Is Chasing Your Dream Preventing You From Living?

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's StoneBy Marcy Kennedy (@MarcyKennedy)

Over the summer, I dropped my blogging schedule down to one day a week. I also took a real vacation for the first time in three years. I did those things for a very specific reason.

In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, Harry finds the Mirror of Erised that shows him his parents (who are dead) standing next to him. At first he thinks the mirror has brought his parents back to life. He shows the mirror to his best friend Ron, thinking Ron will be able to see Harry’s parents as well, but Ron doesn’t. Instead Ron sees himself as Quidditch Captain and Head Boy.

The mirror, it turns out, shows each person what they want most. As Dumbledore put it, “the deepest, most desperate desire of our hearts.”

Harry goes back night after night, just to be able to see his parents again. Eventually Dumbledore finds him there, and tells him that the mirror will be moved. He asks Harry not to look for it again. As wonderful as it is to look into the mirror and see your most cherished dream come to life, that’s exactly where the danger of the mirror also lies. Men have wasted their lives staring into the mirror.

“It does not do to dwell on dreams,” Dumbledore says, “and forget to live.”

That’s the danger I think all of us face when there’s a dream we want so badly that we focus our life on seeing it come to fruition—we forget to live.

There’s nothing wrong with focusing our efforts on achieving our dreams. There’s value in sacrificing in the short term in order to reach our long-term goals. In fact, we’re generally going to be happier and healthier people when we do pursue our dreams.

But we can’t chase our dreams at the expense of living life day by day.

Sometimes when we’re always looking forward, we miss the joy of the moments happening around us. Many people have written about this lately (including my good friend Lisa Hall-Wilson), but as much as we’re told to “live in the moment,” we’re also given the message that we should sacrifice whatever it takes to reach our dreams.

Just get up earlier to write. But what if that means you’re only getting four hours of sleep a night? Should we be sacrificing our health to reach our dreams?

Go back to school if you want a better job. But what if you need to work full-time to support your family? Should we sacrifice time with our spouses or children, missing out on years of their lives, in order to get what we want?

Tell your friends you can’t get together because you need to do thus-and-so in pursuit of your dream. But how long can we expect people to remain our friends if we never have time for them? Will you be content at the end of your life if you’ve achieved your dream and have no one to share it with?

When do we cross that line between chasing our dream and forgetting to live?

I can’t tell you where that line is for you, but this summer I’ve been evaluating where that line is for me. Balancing on that line will mean cutting out some things, reintroducing others, working a little less, and living a little more.

Does this mean I want my dream less than someone else wants theirs?

I don’t think so. I think it means I’ve broadened my dream. Instead of my dream being the “end goal,” my dream now includes the day-to-day. It includes how I want to live each day in order to look back on my life with contentment when I’m old. It includes how I want to live each day with the knowledge that none of us knows how long we have.

And those day-to-day, mundane dreams are just as valuable to me as “the dream” that I chase. I’m not going to waste my life staring into the mirror.

What about you? Have you found the balance between chasing your big dream and living your life? Do you think one is more important than the other?

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