One of the greatest mistakes artists and dreamers make that keeps us from following our dreams is all or nothing thinking.

We tell ourselves: “I have to leave my family, quit my job, move to another part of the country” or take other radical actions in order to pursue our heart’s desire.

This stops most of us in our tracks, preventing us from taking any action toward our dreams. Which is precisely what your inner saboteur wants. Because deep down you are scared to go for what you deeply desire. We all are.

So, instead you tell yourself:

  • “I have to make a living, so I can’t pursue my dreams.”
  • “I can’t abandon my family, so I can’t have my dreams.”
  • “I can’t devote 40 hours a week or even 20 to my art, so I can’t do it all”
  • “If I can’t make a living from what I love, I can’t take time for it.”

This all or nothing thinking is profoundly unhelpful and damaging to our hearts and souls. It is damaging to others as well, as we rob not only ourselves but others of our joy and aliveness, our unique gifts and our example of courageously living a soul-centered life.

This kind of grandiose thinking blocks us from following our hearts and masks deeper fears and doubts that we would rather not face, so we create these roadblocks to what we truly desire.

Once you know this, you can begin to turn toward and embrace the fears and doubts, offer them solace, and not let them run the show.

Other lies we tell ourselves

Here are some other lies we tell ourselves as part of this kind of inflated thinking: 

“I have to be a great artist, win an Oscar or a Pulitzer or play Carnegie Hall, or else it’s a waste of time.”

“I’m too old to start now. There isn’t enough time to be great or famous at this, so why bother?”

But you cannot be great without first being good without first being a beginner and making plenty of awful attempts.

If it brings you energy, aliveness and joy, if it connects you with creativity, doesn’t that make it profoundly worthwhile?

The real reason to follow your dreams

Kurt Vonnegut said: “Practicing an art, no matter how well or badly, is a way to make your soul grow, for heaven’s sake. Sing in the shower. Dance to the radio. Tell stories. Write a poem to a friend, even a lousy poem. Do it as well as you possibly can. You will get an enormous reward. You will have created something.”

The reason to “bother” following your heart is not to become famous or rich but to live an inspired, joyful, meaningful, engaged life that nourishes your soul and delights your heart. Isn’t that reason enough?

The reason to follow your heart’s dreams to whatever extent you are able is to shine in the fullness of who you are, to do what you love, and to live your best life.

The unglamorous truth

The truth is living our dreams is not a matter of all or nothing, black or white. It is neither as grand nor as horrible as you imagine. It is a matter of clear focus and small, consistent actions over time.

You don’t have to make huge changes in order to make some time for what you love, in order to take your steps in the direction of your heart path.

You don’t have to quit your job right now to follow your dreams, although you might at some point find yourself able and ready to do that.

You don’t ever have to make a living from your art. You never even have to make a cent from it. Plenty of wonderful artists, and even many famous ones, never made a living from their work. Most artists teach, run a publishing house, a theatre company, work for a non-profit, or do some other, totally unrelated work.

Two of America’s most famous and influential poets of the twentieth century, William Carlos Williams and Wallace Stevens, were a doctor and an insurance salesman, respectively. The great American composer, Charles Ives, was also an insurance salesman. And yet they  made time for their art and made remarkable art.

Start where you are

So instead of scaring yourself with all or nothing, start small. Start carving out time for what you love. Reserve small blocks of time, then larger ones as you are able. Be willing to be a beginner, to experiment and to fail. Be willing to try things to see if they interest you.

Make friends with your dreams and inspirations and choose one action you can do every week. Choose one for this week.

Sign up for guitar lessons or take a painting class, go on a photo-taking walk, give yourself an hour to write on Saturday, or go ahead and be the only octogenarian in that gymnastics class.

Maybe it’s not the whole dream, but isn’t a piece of it better than denying your soul what it is asking of you? And who knows where that may lead?

Take it one step at a time. Through small and consistent actions we find ourselves living our dreams.

To learn other key ways we block ourselves from hearing and following our dreams, read about the 5 Tragically Common Ways We Kill Our Dreams. Knowledge is power. Once you know how you stop yourself, you can open the doors to dreaming again.

And once you open the doors to dreaming, you open the doors to passion, fulfillment and joy. So, what are you waiting for?

To your joyful life,