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When is it Time to Give Up a Dream?

I am not entirely sure how facebook decides who should be in my feed when I am on my way to my latest stupid gaming addiction* but currently facebook often throws in someone that I went to high school with who is in a band touring dive bars.  It seems that band is partially successful with paid gigs, but not too successful since they were bragging about a new tour bus with air conditioning.  Seeing her updates pretty regularly leads me to the question of – when is it time to give up a dream?

The simple answer of “life is too short, never give up on your dreams?” reeks of an unrealistic garbage quote.  We are adults and chasing your dream to make it in music is very different in your teens when compared to when you are into your 20s then late 20s then early 30s and then 40s…after that find me more than 10 people who were commercial successful after being discovered after 40!  Throw in a couple of kids and how just is chasing your dream to become a commercial successful musician when your kids are now suffering because of your choices.

On the other hand believing that sometimes it is about time to grow the fuck up may be a little too harsh for every situation.  I wrote that post about some cry baby who wrote that life wasn’t fair despite being in her late 20s and having almost no employable skills.  Oddly enough, two years after I wrote that post about growing up it seems the person at the center of the article is still trying to “make it” without any considerable commercial success (but that was just with a simple google search).

While I used two different musicians I think it can be applied to almost anything.  I have a cousin who quit her job as a nurse in New York City making a very good living to study to become a doctor.  The problem is that she is now 26, and to be quite frank didn’t do that well academically on her way to a nursing degree.  My gut says she should probably give up on that dream at this point.  Odds say she is just not getting into med school, and even if she does she’ll be 28 or so by the time she starts the 4 year schooling plus residency.

Could I be wrong? Could the musicians and my cousin make their dreams come true? Absolutely, and I hope (especially for my Cousin) that I am wrong.  But at what point do you give up your dream whether it be in music or to become a doctor?



  1. Man, that’s harsh. I’d say you need to seriously consider giving up when you have a dependent. If you don’t have a kid, go ahead and live your dream. The music business is tough. You have to be really good and super lucky.

  2. I think if you don’t have anyone depending on you, then what does it matter? You can keep trying until you are dead. That is a personal decision, but you shouldn’t make that type of decision when you are responsible for someone else.

  3. I’m 45 and I’m calling blatant ageism on the attitude that “you’re too old to dream so give the eff up”.

    Think about people like Julia Child, Dr. Seuss, Raymond Chandler, Marion Irvine, Alfred Hitchcock, Brian Dennehey (and those are just the folks I can think of off the top of my head) who never gave up on their dreams and achieved great success later in life – in their 40s, 50s, even 60s.

    I also think of people I know who changed careers in their 40s and 50s to achieve dreams. I know a photographer who started shooting at 40 and now, at 51 is a leader in the industry, with 3 books to his name. I know a veterinarian who quit a successful career in general contracting to go back to school at 29 (late in the game for the degrees he wanted) and now at 50 owns a large, well known clinic and regularly makes my towns “best Vet” list. I know a woman who, at over 50 not only lost 100+ lbs, but went on to become a fitness instructor and to compete in fitness competitions at a national level.

    I think I’ve met your list of 10 (or close to it) but you can do a web search and find hundreds more.

    So, yes, I 100% agree that you’re never too young to give up on your dreams. Ever.

    • I don’t think it is blatant ageism since I am not saying across the board everything is downhill after 30. I am just saying certain fields are harder to break into if you are older. One can’t possibly argue that if your dream is to be a model you have a better shot at 52 than at 21. Similarly, if you want to pick a field (like medicine) that has a 10 year or so education requirement it is easier to *start* at 22 than at 32.

      “So, yes, I 100% agree that you’re never too young to give up on your dreams. Ever.”

      I would bet you are in the majority. But, what if the chasing of your dream was at the detriment of your children? Could we agree then?

      • But is is ageism. You said that it’s unrealistic “after 40”, said “find me people who have made it after 40”, and made the comment about your cousin *starting* at 28. Cause lord forbid she should not be a doctor until 40 and then have another 20-30 years of career ahead of her. 🙂

        The bit about “what if you have children” was an add on to the “you’re too old” theme.

        (Which reminds me and I don’t know why I didn’t mention the person dearest to me: My mother was a dental hygienist because all her life she grew up being told “girls don’t become dentists”. When my brother and I were teens and we moved back to the States, she decided to go to dental school (at age 40) and become the dentist she always wanted to be. She completed the 4 year program and practiced for 12 years before retiring. And ultimately it wasn’t about being in practice, it was about achieving her dream … post 40 and with 2 school aged kids. So you know … !)

        But I will admit that at your age I thought the same. In fact I remember writing a letter (back in the Dark Ages, pre-email) to a friend of mine at about 27 or 28 saying “if I don’t do it now, I’ll never be able to do it again”. 🙂 Boy do I have a different point of view at 45 than I did even in my late 20s and early 30s.

        I think adding the postscript qualifier that “if it was to the detriment of your kids” is irrelevant to your argument. It doesn’t matter WHAT your age, if you’re doing something to the detriment of your kids, you’re doing it wrong. That has nothing to do with your age one way or the other. There are plenty of people in their 40s or 50s or 60s who aren’t chasing their dreams who are screwing up their kids 7 ways from Sunday and who don’t give a damn.

        Chasing ones dreams should happen at any age and with any dream. Obviously don’t be an ass about it. But being older (and god, yes, I have to admit that at 45, people in their 20s see me as “older”) doesn’t mean you can’t have dreams or chase after them.

      • Oh and btw, as a photographer in her 40s, I can tell you that with the Boomers being the largest consumer population right now, 50+ and 60+ models are in HIGH demand. 🙂 A lot of women who never modeled in their lives but who are aging well and remaining active and vital could do VERY well as models in advertising and entertainment geared towards that population.

        If only the 70 year old Jessica Tandy were still around. 😉

    • Kara I could not agree with you more! I know a couple who after success in the business world launched a successful winery. They sacrificed, worked hard and followed their dream. Why stop following your passions based on some age that other people have decided is too late?

  4. hmmm…not sure what this has to do with your pathway to financial security, but is surely exposes some biases you’d like to project onto others. Your classmate may very well work days as a cashier at the local grocery so she can pursue her passion evenings and weekends. I imagine that music feeds her soul in a way that no mundane job ever can. Most of the world works to live, rather than lives to work.
    I’m a surgeon in a training environment, and I have watched and supported a number of persons who strived hard to make it to medical school on the strength of their conviction, with less than stellar academic records. Most of them made it, and most have emerged from the gristmill somewhere in their mid-late 30’s, still with a good 30 years of useful working life ahead of them and a pile of debt. Who am I to say that it wasn’t worth it? debt or no debt, the professional life of a physician is never dull, and never inconsequential to those who he or she treats.
    I enjoy the discipline with which you are pursuing your goal of financial security. I’m a bit disappointed with the revelation that making money seems to be the highest value. No amount of money will lead to happiness if you aren’t doing something that feeds your soul.

    • “I’m a bit disappointed with the revelation that making money seems to be the highest value. No amount of money will lead to happiness if you aren’t doing something that feeds your soul”
      – Making money is no where near the value I put on family and most experiences. That being said, sometimes we have to be adults…and be responsible.

      I have never built a house, but what if it were my dream to become a contractor. Should I really just abandon my job?

  5. Great post, Evan. I always wonder about the ‘dreamers’ who emphasize the so-called ‘handicaps’ they have to overcome. Your classmate seems hung up on being a woman, being a lesbian, and having tattoos. Nobody really cares anymore about the first two, and the last one was a choice. But if she DOES make it, the success will mean so much more because of all she has overcome.:-)

    All kidding aside, I do have friends of many decades that are still dreamers. My thought is that the ‘decision-tree’ is stacked against giving up the dream, because at this point (in their middle-age) they no longer have the benefit of time, a track record of results, a credit history, or a family support system upon which to rely. One guy is a 65 year-old “actor” who’s biggest credit was a ‘70s sitcom. Another is a very funny comedian, who stays in town and does spots in case he gets an audition call. Yet another is an actor/comic/motivational speaker, who told me about his shock at reading for a family drama and being corrected when he mistakenly assumed he was reading for the young male lead (he was called in for the Dad part).

    So, ‘giving up the dream’ is not really an attractive option, when it would involve foregoing the possibility of fame, money, fun, etc. They really aren’t cut out for any kind of day job anymore, as their work ethic has been ruined molded by decades of sleeping until noon, daily drinking, etc. and telling jokes for 15 minutes a night. Myself, I did ‘give up the dream’ and still think about it every day. I am reminded of the lesson in Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers”, where he notes that excellent performers “quit early” and don’t waste more time than necessary, when they realize they won’t achieve their goals. One other thing I do observe, is that the ‘goals’ shift for the dreamers (i.e. “all I want to do is make my music”, “if I can avoid getting a day-job, I will have made it”, “if I can get on Letterman, Conan, Fallon, Kimmel, Chelsea Lately, John Oliver, Bob & Tom, Marc Maron’s podcast, Adam Carolla’s podcast, a Rogaine commercial” Brutal.

    In any event, these guys are and have been friends. I wish them well. I don’t think things will work out the way they want. My choices (and abilities and goals) have been different than theirs. They don’t have dependants, and the few that I know that do have managed to get with a guy who will financially support their dreams. It is really none of my business, I do know this. But still, I can’t help but wonder the same thing you do in your post.

    • “…their work ethic has been ruined molded by decades of sleeping until noon, daily drinking, etc. and telling jokes for 15 minutes a night… ”

      I don’t know, but if one can sustain that sort of lifestyle, doesn’t that sound a little bit like one possible variation of the American Dream? Why on earth would anyone in their right mind want to give that up for anything else if they didn’t have to? Even failure sounds pretty idyllic–the only thing better than that would be success. They are finally happy as it is, and that is an extremely shiny second prize, I would say. There are a lot of people who would kill to be in their shoes as an alternative to their current misery, no?

  6. I don’t think it’s ever too late to give up on a dream. No matter how old you are, as long as you aren’t harming anyone else, I don’t see why you can’t pursue your dream successfully. You should check out the book “Choose Yourself”. It has numerous examples of people who only became successful after starting over in their 40/50/60/70s.

    If you can’t work towards your dreams after a certain age, what’s the point? Just kill me now if my life ends at 30.

  7. I think you’re down the right path here. Now, to be fair, there are some things that we can dream about and pursue late into life even if it seems odd for someone of a certain age.

    However, when a person has dependents yet they’re still focused on a “dream” instead of providing the best life for not only themselves but those aforementioned dependents, that’s an issue. Or, if a person is pursuing dreams that anybody else can see won’t happen but the person stubbornly clings to them, then those dreams can cause the person more harm than good.

    To add to the med school example, there was a guy from my college – actually, he dropped out of school after 2 years (supposedly with like a 1.5 gpa) – who had that medical school dream. Yes, AFTER dropping out of school.

    The guy simply did not strike me as a person who had the sense to realize he had zero shot, and just didn’t have the makeup to be a physician much less a professional. I literally ran into him at an car repair shop when he was about 23 or 24. He was telling me how he was taking 1 or 2 classes part time, back in college again…that it would take him until 28 or so to get his degree.

    Oh, and he STILL wanted to go to med school. That was his dream.

    He was totally wasting his time, and mental energy, on this dream. Would’ve been better growing up and realizing he never had what it took, and to focus his energies on something more along his lines. Maybe being a tradesman? He could make a living without a degree that he simply wasn’t suited for.

    So yes, there are some people that would be better growing up and ending the dream, and accepting that they don’t have what it takes.

    • Just being a bit realistic is all I am asking for! Think about how productive he could be spending his energy on something else?

    • Yes, but I can see two things wrong with that example. Assuming that he does have what it takes, he may have learned something from his first failure, so that it wouldn’t be the same definition of insanity of doing the same thing over again for different results, and he may finally get what he’s after. Assuming that he doesn’t have what it takes, that would mean that he’s not only not smart enough for the material, but the lack of self-awareness is probably indicative of an entirely new level of being unintelligent, in which case he might also be a very poor tradesman as well, in which case it is best if he does whatever he can to make money, and probably also best if he is kept busy indefinitely at some harmless and interminable pursuit, such as school would be in that case. Either way, let him go twiddle away for as long as he needs to. If he is not an idiot, he will be a doctor someday. If he is an idiot, at least he’ll be kept away from things he can damage.

      • The idea that it is a good thing for a person to work as a tradesman because he or she was not smart enough for academia should be clubbed to death like a baby seal. The trades are similar to the hard sciences insofar as there is a correct way to perform a task, just as an answer for a mathematical problem is either right or wrong. In the case of the trades, the consequences of performing poorly can range from unnecessary inconvenience to property damage, injury and loss of life, and it is no place for a moron. If a person is incapable of doing their job correctly, they should be working a less important and challenging job, or if even that fails, it might be time to consider paying them to keep still and bother nobody, just as farmers are sometimes paid to grow nothing.

        • Just as disability exists to support those who cannot work, some form of income should also exist to support those who can theoretically work, but shouldn’t. The quality of their work is such that it may range from only the appearance of work, to work that is performed so incompetently that afterwards it must be destroyed and redone by some other unfortunate person who receives neither credit nor pay for having done so. Such a person may not only be an inconvenience but also a danger to all concerned. Merely firing them and having them go away is only passing the problem on to someone else. This income would serve to keep them away from the workplace forever, thus improving not only the working conditions of the other employees, but the goods and services received by others. It would help a great deal.

  8. I think that anyone should have the opportunity to chase their dreams, no matter what age, but people need to be smart about their dream and find the best path to take to accomplish their dream.

  9. When’s the last time you had sex?

    I asked a buddy this who was bragging to me about his single life. As harsh as it sounds, sometimes you have to look at the bottom line.

    How much money do you make from this?

    I asked a friend this recently who was asking me for freelancing advice.

    Following your dreams needs to be a little realistic at some point.

    For example, maybe you could get a day job to support your song writing? or you could find another way to live a dream. There just has to be something that you can do.

  10. Well, there’s some stuff in this post that I really, truly can subscribe to. STUPID SENTIMENTAL BS worries me a lot, especially when vulnerable (let us not say “stupid sentimental” because that would be rude) people fall for it.

    But… If a goal (not something woozy like a “dream”) comes along a little later in life than one would expect, and if the person has the intelligence and the drive to go after it, then I think sometimes success is not altogether beyond reach.

    My son’s best buddy, who attained unemployability by getting a BA in philosophy at a spectacularly expensive private liberal arts college, saw the light in his 20s. He got himself an EMT certification and worked part time riding around in ambulances to send himself back to school to pick up the math and science courses needed to get into a physician’s assistant program.

    After a great deal of hard work, he completed said program (it’s a master’s degree in medical science, which makes one eligible to become a PA), started as a physician’s assistant with a six-figure income, married another PA, spawned a pair of twins, and after a few years on the job decided he liked medicine so much he wanted to become an M.D. He is now in medical school. He’s my son’s age — 36. So yes, he WILL be long in the tooth when he finishes. Honi soit (etc.)…

    It has to be said, though, that’s a great deal different from following one’s bliss forever as a perennially unsuccessful musician.

    So…what? I guess there are dreams that make some sense and dreams that are just…freaking dreamy. A person has to figure out the difference.

  11. Finding the right balance between following dreams and balancing them with responsibilities is one of life’s greatest challenges. Being a bit adventurous by nature and a keen on travel since about the age of 11, the intervention of marriage and children certainly curtailed some of my dreams. but family responsibilities took precedence.

    Now in a second marriage with children aged 4 and 9, we are sharing a dream of relocating to Ecuador. That brings new and unexpected challenges, but reading the experiences of some who have done it, that shared dream can really make for an even better family life. If it comes off, and we sell our property, then we are on our way.

    • Congrats on finding a partner that has the same dream as you! I have a very good friend who is originally from Ecuador if you have any questions shoot me an email.

  12. I’d like to tweak your post’s headline to “When is it time to give up some dreams?”. There, corrected.

    Or put another way, is it ever time to give up on dreaming? Absolutely not – as long as it doesn’t detract from a person “holding their own” in reality!

    Look, I’m 55, married to someone who is 52, and we have no children. Do you think I should give up my dream of having a child? DUH.

    But why should I give up on my dream of writing my own app (I’ve worked as a computer programmer for other employers sine 1984) to give us another source of income and possibly retire in 5 years? I can name you several other dreams I’m in the midst of accomplishing… spend a month in Europe (done), learn how to dance (started), pay off our house (done), attend a Bible study (about to start), bowl a 300 game (I never will but also will never stop trying).

    My point is this – like Kara, I think you sound… young. Like your life is about giving up things! I think you should consider an alternative approach. You know, where one door closes another opes kind of thing. Maybe consider how much more positive your cousin’s outlook may be than yours’.

    • I can agree with your correction of adding the word *some*. It may come off the way in the post but it was never my intention to base the idea on age, but I can see how my two examples may have confused my contention.

  13. Sometimes giving up on a dream is the absolute greatest thing ever. You can become so focused on achieving that ONE THING you believe will bring you happiness that you fail to see all the other amazing possibly around you. Letting that dream go can be breaking the chains and setting you truly free to wander all the cool paths that extend away from that jail. It’s freedom from fixation.

    Ever completely fulfill a life dream? Yes, it’s exhilarating and will bring you momentary gigantic happiness, but three weeks later you’ll be left with a giant hole where that obsession used to sit. A dream is abstract, it doesn’t have much permanence. You’ll feel lost and wonder, “OK…. So… What now?” Taoists and Buddhists don’t subscribe this foolish “American dream” mythos. Find happiness in yourself, enjoy what’s around you, be nice to people around you, go on adventures, the whole world is your sandbox, don’t get hung up and be a slave to your own ideology. …That’s my 10 cents, anyway.

    • Interesting spin on it! I could see how a dream may block you from experiencing all the good that you already have in your life!

  14. Wow, this post is motivating. I totally disagree. You should never give up on your dreams, whether 30, 40 or 50.


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