some grit.

  3. Always working towards a vision. To a random person, my resume looks like a jumbled mess. But there are actually a few key themes (storytelling, technology and giving) that tie things together. I’ve tied this from various angles, picking up experience and eventually triangulating the best place for myself in that realm.

  4. Knowing what to give up. I had a family on the late side and may never buy a house, and that’s totally fine with me. But my retirement is well planned and I am financially independent. There is a lot of middle ground between the middle class dream and living like a college student forever. My path gave me a late start on making grown up money, but the things I’ll miss out on aren’t a big deal to me.

Does running all over the place trying your luck at different aspects of your field exhilarating or exhausting? That is probably your answer to the OPs question.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the safe way is not guaranteed to be safe. How many pekoe did everything right, and then got screwed by the economy tanking? The only things you can be sure of are your skills and your networks. Happily being a worker bee with the expectation of working until retiring on a steady path, without building your skills and fighting for opportunity, is probably even more dangerous than setting off on some wacky career path full-force.

Last year, I had two careers running side by side, both of which I loved. First of the year, I retired from one of them to pursue the other one full-time. It’s scary not having the dependable paycheck every two weeks, but I’m gonna make this happen!

Great advice everyone. One thing I hadn’t thought about at all- if she were to move to a country with social medical aid, she’d have a lot less to worry about.

I think one of the subjects that is touchy to her is the fact that she feels forced to hold down her job because of her medical condition. If it was up to her, I think she’d be ok with living on next to nothing while pursuing her dream- that’s what a lot of her friends are currently doing, and on some level I think she idealizes their instant noodle lifestyle. She seems to have a good grasp of her chances of success, and she’d risk it if given the option… but she knows that taking that chance means being selfish towards the people who will need to care for her later on, if it ever comes to that.

We’re definitely not a poor family- her sister (my wife) and I both work decent jobs, and her father makes plenty- but if we had to pay out of pocket for her procedure down the line, it would significantly impact all of us. I’ll admit that to a degree we’re asking her to be practical for our own sake.

Also, I forgot to mention- she’s currently trying to do her artsy stuff on the side while holding down the stable job, but recently she had a chance to go on tour with her friends. I think that once she returned to her boring desk job it simply wasn’t good enough anymore.

Just seeing the OP made me think of my favorite demotivational poster, which I’ll share with you here:

Get to work.

With Obamacare, she can get medical insurance for free through her state’s medicaid program. She just needs to sign up for it.

That’s a pretty good rule - and you might get people who willingly support you…

My mother in law is an artist, but she didn’t do it full time until she retired and got her social security check to live off of. And she teaches, which brings in money, but isn’t art.

I have a friend who is a writer. He wife has supported him for years. He’s got enough in print now that he could have a small comfortable life,but its take twenty years to get to that point - most of his money has been mad money - they live off her income. It isn’t a burden to her. AND he is the most businesslike artist I’ve ever met. He writes books his publisher asks him to because his publisher needs a book in that space. He writes to a schedule (number of words per day) and is really disciplined about it.

I have a friend who lives out of her van. She does migrant labor. Sometimes she stays with friends, sometimes its her and the dog. She loves it - she isn’t a burden on anyone - I wonder how she’ll be able to retire, but she’s a free spirit (she is sort of the antithesis of me).

My brother in law was a musician - but he usually had a real job as well. We helped him out a few times and then when he got cancer - quite a bit over two years. He qualified for Minnesota Care - which was good, because we couldn’t have acted as his insurance company for chemo treatments - we’d have gone broke in a few months. But he had to be nearly destitute to qualify.

Those countries aren’t really big on taking in immigrants who are going to take medical care out of the system and not give anything back (well, except art).

I agree with that. The Safeway near me is good for things like prepackaged food at a good price; but, seriously, I would never trust anything from the meat section.