Amused, the renaissance fair psychic lady chuckled to herself as she gently held my palm, face up, in hers:
“You’re just…in your own head, aren’t you? You have a very active daydream life…”
Maybe it’s an Aquarius thing or a solid observation for any teenage girl, but if I didn’t know any better I’d say this lady was for real. Whether it was a lucky guess or psychic intuition, she hit the nail right on the head.
I was 18, a total daydreamer and frequently lost in my own thoughts. Mostly an introvert, I dealt with stress by escaping into my thoughts.
A problem presents itself with daydreamers: they don’t often get stuff done.
Their heads are up in the clouds, in their own little world, and the rest of society is actually working to make things happen. Here. On Earth. In the real world.
Fast forward to over a decade later and I still consider myself a dreamer. However, I’ve now learned to take it a step further and make daydreaming work for me—as an adult. Recently, daydreaming has led me into a new career, new adventures, and has absolutely been the catalyst for building a more interesting life in general.
As a young adult, I struggled to make my two worlds meet: the internal daydream world and my external everyday life. For years after graduating from college, I worked in a very stressful job. The combination of long hours and an economic crash left me overworked and mentally exhausted—work that didn’t fulfill my enthusiasm to connect on a personal level with other people wore on me greatly.
At 27, I dreaded going to my job. I found myself quietly romanticizing other careers and fantasizing about quitting. I often look back on this period of my life as a long, grueling winter that eventually led me into spring.
During the last year at my job, I began to casually research photography schools. I had been interested in learning more about photography since before college graduation—the internet lent itself nicely to my frequent needs to escape mentally during lunch breaks. I [virtually] stumbled upon a photography program that sounded so exciting to me I couldn’t stop thinking about it.
My head in the clouds once again, I considered the possibilities for months. I could picture myself attending the program, feeling free and enthusiastic about learning new skills—treating the whole experience like an adventure. It became clear that my interest (obsession) in this program confirmed what I wanted: a new career, specifically to become a photographer.
In other words, it woke me up in a very real way.
It would be crazy to quit a job that I had invested so much time in. I was almost 30. What was I thinking? But then again, it would have been crazy not to try something new, since putting my energy into a job that I didn’t love was, in the words of Garth Algar, “sucking my will to live.”
I sent in my registration, took out a loan, and gave my notice at work.
And guess what? I am so, so glad that I took those daydreams seriously. It changed the vision I have for my life from a passive one to a hopeful and open one.
While on this new adventure, I learned a lot, made new friends and connections, removing myself from the rut I had been in for years. But I wasn’t alone; many of my friends from school were in the same boat—they all had previous careers that left them feeling like they were not aligned with their higher calling. I came straight home from photography school and started building a business. Three years later, I am working my butt off, and I now feel the contentment that was lacking in my previous career.
Having such a positive experience with acting on one of my dreams has started a snowball effect in the rest of my life. I’m now more likely to make things happen in my life instead of waiting for them to happen to me.
Here’s what I know about becoming an effective dreamer:
1. We need to encourage and support each other to mobilize our thoughts into actions and goals. Acting on your dreams creates a ripple effect. Since my career change, I’ve noticed a few friends who also began to pursue their fantasy careers—one friend got her non-fiction article published in a respected online magazine, and two others have started their own architecture firm. Their goals were all daydreams. Once you leap, career-wise in my case, it’s so much fun to see other people do the same thing…and succeed. Dreamers taking action inspire other dreamers to take action. It’s a beautiful cycle.
2. In order to be an effective dreamer, marry action to thought. If you find a disconnect between your real life and your daydream life, it may be time to pick an idea and get to it—this requires work. Pay attention to your reverie. Pick a good one from your imagination and pull it down to earth. For lack of a better term, you have to give birth to it. Take small actions to bring them into your life in a real way.
3. Daydreams can lead to your next fulfilling side project. A few months ago, some friends and I decided to start a travel blog together so that we could document our girlfriend getaways. The seed for this was planted in a passing idea: “What if we could show other women in their 20s and 30s how much fun it is to travel together?” Fast forward to a few months, countless hours of wordpress and writing later, and we have a great little blog to call our own. If there’s one thing that’s more exciting than making a dream become reality, it’s making it become reality as a team.
4. Some daydreams are not attainable and shouldn’t be listened to. Look, everyone has fantastical ideas pop into their heads from time to time. Do I daydream that, while out to karaoke with friends, I am discovered for my rock star singing talent and quickly whisked away to become the next winner of the American Idol competition, hair extensions, sparkly outfits, and all? More often than I feel comfortable admitting.
Is this daydream likely to happen? Nope. For one thing, I can’t belt like Kelly Clarkson and anyway I am too old for the 28 (really?!) year old age cutoff. Sigh.
At some point, we dreamers have to tell our minds to “hush” so that we can make room for better, healthier, somewhat-attainable ideas. I should also note that daydreams rooted in fear are actually anxiety. Don’t listen to them. That’s a whole other topic in itself.
5. You don’t have to be fearless. Fear is a normal part of the process for many of life’s big changes. You might not feel empowered at first, but once you take the leap and start turning your dreams into goals, you’ll have no choice than to gain confidence in your actions.