There’s one reason why dreams stay dreams for many of us.
And it’s not because of fear.
I used to think it was fear. If you had asked me five years ago, that’s what I would have answered.
Fear was what I felt about the change I desperately wanted in my life when I was on a soul-crushing career path in corporate finance that I was afraid to leave. There was a deeply seated, intense dread of not knowing what the change would look like or how it would work out. But having taken big leaps in more ways than I could’ve imagined over the past four years, I know that fear is definitely not the main reason why dreams stay dreams.
Fear is simply an excuse. A convenient excuse for inaction.
The main reason why dreams stay dreams is because we never take any action.
Inaction is the culprit behind many regrets, what-ifs and abandoned dreams. It’s the reason why we begin feeling stagnant in our lives and turn to distractions in order to cope—only to turn bitter, jaded and unhappy as year after year passes, never to return.
And the reason for inaction is the thinking that the action towards the dream needs to be big, drastic and scary. This misperception stops many of us from ever starting.
We tell ourselves we’re too afraid.
But we must ask ourselves, too afraid of what? Afraid of the dream being a fantasy that will never come true? Afraid of possible failure?
It’s counterintuitive, because if our fear of the dream being a fantasy or the possibility of failure was truly holding us back, then not doing anything about it only ensures that the dream never comes true.
In reality, it’s not really fear that holds us back—even if it feels very much so like it is.
The real culprit is inaction.
It’s our resistance to start taking action, in any way we can. Inaction could come from the lack of clarity and direction of how to get to the dream. The lack of a clear path introduces the possibility of failure and losing what we have currently. Perhaps the inaction is partially because we’re afraid of failing and being miserably disappointed. Or it could be our resistance to letting go in order to clear the space for the upheaval that comes with a big change. There are many ways to hide from the change we know we desperately need in our lives.
But really, the main reason why dreams stay dreams is due to inaction—regardless of what combination of things contribute to it.
If there was a known, surefire path to get to the dream, I’d like to think all of us would take action. If there was zero risk of failure and a clear path leading to the dream coming true, who wouldn’t want to turn their dreams into reality?
We all know that’s not how it works though.
There are no guaranteed formulas to making your dreams come true. But if you never take any action, it’s a guaranteed failure when it comes to attaining your dreams.
Only when looking back across the decades do we realize that any action taken towards a dream is never a source of regret. It’s the inaction—the things we didn’t do, the decisions put off, an opportunity not taken—that we end up regretting later on.
We’re very much capable of taking action in fear-inducing situations. Many courageous acts have taken place in legitimately life-threatening situations—compared to the catastrophic scenarios that exist only in our heads.
Subconsciously, I think those of us with unrealized dreams know it’s due to our own inaction. So we make up excuses to make ourselves feel better.
The fear will always be there.
It never really goes away, whether you take action or not. What it comes down to is taking small steps of action despite the fear, and overcoming the mental tricks the mind plays to keep us from stepping into the unknown.
We tell ourselves that if we didn’t have to worry about money, then we’d be able to finally go after our dreams. Having enough money for basic necessities is important after all. Without basic necessities, your main focus would understandably be on securing what you need for survival. But most of us have enough for basic necessities, plus some.
We also tell ourselves that we have plenty of time to get started. We procrastinate and postpone. Maybe after this big project at work, or maybe next year. Maybe when the kids are in school or in college. It’s a slippery, reassuring illusion that cruelly evaporates years later when we realize we’ve been duped.
Some of us also tell ourselves that we aren’t good enough to go after the dream. That it couldn’t possibly happen for us since nothing that amazing ever happens. Or we think we have to have this or that figured out before taking action. But how do we know without trying? Telling ourselves in our minds that we’re not able to do it without any proof or experience is simply a defense mechanism.
We tell ourselves that we’re too overwhelmed to even think about adding anything to our plate right now. And that may be true. In that case, the first step is decluttering and letting go of all the things—physically, emotionally, holistically—that are holding you back.
There’s a funny thing that happens when we commit to taking action.
As Rumi says, the universe begins to conspire with us to make the dream happen. It may not happen easily, quickly or the way we think it will—but with dedication and continuously figuring out how to get there, you’ll make more progress over the years than you can imagine.
Regardless of feeling stuck, unsure of what to do, or overwhelmed with the bigness of the dream, know that when there is a will, there is a way.
But don’t overdo it. Many people go too big, too fast towards their dream. They expect quick, unrealistic results when they’ve only just started. This approach often leads to burnout and disappointment.
It’s really about breaking the dream down.
Into bite-sized actions that really aren’t that scary when you stop and think about it. Into small and concrete steps you can take day by day that will get you closer to the dream.
It can be as small as spending five minutes researching something. Or a few minutes writing an email to someone who may be able to help you. It could be decluttering extracurriculars, perceived obligations or physical items from your life so you have more space in your life for change.
The action taken towards a dream may not seem like much. It may feel like you’re barely doing anything at all on most days.
I certainly felt that way in the past, and there are times when I feel it even now. It happens when I’m working towards a large project, goal or bigger picture. There are moments when everything feels so tedious and slow—as if nothing of significance is happening. But trust me, any action taken is never for naught.
Every small step counts. It adds up over the years to build something in a way you’d often never expect.
Fear will always be there alongside us, even years after we begin making change in our lives.
I still feel fear when I consider future unknowns and big changes. It’s less intense than it was in past years, but it’s still there—positioning itself as an ally and protector in situations that don’t call for it. Fear is an essential survival tactic in actual life-threatening situations. But nowadays, many of us are lucky to experience very few (if any) of those in our lifetime.
The more action you take, the more you’re able to manage the fear that comes with doing something new and with the element of the unknown. The more you work alongside the fear, the more you realize that each step of action builds more confidence and forms the path towards your dream.
Whatever action you take, make it small, manageable and consistent—day after day. Each step you take really doesn’t need to be scary or significant. True, sustainable change results from hundreds and thousands of little steps over multiple years.
So get started with building the life of your dreams. Work alongside fear, take whatever action you can each day, and by no means allow your dream to stay a dream. You’ll be amazed at what small, consistent actions can add up to over time.