When to Give Up on Your Dreams


This is a continuation of a post I wrote a few weeks ago about the frustration felt by artists who have not yet achieved success.

Consider two people: Guy A and Guy B. (There is a Guy C—he doesn’t have any big dreams, so he’s not part of this scenario.)

Guy A has dreamt of being a musician since he was a child. He joined a band in high school. He played in college. He improved. He performed with better and better musicians. In his 20s he played some big shows and rubbed elbows with some talented folks. Along the way he got married. In his 30s he realized that most of his peers who stuck with it had achieved a tangible level of artistic or financial success. One day while lugging all his own equipment back to his car he thinks, “If it was going to happen, it would have happened by now.” So he bails on music, takes a day job, noodles around on his guitar on weekends, pays his taxes, buys a house, gets old and dies.

Guy B does the same thing all the way through his 20s. In his 30s he reaches that fork in the road—keep going or stop? Guy B keeps going. He takes odd jobs and makes far less money than his peers. He and his spouse rent instead of buy, and they don’t take nice vacations. They never own a new car. Perhaps his wife supports him. He improves. He becomes really terrific at making music. He keeps his network alive in the music world. He doesn’t become a star, but by age 35 or 40 he has a skill set few people on earth have, and it’s valuable to the people who need music written, performed, produced or engineered. While Guy A is entering a new career 15 years late, Guy B is one of the last men standing in his field, and his skills are rare and therefore valuable. But he’s still staring at success from the outside.

Guy A is a Settler.

Guy B is a Dreamer.

These examples are incredibly simplistic, and it’s easy to knock them down by adding details—what if Guy B “The Dreamer” got real sick or what if his partner threatened to leave unless he started making more money? OK, yes, of course those things could happen. But let’s assume they don’t.

What’s the better path?

Is it better to labor under the prolonged delusion of achieving a success that is statistically improbable? Or is it better to start over and set newer, attainable goals?

My heart is with the Guy Bs, the Dreamers, out there—the ones who never give up. I always want them to keep going because selfishly I want more of what they have to offer, and I want to live in a world where they overcome long odds and succeed. But I know Guy As, Settlers, who are really happy with the way their lives turned out, a lot happier, in fact, than many of the Dreamers.


Image by Reinis Traidis

Joe Donatelli
Joe Donatelli is a writer in Los Angeles

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