What Everyone Needs to Know About Chasing a Dream

There are two things, actually.  First, chasing your dreams will not eliminate pain from your life; it will simply give you a reason to endure pain. And second, you don’t get to choose your dreams; your dreams choose you

millenials chasing your dreams

Photo Credit: yobro (Bigstock)

He gets knocked down, grits his teeth, and gets back on his feet.

My nine-year-old son Quinn is playing in his first soccer game of the season. We’re down 1-0, and he doesn’t like to lose, so he steals the ball back. Three defenders stand between him and the goal. He dribbles around two, but the last one knocks him to his knees again. Yet, again, he refuses to quit. He hooks his foot out, steals the ball back, stands, and kicks it into the corner of the net.

As his father and his coach, I’m proud of him.

But not because he scored, or because the game is now tied. I’m proud of him because he got knocked down twice, got back up twice, and kept moving forward. I’m proud of him because he had a goal and he stayed focused on it, rather than his frustration and his setbacks. I’m proud of him because, in the real world, this is what dream-chasing looks like. 

Life, more often than not, will stand in the way of our dreams. It will not cooperate with our longing. It will knock us down. Over and over again. This isn’t a sign that we’re going in the wrong direction; it’s simply a sign that we’re alive. That we’re in the game. That we care about something enough to keep getting up. To keep gritting our teeth. To keep going forward.

In real life, living a dream doesn’t feel like chasing after something; it feels like clawing after something.   

Even our most cutting-edge therapy approaches are beginning to acknowledge this fact. Until the last decade, traditional cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) focused on eliminating negative thoughts and emotions, so you could get on with living the good life. Unfortunately, a lot of people just put their lives on pause, waiting for perfect—but non-existent—dream-chasing conditions.

So, now, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) is beginning to replace that old CBT approach. In ACT, instead of trying to eliminate your negative inner experiences before living your outer life, you accept that negative experiences—like frustration and disappointment and pain and sorrow and fear—will be a part of the journey, and you commit to pursuing your values and your dreams anyway.

In other words, you go for the goal, knowing you’ll be knocked down along the way. Then, you grit your teeth and get back up again, because you care enough about your dream to keep dreaming it, even when the dreaming is hard.

So, how do you choose your dream to claw after?

You don’t. It chooses you…

About thirty minutes later, the score is 2-1, and we’ve won the game. While I chat with parents, Quinn asks for my car keys. Eventually, I make my way to the parking lot and find him sitting in a sweltering car, his head in a book. I ask him why he didn’t turn the car and the air conditioning on.

He replies, matter-of-factly, “Your generation ruined the planet; my generation has to save it.”

Quinn has a passion for restoring and preserving creation—he moves worms out of the driveway, builds farms for millipedes, monitors our recycling, refuses to use paper towels…and he sits in his sweat to slow the burning of fossil fuels. He dreams of being Elon Musk when he grows up. Quinn didn’t choose this passion for the environment. He didn’t ask for it. It came with the package.

You see, we want our kids to be happy, so we tell them they can chase any dream they want. The truth is, though, while they can chase any dream they want, they had better chase a dream they are so passionate about chasing that they will grit their teeth and get up again when the chase doesn’t go as planned.

This dream is the passion we came into the world with. All of us have at least one and, if we are faithful to it, it will sustain us, while we claw.  

If Quinn focuses on his passion for preserving the planet and his dream of a world restored—and if he goes after those goals like he goes after a soccer goal—he won’t become Elon Musk. He’ll probably become someone much more ordinary, but just as important, and just as valuable. He’ll become Quinn.

That is, after all, who he’s here to be.

Look in the mirror. What passions reside inside your soul? What dreams are you here to claw after? Now, go claw. Go be you.

That is, after all, who you’re here to be.

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Loveable is about chasing your dreams for all the right reasons. It's available in paperback, digital, and audio and can be purchased wherever books are sold, so you can also purchase it at your favorite bookseller.

Kelly is a licensed clinical psychologist and co-founder of Artisan Clinical Associates in Naperville, IL. He is also a writer and blogs regularly about the redemption of our personal, relational, and communal lives. Kelly is married, has three children, and enjoys learning from them how to be a kid again. You can find him on Facebook, Twitter, and Google+.

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Beanski

    Thank you! Once again you deliver a message right when I needed it! I’ve had a dream to tell a story about a certain social group, actually the group found me in 1997. There have been many bumps but I perservered. Today I found out someone is doing the same project and I questioned my dream. Thank you for the encouragement to keep clawing!

  • JC

    Definitely quotable material today. I haven’t taken time to listen to your podcast yet, but the goodness I feel when reading today’s blog reflects to me that something right is happening for you. You sir, are on your game. I expect it is because you are chasing a dream with the same grit and determination you just described. With that, I have a question: Right now I feel like I am “enduring pain” because I care enough not to quit, but I do not feel like I have a “reason to endure pain”. I do not feel passion or or grit or drive to chase a dream that has found me. What might I do to convert the pain of monotony and lack luster living into pain that brings out “my game” so to speak?

    • JC, I truly wish I was in a position to answer those questions for you. What I can say is, when I’m in the role of someone’s therapist and they are struggling with this kind of discernment: we begin with two premises. First, your passion wants to be lived through you and it is trying to get your attention. Second, something–some thought, feeling, belief, experience, etc–is getting in the way of seeing it. Then, usually, slowly, an awareness of the passion and the barrier arise in parallel. I would certainly encourage you to have this kind of dialogue with someone who knows you well, or even a counselor.

      • JC

        I have been considering visiting with a counselor at some point. I’ve been in the past and it was helpful, and I expect if I work up the gumption to go again it could be helpful again. Thank you for your thoughts.

  • Carrie

    I ran away from my dream for too many years. It kept chasing me. Here I am at 55, getting my masters in Marriage and Family Therapy. I’m exhausted and it’s not all roses. Sitting with people who endured much trauma is hard! Wondering if a client will be alive the next day is hard! Heck, having class until 10:00 makes getting through the next day a test of endurance. Yet, this dream will not let me go. I feel like I’ve come home.

    • Well said and well done, Carrie! “This dream will not let me go.” Your courage in surrendering to it is inspiring!

  • Kelsey Mitchell

    Kelly, I loved this! I’ve been a reader for a long time but haven’t commented until now. Thanks for the encouragement to claw for our dreams, and I love how you identified the passions that are shaping your son. Thank you for writing. You always say it’s a gift that we read, but it’s certainly a gift that you write (and probably a much riskier gift).

    • Kelsey, thank you again for reading and for stepping out and letting me know. I’m grateful all over again! 😊

  • Oh how I needed this today. Pursuing a dream is not for the faint of heart, is it? Where I grew up (Oklahoma) we had a saying about having that kind of grit..it is called “cowboy up”. (or cowgirl in my case)
    It is a phrase that I’m having to use a lot these days in the face of some “holy cow, I can’t believe we are doing this!” feelings. Prayer, support, encouragement..I covet all of these! Thank you for being the cheerleader, Kelly. Please know how much it means!

    • When you’re ready, I’d love to hear details, Donna! In the meantime, may the cowgirl in you ride bravely and boldly. And thanks for letting me know how much this encouraged you!

  • Kitha Cockrell

    Pure encouragement here💜!! Thanks! It’s ok to get knocked down…. Time and time again… How many times have I missed out not even trying, because it was too hard, too many to count… My new life friend and coach these days… “It doesn’t matter that it’s hard, it matters that it’s doable”…. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me”. (Phil 4:13.)

  • Shayne Wheeler

    YES! If only we could be so empowered to do this ourselves AND encourage this in our children! I’m gonna do it!