How to Choose a Dream

Most children eventually develop a regular answer to the oft-repeated question, “What do you want to be when you grow up?” But sometimes multiple options continue to come to mind, even after you’re a little older and wiser. If you’re like me, then you have more than one dream that could be your “calling,” or most fulfilling career path. Maybe you love a good math problem but secretly dream of singing to a stadium full of people, or maybe you divide your time between writing your Oscars thank-you speech and doing science experiments. In my case, I had dreams of playing in a professional orchestra as well as my goal of becoming a published writer. But I eventually figured out that I should focus on the latter and not the former. If you’re not sure how to choose what dream to follow, or if your dreams seem vague or out-of-reach, here are seven steps you can take to start you in the right direction.

1. Find out what you’re good at. Not just what you think you’re good at, or what your parents tell you you’re good at (because parents aren’t always right: take the ever-supportive mothers of the horrible singers at American Idol auditions, for instance). What have you heard from teachers or professionals whose opinions you trust, without you having to ask them? Has the vet commented how good you are with your pets? Do your English teachers catch you after class to tell you how much they enjoy grading your papers? Unsolicited compliments are usually the most honest.

2. Even if people who know you think you’re good at something, make sure outsiders will, too. Do some research and compare yourself with your potential competition. If you regularly see things in successful people that you know you can do just as well (or even better), then you’re making a safe bet.

3. What do you like? Usually, people like what they’re good at, or the other way around. If you enjoy something, you’ll be willing to practice enough to get better. And it’s no use doing something you hate just because you’re good at it, because you’ll burn out really quickly.

4. Figure out how to do it. What kind of education do you need (if any)? Some jobs don’t actually require a degree, only certain specific skills. If you need to get better at those skills, then college is a good idea (Or trade school, or an apprenticeship, or whatever pertains to your career).

5. Have a specific career goal in mind (i.e., an Olympic swimmer, a fashion designer who does shows in Paris, a chef who owns a restaurant, etc.), and then research how to get there. How did people in that position make it to where they are? Then it’s up to you to start yourself on the same path.

6. Develop a little pride. Self-confidence will protect you and keep you from getting completely discouraged in the face of negative criticism. If you can’t feel good about what you do, then you’re probably doing the wrong thing. But don’t go overboard: arrogance can be just as harmful as self-doubt, and it’s much more annoying.

7. Most importantly, do it. Act in homemade movies in between acting classes. Tutor kids after school. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Do what you want to do. Don’t just mope around until your exact goal falls into your lap, because that’ll never happen. You may not get paid well at first, or you may not get paid at all. But if you’re following your dream and doing what you love, it won’t matter, and eventually you’ll be right where you want to be.

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