Throughout high school and into my first two years of college, daydreaming was a sort of pastime for me. It was something done to kill an hour, something to stave off boredom during idle time or uninteresting afternoon lectures.
Daydreams: Inspiration or Escape Route?
A lot of the time my daydreams involved a car of some sort. I’d place myself in a Ferrari or Porsche of my choice, and I’d blaze down some scenic highway. There was never any particular dream destination to go along with the dream car. Mostly it would just be me, driving, often at night and alone where I could really open the throttle up and let the big, imagined V8 paw some air. I was dreaming of freedom, and given the quality of the cars, of success as well.
Exotic as the cars in my daydreams were, I found that they were always yoked to reality in some way, limited by it in a sense. So while I imagined myself driving many an expensive car, in my dream world, I was only allowed to own one at a time. My imaginary garage always had something practical too, like a truck or a Chevy Volt or some other inexpensive if bland hybrid.
I let myself be wealthy, but not exorbitantly so. And if my imaginary money was governed by the boundaries of reality, then it meant my imaginary talents were, too.
Can Daydreams Limit Our Success?
As time went on, I dove a bit further into my fantasy. I’ve always had a bit of a passion for writing and editing, a talent for it too, if teachers and family members can be believed. As such, it eventually found its way into my increasingly detailed daydreams.
Usually, I made myself a novelist or a short story writer — not a particularly acclaimed one, but one people would perhaps call “underrated,” someone whose talent and impact on the medium would go underappreciated in their era. I may have even imagined myself getting interviewed by Oprah.
I even had titles dreamed up for some of my works (both of which I still think are pretty quality, by the way). The first, a 400-page novel called Go West and Perish, was to be my magnum opus. The big plot points are a bit spotty in my memory — something about a trust fund kid from back east going out to California and getting lost in the West Coast culture. Nevertheless, it was to be the book of a generation, controversial but acclaimed for its rawness. In real life, not a single word of this novel exists.
The second title was a short story that’s actually floating around in rough draft form somewhere on my hard drive. It’s entitled The Drought, and it’s about an old outlaw turned well digger who lives in a dystopian West where it hasn’t rained for roughly twelve years. Water is essentially gold in this place, and the protagonist’s enemies, both old and new, use that to manipulate him.
Unlike Go West…, I did actually take a crack at writing this story, though it fizzled out when I had a hard time figuring out how wells are dug. Researching well digging and actually writing about it just seemed like too much effort. So instead of putting in any of that effort, I stowed the draft away and began to daydream about it.
I envisioned myself ten years in the future. The Drought had become some hidden gem of a short story. Future Zach, as I imagined him, had let the draft stew for a bit during his college years. Then, with some wisdom and literary prowess he had allegedly found post-imaginary graduation, he went back and refined it into a once-in-a-generation short story.
Nonexistent literature blogs were alight with praise for me. I was showered with awards. There were many more imaginary interviews. Back in reality, I basked in this acclaim I had drummed up for myself, and as a result, I did nothing.
The very thought of trying made me anxious. So I coped by dreaming that I’d accomplish it all in ten years.Tweet
This daydream had now gone beyond cars and highway joyrides. It grew detailed and elaborate, but also toxic and maladaptive. I had constructed this wonderful dream realm, but in real life I was accomplishing nothing, working toward nothing, planning for and intending nothing. I was deluding myself, and I wasn’t even fully conscious of it. I had this alternate life in my head, and in some superficial way, I wanted to make it come true. I wanted to write. I wanted to be recognized, but I felt paralyzed. The very thought of trying made me anxious.
So I coped by dreaming that I’d accomplish it all in ten years. Any shorter timeframe meant I might actually have to get my hands dirty. It meant I might have to put in an effort, and that meant I might face adversity, possibly even failure — terrible notions to a dreamer.
I was quietly leading my life down a dangerous path, one full of “what-ifs,” regret, and unexplored interests. It was going to eat away at my potential unless something was done about it.
During my sophomore year of college, I was lucky enough to meet my wonderful girlfriend. After she watched me bum around for several months, spending my time reading and watching Netflix and boasting of my talents with little to show for them, she urged me to do something. She didn’t even say, “Go out and chase your passion, you idiot!” She saw the dangers of idleness in someone she loved, and she wasn’t going to have it.
Turning Daydreams into Reality with Hard Work
So, not wanting to disappoint someone I cared about, I researched clubs and activities. I sent out applications, reluctantly, but I was making moves nonetheless. Some of those applications turned into interviews, one of those interviews turned into a job (Copy Editor at the school newspaper), and after a year at said job, I was inspired by the talented and like-minded people around me, to try my hand at writing in earnest.
I was in a work environment where I was interacting with real people, doing real work,each week producing a paper with real value, real writing, and merit. I couldn’t daydream much anymore because I was 1. too busy and 2. actually putting my passion into practice. As I came to learn, writing in real life is difficult. It is incredibly difficult. It’s frustrating, infuriating, impossible (at times), and utterly awe-inspiring. It’s a craft based on failure, but you learn (and you’re forced) to get over it and try to do better with each revision.
And though I’ve also overcome my previous aversion to hard and immediate work, I still find myself daydreaming. I still have a very active imagination, and I still envision myself — in a realistic manner — five or ten years down the road. However, those daydreams are no longer used as an outlet or as some safe room from disappointment. When I think of the future, there’s now a plan or at least a semblance of a plan in my mind for how I’m going to get there. There are cars, sometimes, and there are dreams of minor fame, but the difference is that I now have the skills, know-how, and confidence to pursue those things.
It’s noble to be a dreamer, I think, but those dreams will never be anything without a little bit of real-life work. There has to be a balance.