Do You Risk Going for Your Dreams or Should You Stay Home and be Safe?

Lava Beds National Monument

Lava Beds National Monument

A few weeks ago we went camping at Lava Beds National Monument with another family. The kids ran around like puppies and we grown-ups sat in the shade and talked. I told our friends about my daughter’s teacher.

Hesperus’s first grade teacher was one year from retirement when she found out the cancer she had battled years before had come back.

Lynnette died four months after she was diagnosed.

She was 59 years old.

When I called her husband to offer my condolences he told me Lynnette had so many plans for her retirement, that she had watched friends postpone their dreams and had promised herself she wouldn’t do that.

It’s so easy to postpone what we want. We give ourselves all sorts of reasons.

I know I do.

And the reasons I tell myself—that we don’t have the money, that the idea is too risky, that I’m afraid I’ll fail—are all usually valid and true.

But isn’t life about pushing through fear and doing what you dream to do anyway?

This isn’t a rhetorical question, it’s something I’m grappling with a lot lately: do you risk going for your dreams or do you stay home? By stay home I really mean stay put. Do you stay put in your job, in your house, in your life, enjoying the safety of a routine, a steady paycheck (if, unlike me, you actually have one), and a fixed dinner time, or do you push yourself out of your comfort zone but closer to your dreams?

“It’s no good to put things off,” I insisted to our friends. “If you’re hit by a truck tomorrow, you’ll never have a chance to do what you always dreamed of…”

But fear is also an evolutionary device to keep us safe, isn’t it? As parents it’s our job to protect and nurture our children. And we can easily use keeping our children safe as an excuse to never leave our comfort zone.

When we were washing the lunch dishes a little while later my friend whispered, “My husband’s the guy who always finds a reason not to. He’s a worrier. He worries about everything. He’s afraid if we take a trip to Europe next year the boys won’t be able to go to college. I’m so glad we were talking about that. Maybe now he’ll stop second guessing everything.”

Readers, what do you think? Do you go for your dreams or do you stay safe? As I ponder this question, I actually have a particular adventure in mind—a crazy trip I want to take with my two older daughters and the baby. Check back next week and I’ll tell you all the details.

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22 thoughts on “Do You Risk Going for Your Dreams or Should You Stay Home and be Safe?”

  1. I believe going for one’s dreams and living one’s passion, is the way to go, but within reason. Each context is different. This is much easier when children’s needs are not something that must be taken into the equation. Also, I think a trip with your girls is different from a life choice, isn’t it?

    Hearing about H’s teacher made me angry. So many needless deaths from cancer. We must get the toxic chemicals out of our environment so more people can live long fruitful lives and enjoy retirement ….
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..The Crazy- Hazy Days of Early August =-.

  2. There’s a difference between being impulsive — aka Lindsay Lohan — and facing your fear. In one, people act without even thinking about the possible long term consequences. But when you face your fear and chase after your dreams, you know the worst case scenario and you are willing to risk it. In fact, even if you end up with the worst case scenario, it’s still worth it.

    As an example, many years ago a young professional cyclist we know died during a freak accident during a race. My husband said, “At least she died doing what she loved.” Yes it was a tragedy, but it would have been more tragic if she’d avoided all her fear and never ridden her bike in the first place–because she would have never tasted true joy.
    .-= Alisa Bowman´s last blog ..The Heavenly Art of Manscaping =-.

  3. This is so, so pertinent to my situation right now. I’d like to think I’m a courageous dream-follower, but when it come down to it, I’m mired by self doubt. While there are other factors at play there – *ahem* – as I get older I find that I’m more comfortable staying in bad situations for the same reasons people don’t follow their dreams: fear and doubt.

    Maybe something as big as following your dreams and something as basic as making healthy but difficult decisions are a lot more closely related than I thought.
    .-= Stephanie – Wasabimon´s last blog ..Gluten Free Orange Almond Bread Pudding =-.

  4. Interesting comments. I’m curious about what dreams this teacher didn’t pursue. Sometimes I think plugging along and doing what you’re doing can seem mundane but can be just as courageous–sometimes even more so–than what someone might classify as ‘following a dream.’
    .-= MyKidsEatSquid´s last blog ..Easy Chocolate Bundt Cake =-.

  5. As someone who wanted to move to New Zealand for years then finally did, I have to say this isn’t a binary question. I’ve gone for it. I’ve moved overseas knowing no one, flown in stunt planes, gone skydiving, rock climbing, changed careers. To all appearances, I’m a risk taker who has reached the stars. But I still struggle to push myself past the fear to realize the next dream. Going for your dreams is definitely a process. Too bad, a one time leap of faith would be easier!
    .-= Frugal Kiwi´s last blog ..Artisan Felt Handbag Giveaway =-.

  6. I agree with Alexandra. I believe in following your dreams and taking risks… within reason. I like to plan and prepare for the risks I take, and to ask myself: What’s the worst that can happen? And can I live with that? There will always be things to worry about, payments to be made, responsibilities. Always. If not now, when?
    .-= Steph Auteri´s last blog ..PSA- 5 Weeks To Freelance Awesome Still Awesome =-.

  7. I’m sort of a homebody by nature, so I do both — stay home AND follow my dreams. Being a self-employed freelance writer, I tend to shake things up every few years by re-examining what I’m doing and figuring out if it’s what I *really want to be doing.

    That said, I’ve had periods where I’ve stuck with steady writing gigs that weren’t fulfilling, and when they end — as one did recently — I realize that’s not what I was supposed to be doing anyway. So yeah, I’m in a period right now of re-examining things and getting back on track with my passions. Life really IS too short to not follow those dreams.
    .-= Jane Boursaw´s last blog ..New Movie Friday- Eat Pray Love! The Expendables! Scott Pilgrim vs The World! =-.

  8. I’m a pragmatist, but I also believe in pursuing your dreams now, before life gets in the way. Although things were a little uncertain when I left my job to pursue freelancing, I’m so glad I didn’t wait for the exact perfect time, because that so seldomly happens.

    On another note, this made me wonder how your daughter took the news about her teacher. Was it a difficult moment where she and your other children learned about mortality? Or did she sense it was coming? Might make an interesting blog post for the future.

  9. Thanks for this great article and ponderance (is that a word???). πŸ™‚

    I am about to take a risk and sometimes the thought of all of it makes me want to stay home and be safe (and cry too). But when I think about NOT doing it, I feel a bit sick as well. So I’m damned if I do, damned if I don’t. So F it, I’m gonna go for it!

    I have a friend and life coach (www.deftythebox.xom) who strongly and so wisely suggests that when we are facing obstacles, fear, etc and these are getting in the way of us moving forward with our dreams, that we connect with the feeling of what we want. How does going for our dreams, reaching our goals make us feel? Usually good, ya? Connecting with those good feelings (whatever they are) helps us to really be in touch with the essence of our dreams/goals and usually helps the feelings of panic dissipate. As well as open up the channels of abundance and flow a bit more.
    .-= Adrienne Martin´s last blog ..Editing yourself

  10. Back to say the risk I took was not moving to France to marry a Frenchman at 21, which might seem risky to some people, but giving up an easy but unsatisfactory life there at 41, obtaining a divorce, and moving back to the USA to start from scratch and follow my dreams.
    .-= Alexandra´s last blog ..The Crazy- Hazy Days of Early August =-.

  11. Following my dreams sounds so romantic but in reality it’s scary, especially for a person like me who tends to obsess over the “what ifs” and tends to ahem,worry. I like to think that I’ve followed some of my dreams, for sure – but when I think back on it, those dreams were all safe and involved little risk. I do have big dreams but I could never imagine following them. Are they realistic? Or just something that sounds like fun but in reality would never work? What if? …There I go again πŸ™‚
    .-= Sheryl´s last blog ..When you just can

  12. I don’t think I would have had the confidence or sheer nerve to pursue my dreams if I hadn’t been married to somebody who always encouraged me to do it. Maybe we marry or associate with people who complete us in ways we couldn’t do on our own.
    .-= Ruth Pennebaker´s last blog ..Why Didn

  13. We actually found out that Lynnette died when we were living for a year in Niger, West Africa. My friend Nik (whose son was in school with Hesperus) emailed us to say that Lynnette had passed away. We hadn’t even known she was sick. Hesperus was so sad. And she was also very angry at me because we were too far away to go to the funeral (“Mommy won’t let me go,” she said.) That was almost five years ago but we still talk about it. We also lost my great aunt that year. I wrote a column when it happened for the local paper. But a blog on talking to children about death is a great idea, Susan. I will have to write that one soon. Thanks for the recommendation.
    .-= Jennifer Margulis´s last blog ..So You Want to be on TV =-.

  14. Agreed, Ruth – having the safety net of supportive friends and family makes all the difference when you’re making a big risky move. My husband definitely keeps me sane when I’m having one of my second-guessing panic attacks, and reminds me that the reason I took a risk in completely switching careers (again) is so we could have a happier life. It’s completely worth the uncertainty now for us to get the big payoff later on.
    .-= [email protected] Food. Stories.´s last blog ..Farm Friday- Tomato Bruschetta =-.

  15. [email protected] Food. Stories. says:

    This reminds me of a quote I read the other day – on Facebook of all places! – essentially asking if you go for what you want, or if you shy away, veering just to the left or to the right of what you really want. I have been asking myself exactly that a lot lately.
    .-= Merr´s last blog ..How about writing a manuscript in 1 month- 4 days =-.

  16. I’ve talked about this concept when it comes to dogs, believe it or not. Some dogs (like my big boy, Ginko) are YES dogs. Do you want to go outside? YES! Do you want to come with me? YES! Do you want to take a nap? YES! Other dogs, like my late Dalmatian, are more independent. She was a NO Dog. She pretty much did what she wanted, and that’s about it.

    My youngest dog (Lilly, the fearful border collie) is more of a MAYBE dog. She really wants to say YES!, but fear prevents her from doing so much of the time.

    We’re working on that (and in myself), but it’s a challenge for sure.

  17. Great post and intriguing comments. Like most folks I’ve done it all — followed my dreams, been stuck in a rut, stayed put (work from home, to raise a young one), taken off (at age 21 for the U.S., not knowing a soul), been wracked by fear, doubt, insecurity — and then jumped anyway.

    It’s the stuff of life, really, isn’t it? I’m always curious about that moment when someone makes a big shift in life — what finally makes any of us make a big change that is really tough to do?
    .-= sarah henry´s last blog ..Hospital Food Gets a Makeover =-.

  18. I have never felt inside that I was a risk taker, and yet people have always commented how self confident I am and how willing I am to try new things (which to me is not a risk–it is a necessity). I think some of it comes from having started life in theater–when you have to constantly “try out” and face the fact that you are not always going to succeed, it helps you face all the other “try outs” of life.
    .-= Vera Marie Badertscher´s last blog ..Following the War of Roses through England =-.

  19. This debate dominates my life, as I’m sure it does many of ours. But sometimes it’s actually hard to identify which is the play-it-safe option and which the risk; it can depend how you look at it! Lately I’ve been working on becoming braver and taking more risks, and one strategy that has worked for me is to give myself an “out.” In other words, I work out an escape plan ahead of time, so I feel like I can hit the eject button if I need to. The great thing is, having the plan makes me less nervous, and so far I’ve never had to use my escape plan. But it helps to have it.

  20. I played it safe from birth until age 50. Staying put to raise my children, sacrificing my fun so that they could go to college, all of that was important to me. But, once the kids were safely launched from the nest, I took a huge chance and divorced their dad. It was the best, most scary, liberating decision I have ever made. I now live a life with a man who thinks it’s fine to take a chance. I support his, he supports mine. Rather than taking a chance, we call it dreaming big. Our motto is, “throw enough big dreams against the wall and one of them is sure to stick.”
    .-= Donna Hull´s last blog ..Learning to Drive a Stagecoach in Paso Robles =-.

  21. What a wonderful post and such great comments. You’ve touched on something that a lot of parents wrestle with, particularly as we age and our children grow more independent. I agree with the woman who said you can follow those big dreams within reason. The challenge and possibly the joy is in finding creative ways to realize your dream without bankrupting yourself or risking something you don’t want to lose. That being said, I am online at this moment researching airline tickets to Paris in March. Thank you Jennifer!

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