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Is Chasing Your Dreams Responsible?

Originally published Wednesday, 28 August 2013.

This blog post first appeared over at www.allisonvesterfelt.com - you can read more about Allison there! 

When I first had the idea to quit my job and go on a 50 state road trip, I spent hours crunching the numbers, trying to see if I could make it work. In one sense, I had this strange feeling that if I took this leap of faith, everything was going to work out. But on the other hand, no matter how much I cut my expenses, or stretched my projected income, there wasn’t enough money to make it.

I was so certain I was "supposed" to go on the trip, but I couldn't help but think to myself — is this responsible?

Have you ever wondered if it was possible to "chase your dream" and still be responsible?

photo: Creative Commons, bindarri 

Obviously I did quit my job to go on the trip, and I'm still standing here today to tell the story. Despite the fact that I didn't make every responsible decision I could have made along the way, I don't think responsibility and dreaming are mutually exclusive.

In fact, I believe chasing your dream may be the most responsible thing you can do.

What are you really responsible for?

I think many of our "responsibilities" are self-imposed and expendable. Yes, you have a responsibility to pay your bills, but think about your bills for a moment. Many of them are likely optional.

Cable. Internet. Cell phone. Eating out. Car payment.

I'm not saying its bad or wrong to have these things, I'm just saying they're choices your'e making, and anytime we make a choice to do one thing, we make a choice not to do something else.

Also, I think we often take on the responsibility of controlling how other people feel about us. I know I did this when I quit my job. I worried about what my parents were going to think, or what my friends were going to say, or (this one seems so dumb to me now) about how I would never get married because no men would ever take me seriously.

We can't control how other people feel about our decisions. And we shouldn't. Their response is not our responsibility.

Everything is a trade-off.

When I quit my full-time job, my responsibilities were fairly small. I didn't have kids or a spouse, but I did have a cell phone bill and a loan payment for graduate school. I had to ask myself:

Is my dream of writing a book worth accumulating more interest on my school loans while they're in deferment?

Is it worth going without a cell phone? 

The answers to my questions helped me figure out what I really wanted out of life and allowed me to discover how to organize my priorities accordingly. There is only so much space in our lives. We can only bring so many things with us. We will have to leave some things behind.

(How very Packing Light).

Responsibility is a myth.

Or, should I say, the idea of responsibility I held in my mind before my road trip was a myth. I thought a "responsible" person was someone who was prepared for everything and was totally self-sufficient, never needing anything from anyone else.

The truth is, there is nothing we can do to be perfectly prepared for everything, all the time. 

And we all need things from other people. None of us are self-sufficient.

When I finally abandoned my weird notion of responsibility, I realized that chasing my dream — reaching out in faith, learning what it looked like to fail, learning to lean on other people, and even asking for help — was actually the most responsible thing I could do.

Becoming our true selves.

I believe we have a responsibility to become who we were made to be. This responsibility is less tangible, and more difficult to describe, which is why I think so many of us ignore it. But I believe it is as important as the responsibilities we have to go to work and pay our rent.

I believe I have a personal responsibility to do what makes me come alive.

Martha Graham puts it this way:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is transmitted through you into action, and because there is only one of you, in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is or how valuable or how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open.”
— Martha Graham, Quoted by Agnes DeMille,
Martha: The Life and Work of Martha Graham

I would argue we have a responsibility to chase what brings us life. I’m not saying we abandon all of our practical responsibilities to do this. In fact, I think life is a delicate mix of practical responsibilities and spiritual ones.

But I’m also discovering as I go that, when I practice presence and gratitude, the line between the two is actually quite thin.

I'm curious to hear what you think. Does your dream seem to conflict with your responsibilities?