Leaving Work Behind

Why You Shouldn’t Chase Your Dreams

Written by Tom Ewer on January 21, 2013. 40 Comments

Mount EverestYou probably dream of the day when you can quit your job. Perhaps you’ve fantasized about walking out of your place of work, never to return. I know I did — my intense desire to quit my job and launch my own business served as a huge incentive for me when I was getting started. So why not chase your dreams?

Over the past several months I have noticed that many would-be LWBers are crippling their chances of achieving that ultimate goal. Even worse, a lot of the “quit your job” blogs out there promote the very fantasy that ruins so many people’s chances of making it to the promised land.

In this post I want to explore the widespread fallacy that underpins so many people’s efforts to quit their jobs and make money online, then offer up an alternative that can work.

Why You Shouldn’t Chase Your Dreams

Dreams are hard to come by. They appear in our sleep as they see fit and dissipate just as readily. We have no real control over them.

That’s a dream in a literal sense, but they share many similarities with the type of dreams that we all consciously have — dreams of aspiration and achievement. Perhaps the most important similarity is that your conscious dreams are just as impossible to “achieve” as their subconscious counterparts. By this I mean that one doesn’t simply fulfil their dream in one fell swoop — on the contrary, dreams are in fact realized by the culmination of many actions.

Think about it. Can you think of one dream (of yours or anyone’s) that has been fulfilled overnight? When an athlete breaks a world record or wins a gold medal, was that an overnight achievement or the result of years of dedication and hard work? One could perhaps point to lottery winners as an exception, but I for one do not intend to rely upon luck as the harbinger of dream fulfilment.

So the problem that many of us face is that we are chasing dreams — goals that are impossible simply to “jump to”.  And ultimately we give up because the dream just seems so far away; so intangible. Like a state of living that we were simply not “destined” to experience. The issue is in fact quite simple — if your goal is simply to chase your dreams, you will almost certainly fail. How could you not? By reaching for the stars you are setting yourself up for a fall.

Embrace the Process

SpaceshipContinuing with the space analogy, consider this — if you’re going to shoot for the stars, you best learn how to build a spaceship first. You’re going to need a space program for that too. What I’m saying is this — don’t chase your dreams; build towards them (tweet this).

Take my journey so far as an example of how this can work. Back in May 2011 my dream was to quit my job. It seemed all but impossible — in fact, until I handed quit my job in December of that year, I had a persistent little voice in the back of my head telling me that it simply wasn’t possible. But instead of being intimidated by the concept of quitting your job (because let’s face it — it is an intimidating proposition), I instead started doing things that would get me closer to my dream. I was building my space program, not trying to build a rocket.

Quitting my job was a big step, but it certainly wasn’t the end of my aspirations. Next I needed to establish a viable business that could support my outgoings. In January 2012, my first month of fulltime self-employment, I made less than $1,000. My outgoings were more like $4,000 so I had a big gap to fill. But I didn’t shoot for the $4k — instead I concentrated on the short term steps I could take to increase my income. My earnings fluctuated over the following months — I took steps forward and steps back — but my earnings have stayed consistently above $4,000 per month since July 2012. I couldn’t have achieved that in February, but I knew that if I built towards it I had a good chance.

Freelance writing enabled me to quit my job and build a viable business. Now it offers me opportunities (both directly and indirectly) to increase my income further and diversify. My achievements in freelance writing have far outweighed my expectations. Consistent application got me here, even though the current outcome would have seemed like a pipe dream just a couple of years ago. I didn’t chase my dreams — I simply applied myself in what I felt were the right areas and built towards them.

Climbing the Mountain

Sir Ranulph Fiennes

Sir Ranulph Fiennes

I recently finished reading the autobiography of Sir Ranulph Fiennes — one of Britain’s most celebrated  explorers. One of the chapters focused upon his first attempt to scale Mount Everest and I was struck by the process required.

Getting to the base camp is a challenge in itself, but one must actually partially ascend and descend the mountain multiple times in order to acclimatise. It is only after that period of acclimatisation that you can head for the summit.

The analogy is compelling — the simple fact is that you cannot just climb straight up Everest without first taking multiple steps both towards and away from it. I’m sure you can see how this relates to the fulfilment of your dreams.

There should never be a point at which you give up on your dreams — only reassessment. If you want to reach the summit but you can’t get past the base camp, perhaps you need to acclimatise for longer or make shorter journeys to waypoints that are more easily reached.

What’s Your Dream?

We all have dreams. Some of us will fulfil them and others will not — the big difference maker will be about your approach. Are you going to shoot for the stars or start working on that space program instead?

I want you to do something right now — I want you to figure out what your next step is. What gets you one step closer to your dream, no matter how small of a step it is? Tell us your dream and share your first step in the comments section!

Photo Credits: Kappa WayfarerFlying Jenny and Wikipedia

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40 Responses to “Why You Shouldn’t Chase Your Dreams”

  1. Bon
    January 21, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Next step: walk out to the MathShack and get the printed version of “finding clients” chapter of your book.

    Thanks, Tom!

  2. Jamie Alexander
    January 21, 2013 at 4:40 pm

    I definitely think it’s important to do what you’re talking about. Another good thing you can do is break down your dream into sections and you can them work on the specific sections.

    I spent a lot of my life traveling and living abroad. It was obviously something I couldn’t sustain without a job, so my dream was to be location independent. A little like you I used freelance writing to build an income at the same time as blogging, so within a year I was living in Thailand and had achieved my dream.

    Now that I’ve achieved my dream it’s all about increasing my income so I can live like a rock star. With that in mind, my first step is just to release a Kindle book at a time + publish a blog post at a time while building my audience.

    But I’m in no rush, so I’m happy to just see things progress.

    I would say to anyone that having small wins is great. As long as you know you’re going in the right direction you will have much less stress because eventually you will succeed.

  3. Kali Kirkendall
    January 21, 2013 at 5:20 pm

    Great post. Unique perspective and well said. My next step, reformatting my blog! Desperately needs to be done, might be a late night tonight!

    Patience isn’t that hard of a concept when it comes to going after your dreams as long as you take the time to appreciate that process. The learning process. Take your time, build from the base, respect advice and seek out your network to help support and stimulate.

    Besides, the destination will get here before you know it. So have a great time on the journey!

  4. Rico
    January 21, 2013 at 5:26 pm

    Brilliant! Love the way you write. I also realize every day that its also about patience and working towards the goal. I can see it in my dreams, but its not here yet. Still have a long way to go… Just starting to learn how to build a spaceship at the moment…

  5. Dawn, of Choosing the Better Life
    January 21, 2013 at 5:42 pm

    Great post, Tom! I agree with what you said, and it’s important to get your message out. As someone who happened to quit my job (and move to a tiny island in the Bahamas!), many people tell me they wish they could do that. But it wasn’t really a specific dream I had! I knew I needed to make changes in my work and location to be happier and more in tune with myself, so I just started taking small steps and being open to how things would evolve and what felt right each step of the way. The end result, I am living a dream life (for me), but I’m certain that it evolved bigger and better than anything I might have dreamed up if I’d tried to tackle it in one fell swoop!

  6. Nida Sea
    January 21, 2013 at 10:22 pm

    First step: work from home. Completed Mar 2010.

    Next step: increase income to double earnings. In progress.

    Ultimate goal: make enough income to let my husband quit work so he can pursue his video game venture. Coming soon!

    It’s a slow progress, but with determination it’s working! 🙂

  7. Darnell Jackson
    January 21, 2013 at 11:44 pm

    Excellent point Tom,

    People are all ready for instant gratification to everything. The sense of progressive growth is a lost art in our culture for some reason.

    It’s most obvious in the way people take care of their bodies.

    It’s like they really believe diet coke melts calories and fat cell or something.

  8. Stuart
    January 22, 2013 at 1:22 am

    Good article Tom. It seems like common-sense doesn’t it but you’re so right about the way we blinker ourselves, making it impossible to achieve the dream because we spend time just focusing on the dream and not on making it happen.

    Of course, leaving work behind needn’t be voluntary as in your case – I’ve been made redundant twice! The first time was tough but the second time was a breeze!

    I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my next attempt to make money for myself and although I’m drawn to the blogging concept I’m not convinced that’s where the money is (the kind of money you can live on anyway). Could be a useful way to build rapport with a client base though.

    Anyway, keep it up!

    • Tom Ewer
      January 22, 2013 at 7:21 pm

      Hi Stuart,

      You’ve hit the nail on the head there. Building up an income from blogging directly is a tough one, but I was first able to build a freelance writing business from my blog and am now expanding out into information products an eBooks. That’s been possible in less than two years from scratch, so blogging definitely offers a lot.



  9. Thomas @ Mobile App Tycoon
    January 22, 2013 at 2:48 am

    Just wanted to say that I love the mountain climbing analogy. It definitely models the ups and downs that every entrepreneur inevitably goes through. Even just thinking about life it applies as well.

  10. Steve Rice
    January 23, 2013 at 4:39 am

    Love this, Tom! You’re always writing brilliant things, but this one really made an impact.

    My dream for 2013 is the (re)launch of my business and developing it into a profitable enterprise that supports me well.

    It seems like simple, commonsense, but I had it all wrong the first time. What you said from your own experience about building a business model that provided profitability is key!!

    I’m also finding that getting clear about my values and priorities allows me to set goals that are attainable and energizing. In the past, I’ve gone backwards–setting goals and then working to try to make them fit my values (when I didn’t even really know them) and priorities. Of course, this was ineffective and I ended just quitting the goal completely.

    • Tom Ewer
      January 24, 2013 at 11:31 pm

      I’m with you on that Steve — doing things that you feel intrinsically comfortable with is so much more freeing than simply trying to make as much money as possible. And if you can combine the two then you’ve really nailed it! 🙂

  11. Diana
    January 23, 2013 at 11:01 am

    GOAL: Leave fulltime teaching career at the end of this school year (May 2013) to become fulltime freelance writer.

    UNTIL THEN: Build client list and portfollio, read blogs like Leaving Work Behind, and make it happen.

  12. Ruan
    January 24, 2013 at 8:56 pm

    Hey Tom,

    First step: Leave Work Behind – Completed August 2011

    Second step: Set myself up for a successful freelance blogging career – Completed Dec 2012

    Third step: Publish my transformation process from guest blogger to freelance blogger on Amazon Kindle and become an Amazon bestselling author – Completed 23rd Jan (+- 32 hours ago)

    Fourth step: Publish my second book in the series “The Birth Of A Freelance Blogger” – Completed about 8 hours ago (should go live any minute)

    Next steps: Complete and publish quite a few more book ideas within the very near future and then take my freelance blogging career to a whole new level – Work in progress. 🙂

    Ultimate Goal (previously known as “dream”) : Be the best I can be and help as many as I can – through my writing

    Thanks for this inspiring post. As always, nothing held back.

    All the best!

  13. Karim
    January 25, 2013 at 1:08 pm

    Tom, I was shocked with the post headline! 🙂
    but the post explained every thing and keep me cool 🙂

    for me,, my dream is quite my job and dedicate my self for writing and support my self with freelance writing,, I just started my new project,
    ‘The Decameron Blog’ http://en.thedecameron.net/
    to help me in building my rocket! 🙂

    Thanks for your advice man and your blog which give me a lot of hope 🙂

  14. Amy
    April 23, 2013 at 9:04 am

    Hey Tom,

    It’s amazing how many of your blog posts I’ve read but never commented on.

    Your blog helped me quit my job back in March. And now, I’m a freelance writer! But I’m hitting a lot of obstacles along the way, and I seriously needed to read this blog post just now. I absolutely love your analogy of scaling Mt. Everest.

    Thanks so much for sharing your journey–and so many helpful tips!–on your blog. Just wanted you to know that there are countless people out there whom you’re helping; sometimes, you just never get to hear from them.

    • Tom Ewer
      April 23, 2013 at 9:41 am

      Hey Amy,

      Well thank you for commenting now! It’s great to hear from you and know that you’re doing well. 🙂 Congratulations on quitting your job!

      If there’s anything I can do to help just let me know 🙂



  15. Tapan
    August 13, 2013 at 8:19 am

    hey tom its very inspirational, recently i quit my job to work towards my dream. dream to become an actor. many of my friends said that i am doing the most stupidest things in the world. leaving comfortable job to achieve your dream is not at all good they said. now i have started working towards my dream . still many are not OK with my decision. but your blog inspired me.

    Thank you

    • Tom Ewer
      August 13, 2013 at 12:39 pm

      Hi Tapan,

      As long as you’re not putting yourself under any undue risk then chasing your dream is what life is all about 🙂



  16. Suede
    September 22, 2013 at 6:27 am

    Hey Tom thanks for the article but you forgot to add if your a man a strong woman behind you is also an essential step. Same with women!!

  17. Kannappa Palaniappan
    April 3, 2016 at 3:50 am

    Hey Tom,
    I am very happy to have came across your article. I have been fighting an internal war between dreams, stability of life, family, society. Lately I have started moving forward with dreams and hopes..As you said I didn’t make a HOP, but took baby steps with hopes. Now tomorrow seems more promising. Thanks once again. I will surely narrate my journey to “my Everest ” when I reach the peak. Now I have started loving the process of climbing than merely the dream.

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