To Follow Your Dreams, or to Not?

Image credit: Banksy

As an English student, here is a question that I have received time after time: But why are you studying that? Friends and family alike have proffered the question at different points in my life, and I have been kindly informed by more than one that I am destined to become unemployed and homeless. Nevertheless, out of either sheer conviction or sheer stubbornness, I have never once hesitated or changed my mind, and my ready answer to fend off such questions has long been something along the lines of “Follow your own dreams!”

It is an idea that has long permeated parts of popular culture, from the critically acclaimed films Forrest Gump and Dead Poets Society, to the more lighthearted Waitress and even Ratatouille (who knew such open-mindedness spilled over to the rodent dimension?). Indie flicks like 500 Days of Summer see an awkward yet endearing young person embarking on a journey of self-discovery and of following their one true passion, all to a dreamy, alternative soundtrack. As a long proponent of a similar outlook on life, I used to pride myself on my ability to look beyond what might be otherwise a more “practical” course; old Austen paperbacks and antique bookstores were to be my fate, preferably experienced to the aforementioned 500 Days of Summer soundtrack. Coming from a country, especially, where career options generally adhere to more traditional ones like medicine or law, I used to give myself a figurative pat on the back for having veered onto the road less taken.

But, underneath this seemingly open-minded cloud of philosophy, I have become increasingly aware of something else these past few years. The reason why I can be so liberal with my suggestions that we should all subscribe to our passions and do what we want to do in life: privilege. Privilege because I have parents who accept what I am interested in, who are willing to send me to university to study that, who I know will support me in whatever career decision I ultimately do make. I can afford to encourage the following of one’s dreams because I have never had to run against a wall of other expectations, but the focus on applying to university, and having to make a decision as significant as what to apply for, has pointed this out to me in the past couple of years.

I have watched friends deliberate over whether to apply for an arts subject that they are more interested in, or a degree like business that they consider more practical; often, it is ultimately the latter that wins the debate. It is easy enough for me to offer them advice about following what they are more passionate about, but it can also be easy for me to forget my position. It is not merely financial privilege that should be accounted for; it is privilege of perspective, of the mindsets and expectations that one is surrounded by.

This is certainly no novel revelation, but it is a personal one for me, and something that is hard to forget once it is learnt. There will be some things that are entirely luck or circumstantial, and the fact that I am where I am today does not mean I should forget that. It also does not mean that I have abandoned the philosophy of following your dreams (for lack of a better cliché), since your life, at the end of the day, is yours, but it will not do to neglect all the other considerations and truths that come with life too. 

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