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The peak of the mountain. The edge of the world. It’s what lots of dreamers and creators strive for. We want the thousands of dollars in our bank account, the house with the pool and six rooms, the marquee with our names on the front.
Many people want these milestones so much that we accidentally attach everything to them: our self-worth, our happiness, even our eyes. We become so focused on the prize we can’t see what’s right in front of us — and that’s a problem.
I talk to people who can’t wait to “reach their goals” or “live their dream life” all the time. They tell themselves that when they reach that one goal— their own restaurant, an art gallery with walls filled with their paintings — they’ll finally be happy. They expect that when they reach this goal, their lives will be great.
This is a dangerous mindset because it causes distress. According to Margaret Paul, Ph.D. in Huff Post, attaching your worth to your goals causes, “anxiety because you might ruminate on getting what you want, but all the things you do to attempt to control the outcome keeps you from being present to your experience of life in the moment.”
It’s okay if you want to reach the top. But by making your goal your sole focus, what’s it costing you?
Future you vs. Present you
Say you had the power to visit future-you whenever you wanted. Present-you is an artist, a painter. Right now, you spend your days painting and improving on your craft, but you have one problem — no one buys your art. That’s why your goal is simple: for people to buy your work. You believe you’ll be truly happy when that happens.
When you visit future-you, you’re still painting, and this time, people are buying your work regularly. Enough for you to pay your living expenses and have a good life. Present-you is ecstatic to learn that future-you has reached that goal — that is until you realize future-you has a problem: they don’t have as much money as they want. They want the luxury of traveling, but that’s not something they can afford.
Future-you has a goal: to make more money than they’re making now. Present-you sympathizes with them, and you root for your future-self to finally get the happy life they deserve.
But wait a minute, I thought selling your work would make you happy? You already reached your end goal, so shouldn’t you be okay with that? Of course not. Because we’re humans, and we were meant to grow, which means we’ll always want more.
Once you reach one goal, you’ll set another. If you make $1,000, you’ll want $5,000. It’s a never-ending process — but this isn’t a bad thing. There’s nothing wrong with wanting more for yourself.
The problem is that if you’re attaching your happiness to this end goal, you’re like a dog chasing its own tail. No matter how fast you run, you’re never going to catch it.
One sign you’re already living the “life of your dreams”
Trying to live the life of your dreams is dangerous because it’s likely that you’re already living the life of your dreams. This is why you need to separate your happiness and self-worth from your goals. How do you do that? By acknowledging the biggest way you’re winning right now:
You’re doing the work you love.
I don’t know about you, but that was my initial dream. When I was in high school, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew I wanted to do something that didn’t suck the sunlight out of the sky and the soul out of my body.
And I avoided that. I get to do work I thoroughly, genuinely enjoy. If you’re reading this, you probably are too, but you’ve forgotten to acknowledge it. You wanted to write songs and share them with the world, and you’re doing it. You wanted to write articles and publish them, and you’re doing it. You wanted to become a digital artist, and you did. You wanted to become a graphic designer, and now you are.
No, you don’t have thousands in the bank, millions of people don’t know your name, no fan has ever asked for a picture with you, but you’re living your dream.
Everything else is a bonus. Becoming a New York Times Bestseller, reaching 1,000,000 subscribers on YouTube, earning more than anyone on Substack — these are incredible. These are goals you can (and should, if you want) set, but even when you reach them, you’ll want more. So, keep wanting more. Keep your hunger alive, but stop attaching so much weight to your “ending.”
You’re living the life of your dreams already, which means you’re winning. Celebrate that. Every time you do whatever it is you love, whisper a little, “Thanks,” to the Universe.
I would love to publish a book. I’d love it if it became a bestseller. But that’s not why I’m a writer. I write because I like to write, which means that if I’m able to write, then I’m really fucking lucky. It’s that simple.
This mindset change can help you love your life a little more
I used to be so focused on reaching “the end” that I stopped caring about my work — the most important part. It only led to burn-out, stress, and overwhelm. I was sacrificing my present-self for future dreams, and it wasn’t worth it.
I stopped living for the destination, and I started living for the journey, and you know what happened? My life started feeling a lot less crappy. I stopped feeling like a failure because I wasn’t where I wanted to be, and I started accepting that I was a winner because I’m doing exactly what I wanted to do.
I often say that I’m a full-time writer without full-time earnings. I want the money, of course. I’m not pretending that I don’t dream of $5,000 in the bank every month. In financial terms, I’m not successful. But there’s more than one way to define success, and in the area that matters most (my happiness, how I feel about my life), I’m more successful than most. And so are you.
This doesn’t mean you think every part of your life has to be perfect. (Mine certainly isn’t.) But if you’re living your dreams, you’ve already won.