Success vs Dreams | The Problems of Success | Neil Gaiman

In Neil Gaiman’s Commencement Speech, he discusses problems of success. One of Gaiman’s problems has stuck in my mind. This is the maintenance of success and the resulting increasing inability to chase dreams. This is the battle of Success vs Dreams.

The Problems of Success

They’re real, and with luck, you’ll experience them.

“I watched my peers and my friends and the ones who were older than me and I’d watch how miserable some of them were. I’d listen to them telling me they couldn’t envisage a world where they did what they’d always wanted to do anymore. Because now they had to earn a certain amount every month just to keep where they were. They couldn’t go and do the things that mattered and that they’d really wanted to do. And that seemed as big a tragedy as any problem of failure.” — Neil Gaiman, Commencement Speech

What’s at the core of this problem?

“They couldn’t… (do) what they’d always wanted to do… because now they had to (work)… just to keep where they were.”

“They couldn’t… because now they had to… keep where they were.”

“Keep where they were.”

Stagnation anyone? Even if the reality includes promotions and raises each year we could still play billiards on your income curve. This form of “success” reminds me of the middle class dream. If this feels good to you, ask yourself if instead you’re afraid of failure or just plain tired.

Energy vs Effort

I understand energy and effort very differently. Energy relates to Calories, Joules (unit of energy or work), and electric stuff. Effort is a human experience of applied energy and should be valued not simply by how much energy you applied, Calories you burned, or even how much work you did. Effort should be valued in relation to how effectively you moved towards your intentions, your goals and your dreams – inchstones, milestones and the finished product.

More importantly, I believe that our experience of effort is related not to the energy we’ve expended but rather to how much change we’ve induced. Performing a routine, supporting a habit, mindlessly repeating some ineffectual activity are all low-effort actions. High-effort actions are ones that often require waking up, being honest with ourselves and applying emotional consideration to our routines and patterns. Breaking patterns for the betterment of our worlds, ourselves and our futures take more effort than mindlessly lifting the same weights day after day, raking the same leaves, answering the same emails.

In conclusion to this Energy vs Effort sidebar, I suggest when considering your actions that you do so in terms of how effectively they move you towards accomplishing your goal. And before patting yourself on the back, consider whether you spent energy or applied effort and made insightful adjustments to your routines and habits.

Effortless, Unburdened and Content

Is it hypocritical for me, the self-proclaimed most boring man alive, the “effortless, unburdened and content”, to cry stagnation!? The correct answer is no. I know no more misguided effort, greater burden or secret discontent than to continue living and working in a way that does not help you do or accomplish what you’ve always dreamed. It will take effort to get there, to get out of the comfortable or horrible hole you’ve dug, and there will be much fear to overcome.

When your actions are in alignment with your dreams you will feel excited, unburdened and excited. You will feel confident. You will feel more right in the universe than ever. But first, you must face your daemons and then leave them behind, even if they smell like success.

Never Let Go

They couldn’t do what they’d always wanted to do because now they had to work just to keep where they were.

I know everyone keeps telling you to be thankful, grateful, appreciative, and we’re guilty as charged. It’s an emotionally healthy practice. But we certainly haven’t suggested that you hang on tight, or have we? Is it in my suggestion to never let go that I am now hypocritical? The correct answer, again, is no. Let’s take a closer look.

In the article entitled Never Let Go, I am pleading with you to not give up on your dreams. If your dream is to avoid fear, maintain a dead-end job or abusive relationship, then you need to see the dream doctor. I’m not suggesting that you hold on to anything short of your dreams. Hold on to your dreams. Never let go. Dreams are the spice of life. And don’t just sit there holding them, because trust me they can’t be held and if you’re not moving towards them then you are dying. It’s always been the journey, your journey and no one else’s, that life is truly about. Get to gettin’ where you’ve always dreamed of going.

Fear of Failure

No more chasing dreams? Why?
What’s at the core of this problem?

They couldn’t do what they’d always wanted to do because now they had to work just to keep where they were.

It comes down to this. Fear. It’s you, yourself and fear. Life is not a battle between success and dreams. It’s a battle between success and failure. Only you can determine what success means to you. Only you can decide whether compromising your dreams for comfort is a failure. It’s up to you to recognize the difference between chasing the world’s definition of success vs your own. It’s up to you to choose success or chasing your dreams.

I hope you come to find that they are one and the same. I hope you see that living your life to the best of your ability is success and that cutting yourself short is failure. I hope your dreams are strong enough to help you overcome your fears, of success or failure as they may be, and forever move towards righter tomorrows. If you are following your dreams, your course will never feel finer.

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