The Problem with Believing in Your Dreams

Silhouette of man punching the air in power post against sunset

Let’s talk about motivational quotes for a minute. We’ve moved on a bit from the ‘hang in there’ kitty poster. Now you can get sunsets, sparkles and silhouettes of power poses all at the scroll of a finger. And while, these are pretty innocuous ways of motivating yourself, the whole believing in your dreams means you will achieve them’ concept is a bit more problematic.

Here’s an example courtesy of the ex-Governor of Terminators, Arnold Schwarzenegger:

You keep pushing because you believe in yourself and in your vision, and you know that it is the right thing to do. Success will come.

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Also, it might not.

Here’s another:

Believe you deserve it and the universe will serve it


I wouldn’t own up to that one either.

How about this from The Pursuit of Happiness?

Don’t ever let somebody tell you you can’t do something…[]… You dream, you gotta protect it. People can’t do something themselves, they wanna tell you you can’t do it. If you want something, go get it. Period.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Okay, fair point.

Believing in your dreams matters. If only because many many people will tell you in not-so-subtle ways to get a real job. But we can’t be positive all the time. It isn’t healthy and wanting something doesn’t always mean we can just ‘go get it’.

Also, it’s tough when you’re doing it alone. We look for inspiration wherever we can find it. But most of these motivational quotes have a common theme.

'Do More' motivational quote written on a black monitor on a desk

Hard work and lots of it.

In fact, the ratio is usually something like 90% hard work and 10% talent.

Motivational quotes don’t generally mention luck or circumstance or that talent and creativity are in fact pretty important.

For the 3% of people that this works for, good for them. They’re the ones we’re listening to the most.

For the rest of us, that single-minded focus can easily lead to burnout. Especially when it seems like nothing you’re doing is leading you where you want to go.

And that, my friends, will lead you straight into procrastination town in the county of Massive Doubts. Turn left at the What’s the Point Monument where you can’t see the wood for the trees because you’ve got no compass and it’s dark. But it’s all cool because Netflix.

I think I laboured that one somewhat but you get it.

Believing in your dreams vs limiting beliefs or …you’re not doing it wrong

There are many who preach the power of positive thinking, limiting beliefs and having the right mindset for success. On the surface all good and useful things.

But what if you have the right mindset? what if you’re primed for success in the way you want and it just…doesn’t happen? Worse, what if you did all the hard work to get there too?

This is where the type of belief behind motivational quotes starts to become meaningless and a bit insidious. Because it follows that if you haven’t achieved what you want in life, you’re doing it wrong.

If you’re not succeeding it must be your fault.

Are you believing in your dreams enough? do you have the right mindset? you must think you don’t deserve it. But the truth is we can only do so much. After that, we have to let go of the idea of having complete control over the outcome of our efforts.

Embracing that is a lot more freeing.

It’s all perspective

Glass orb on ground showing upside down perspective of city in background

Ok. So you play the game, gain all the followers, share your Sushi on social media and generally make yourself into an influencing ninja.

In the process, you also create your masterpiece, but the success you expect doesn’t come. Also, you’re exhausted because, you know, social.

So what happens now?

Well, we have to define success. For most people, it’s the difference between where we think we are and where we think we want to go. Notice the qualifiers there.

If success is a matter of perspective, then we can reframe it. We can find the small positives that lead to the bigger ones.

Do not discourage yourself with what you haven’t done, encourage yourself with what you will do.

Neale Donald Walsch

And while there’s no guarantee that anyone will reach their personal vision of success, that won’t be because we haven’t believed enough yet. Let’s just put that one to bed right now.

And really, can we be done with the tyranny of positive thinking altogether? Realism is not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you’re not working hard enough. In fact, it helps you to see the big picture.

You believe enough in your dreams

If it isn’t happening for you right now, because of the pandemic or otherwise, take the time to think about all you have achieved.

I bet it’s a lot.

Without wanting to get preachy on you, there is so much to be proud of and thankful for. Pursuing your dreams is a process of becoming who you are. All the missteps or flat-out faceplants are a part of that journey. And it’s certainly a long road but you’re are not at the beginning, even if that’s what it feels like.

You don’t yet know what the purpose of this moment is, so be kind to yourself. And certainly don’t let a motivational quote set the tone.

It’s good to reflect on where we really are right now but it’s OK not to feel positive all the time. When you’re ready to move forward, there are plenty of ways to do that, one step at a time.

Define Your Success

I’m not saying we should all just accept our lot in life and be grateful. There’s nothing wrong with pursuing your goals and dreams. But it’s up to us to put them in perspective, to choose how we feel about where we are or are not.

We can’t let others dictate what we want or how much we should want it. We also need to move past the idea that if you aren’t the most successful person in the world then you didn’t want it enough in the first place. Or that you didn’t believe enough in the work it takes to get there, the definitions of that work set out by others. Comparisons neatly laid out for you to fret over. You haven’t failed at believing in your dreams.

You haven’t failed at all.

Yes, there are certain steps you need to take when starting a business, writing a book, becoming a successful whatever. But holding ourselves to an impossible standard gets us nowhere. Success is carved out in small ways and lives in the heart first.

Staying where you are now, does not mean you aren’t working hard and/or believing in your dreams enough. And the fact that life ‘happened’ before you finished dreaming isn’t a bad thing.

All these tiny steps can lead to a beautiful future that maybe isn’t so planned. And that’s a motivational quote I can get behind. It’s time to let our dreams grow as we do and stop berating ourselves for not working hard enough.

And while we’re at it make our own definitions of success.

Success is liking yourself, liking what you do, and liking how you do it.

Maya Angelo

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