Dreams that involve helping others and changing the world are considered valid and honorable. These are the admirable, socially approved dreams.
But what about dreams that are meaningless to others? What if your dream is to climb every mountain in the world? Or what if you just want to jump off things?
We give up on a lot of dreams because they don’t “have a point” or aren’t contributing to society. So many of us try to determine if we’ll do something by whether or not it serves others. We get caught up in fake growth.
But what if your dream serves no one but yourself? Does that make it any less valid?
One of my dreams is to do a one-arm pullup. There’s really no “point” to it at all. It doesn’t accomplish anything. It’s not practical. And it certainly doesn’t help anyone. But that’s not stopping me. I think it’s cool, and that’s enough for me.
Our dreams don’t have to have a purpose. They don’t have to inspire anyone, or make any difference at all in the world. If you’re enjoying them, that’s enough. If it excites you, that’s enough. If you’re doing a lot of things that don’t excite you because they’re “practical,” well, that serves no one.
The world needs more people that are doing what they want to do. I suggest sorting that part out first, then figuring out how you’ll make a contribution. You can often do both at the same time. But it’s okay too if you do some things that have no purpose, and other things that help others.
But please, don’t just do things things you hate because they’re practical or utilitarian. I don’t think it serves anyone if you force yourself to be selfless in a way that’s not authentic. That’s self-deprecation, not service.
Give yourself permission to do what you want, even if there’s no purpose whatsoever.
I’m going to keep this post short and sweet because I want you to focus on action, not sitting here staring in front of the screen.
Before I let you go, I want to know… what’s a “purposeless” dream you have that just serves you? Please share in the comments.
I have a few dreams that don’t really have a point for others. Learning Japanese is one of them. Learning to draw, play music, dance, and sing are others.
My dreams: to master a martial art, natural medicine, playing violin, speaking perfect Japanese, and writing. Not all of them serve others, but an excited me will do more good for this world than any other iteration.
Looking forward to the one-armed pull-up Jonathan. Have you checked out Never Gymless?
Being a professional dancer! And I made that dream come true.
It does serve others, in that dance inspires others – both in teaching and performance – but that’s not why I dream of dance. I dance for me, because I love it.
According to action movie reality, a one-arm pull-up is a vital skill. ;^) One never knows. There is also the argument that when we are able to accomplish something that seems impossible, the collective unconscious benefits. Suddenly, people in far-flung reaches of the world are able to do the same skill. All it took was one person running 26.3 miles to start the modern trend of running a marathon just for the accomplishment of it. In the process of training, people have changed their lives.
Sandra Pawula says
If your dreams are so self-centered they will only harm you in the end.
Do you think it’s worth have any dreams that are self-centered? Just curious to hear you elaborate. @Sandra Pawula
You’re so right. Maybe I have a film career in my future. :) @missjenyoung
Those are some awesome dreams dude.
Yes, I have seen Never Gymless. It seems like a good book. Right now I’m following the Gold Medal Bodies program from my friend Andy Fossett. It’s really effective.
Those are all very worthwhile dreams. @emeri1md
I totally agree, though I’m not sure that any dream is truly purposeless. We may not understand the purpose at the time, of course, but I’ve always been surprised by my own prescience regarding my various undertakings… sometimes eerie how things come into play later on that you wouldn’t expect. I mean, that one armed pullup thing? Maybe we’ll be hiking someday and you’ll need to grab me one armed and pull me to safety!
Silly example, but…
Learning Japanese, natural medicine, learning to dance, all of these other examples – they do serve a very real purpose (intellectual exercise & the ability to communicate with a big group of people, learning to heal yourself and others, physical exercise and grace) – and while those purposes could be self centered on one hand, I truly believe that digging deep and developing ourselves – even just on a whim – ultimately serves humanity.
My current goal along these lines is to learn to take kick ass photographs. Never know when that might come in handy… :) Thanks for the post, @JonathanMead Jonathan
Michelle O says
My dream is to become a best-selling author and hopefully by doing so, I will inspire others to follow their dreams. So Sandra, NO dream is self-centered. So sad to hear someone say that!
Jonathan – great post and keep ’em coming!
I want to write a folk rock concept album loosely based around the plot of Herman Hesse’s Siddartha. Also: Bicycle building, Beer brewing.
I want to make a home studio and hone my freestyling lyrics and make an album with my friends. I want to brew beer, and I want to be able to dunk a basketball (I’m 5’5).
@Sandra Pawula Couldn’t you say all dreams are self centered in a way. It’s something that you want to do, something that your “self” needs to accomplish to reach some kind of fulfillment. It doesn’t matter if you’re dream is to help people or do a one-arm pull-up, all dreams in the end come back to you. But that is what makes them worth following
Even the dreams that seem pointless in the sense of “helping the world” are important. I don’t think any of our dreams come to us by chance. A one pull up may seem pointless to some but incredibly motivating to others.
I also see these type of dreams/goals as fuel for inspiration in other parts of life. I usually get my best writing ideas when I’m sparring. Exciting new designs for metal creations to weld up come to me when I’m trying to see how much longer I can stand an ice cold shower than last time. A better way to help my latest client came to me while I was trying to learn some very basic beginner piano scales.
Following your dreams is NEVER a waist of time. You do need to be deliberate about the time you set aside to work on them.
My dream – move to Italy. Before I hit retirement age. I didn’t want to wait for one day so we made the choice to make it happen. It hasn’t always been easy but it’s where I am happiest.
My dream is to recover my lost/stolen ipod touch that had every midi @ track ever arranged for me by my GodFather, one of the last true Accordian Masters in America eatpraylove . Arrangements in their original format and lyrics and photos of my daughter and my Godfather. Being a single mother and professional musician in the digital age is hard enough when you know better than to allow a computer to falsify your natural given gifts. i had a dream to keep it real as an Italian American Entertainer, and I have done so through much sacrifice and toil. The other night, I dreamt that my dear friend, @patrickdomingo had found the ipod and gave it back to me all wrapped and pretty. I woke up feeling estatic that I had recovered thousands of songs that make up the American Pop Soundbook warnermusicgroup@patriziobuanneofficial . Was that a meaningless dream ? Dream with me, too. davidfoster
Sandra Pawula says
I’ll explain where my thinking originates and then answer your question. In my spiritual tradition, there are three categories of thoughts and actions: harmful, neutral, and positive [from a karmic perspective]. One-arm push ups probably fall in the neutral category. Therefore, negating what I originally said that they will only harm you in the end. :) Sorry about that! They won’t necessarily harm you, but they won’t necessarily help you much from a spiritual perspective. But it all depends on motivation. If you’re motivation is positive, it changes the nature of the thought or action.
In the course of being human, we naturally engage in many neutral actions. It’s not necessarily “bad” but I myself would not consider them a meaningful dream [for me]. But we can lift them up with a more expansive motivation.
So to answer your question, I think self-centered dreams are often limited and sometimes can be harmful. I believe passion and doing what we want to do in this life is one part of the equation, but not the whole deal for a truly meaningfully life.
BTW, I’m not saying this to get social approval because my thinking is probably not going to get a round of applause here. :)@JonathanMead
When I was in Junior High I “dreamt” of having self esteem and good personal health. While these ideas had nothing to do with any career, at 52 years of age I am at peace, centered and have health that rivals that of a 20 year old. I’m ready to succeed at my “other dream” of being a successful visual artist.
Sandra Pawula says
Hi Adrianne, Yes, they are coming from “you” so they are centered in you. But I’m speaking of “self-centered” in the context of being focused on the self to the exclusion of others. @Adrianne @Sandra
For the past several months I have been having a “life purpose” crisis. Every time I want to do something, every goal I want to achieve, my brain screams ” But whats the point?!” it all kept spiraling downwards, just making everything meaningless to me, because nothing had a real purpose. that mindset still eats at me sometimes.
Reading this post makes a lot of sense to me right now. Being me just for me. Even if it makes no sense to those around me, and helps absolutely NO ONE.
My dream is to play parkour, get stronger(no matter how strong you are, you can always get stronger), publish my poetry and create art.
what is parkour? I go through the same. If the creative urge is in you, though, you will not be at peace until you let it out for the greater good in some way. Just a suggestion. @Sarah.m
I want to learn to drive a helicopter! (And than of course have one, that I can practice on) :)
I really want to complete all three Permanent Populaires and become a member of the Iowa Randonneurs. People often ask “why would you want to do that?” and it’s like “well, why does anyone want to do a marathon or climb a mountain, or anything like that?” It’s a challenge to yourself. And sometimes goofy ideas like wanting to make something everyday for a year and document it just gets under your skin. Could I do it? What would the result be? Would it inspire others?
Ditto Andy Fogarty. Everything we dream can have a purpose of some sort. At 52 I have a dream to hike the Inca Trail to Maachu Pichu by 55. Does that serve anyone? Perhaps not directly but as I prepare for it it means keeping myself in top physical shape which gives me energy to do more things that may serve a higher purpose. My writing about it may serve as motivation for mid life people that are not in shape. My experience may lead to other more meaningful work, and on it goes.
Being I can’t quite manage a two armed pull up (yet) I think a one arm pull up is pretty inspiring :-)
I really want to complete all three Central Iowa Permanent Populaires (https://sites.google.com/site/centraliowapermanents/) and become a member of the Iowa Randonneurs, complete at least one brevet by the end of the year, and then start hosting my own permanent routes. People often ask “why would you want to do that?” and it’s like “well, why does anyone want to do a marathon or climb a mountain, or anything like that?” It’s a challenge to yourself. And sometimes goofy ideas like wanting to make something everyday for a year and document it just gets under your skin. Could I do it? What would the result be? Would it inspire others?
@ethanwaldman That is a fucking awesome dream, and you’ve just sold at least one copy.
@AndyFossett Then it’s meaningless no more! Woot.
Dude, you know I’ve got a lot of ideas on this topic, but I’ll keep it to the point. Evil Andy #1 (@AndyFogarty ) already broke it down pretty well: a lot of the seemingly pointless things give us intangible benefits that enrich the “important” stuff we do.
For me, meaningless dreams are to record and release another four albums of music, to publish a book of haiku, to maintain homes on two different continents, and to try every beer in the world. None of those further my career/business goals or “create value” for anyone but myself. Yet, chalking them up as self-centered pursuits that will eventually cause me harm would be pretty short-sighted and silly.
These meaningless dreams are the enjoyable payoff for following my serious dreams.
Hi Jonathan, great post. Maybe doing a one arm pull up does serve other people because in doing it you’re demonstrating what’s possible and in so doing could inspire others! So even though we may start out doing the dream for ourselves we may also be surprised how it serves others. But like your post says whats most important is being true to our selves and following our dreams and I guess irrespective of the dream this in itself is inspiring!
Sean M Kelly
Islands. Want to keep visiting islands……
I do stained glass as a hobby and there is one particular window that I would love to do partly because it is over 500 pieces and just a massive piece (however I have NO idea where I would put something that huge). I would also like to become certified in Pilates instruction; which in another way would benefit others once I achieve that dream.
This is awesome! Dreams without limits – without judgment….hopefully ; ) My meaningless dream? Hire a dialect coach to perfect my fake British accent. Silly, I know….meaningless…and yet so fun : )
@AndyFossett Another beer lover AND musician!? Now my dreams are not only meaningless, but also unoriginal. What are the chances..
Hey Jonathan, I want to match your one arm pull up with my handstand. I’ve always wanted to do one :-).
There are so many “cool” things that I’d like to do/accomplish, it’s hard to know where to start. Most of my dreams are self-serving, but even those dreams can provide joy for others indirectly. As far as meaningless dreams are concerned: I’d love to become fluent in 3 additional languages (working on Mandarin and Spanish currently), record a couple of albums and travel the world.
Thanks for what you do.
Like Michelle O, my dream is to finally see my random fantasy scribblings in a published book. I have been writing since I was…Oh, eleven, so as I’m now about to hit 47, I’ve had a long (impatient) wait. But as my calendar of wisdom said today; ‘Most people dream of success, others wake up and work hard at it’. Sample chapters of my completed novel are currently winging their way to Agents by email and snail mail. Maybe my dream will come true!
BTW, looking forward to seeing your one-arm success on YouTube!!
I am vocalist not pursuing my singing because I am married and have small children and don’t even know where to start. My dream is to find a way somehow to do it all. Have that singing career that wouldn’t mean sacrificing my family and marriage. I feel that it is an elusive dream and that really saddens me.
Just last weekend I accomplished one of my dreams – to ride my bike to the “red barn.” This was a goal I’ve had for the past two years, and I’ve tried to reach it several times and failed. It involved a climb at an elevation I thought I just wasn’t physically capable of. But I found out I could do it. To me it means that I have to see myself differently. It gives me tremendous confidence that I can accomplish more dreams – maybe even some that change the world.
If I can get to the red barn – you can do a one-arm pull-up!
Ohhh, don’t I dream often of fitting into that sacred pair of cutoffs from the summer after my junior year of college? Can’t go back in time, I know, but it would tie me to the best parts of my past, it seems, if I could fit my middle-aged fat ass into that not-too-tiny a-little-too-short pair of tattered denims… :-D
Seeing and photographing the aurora.
When this dream took hold of me, I did not know that I would, a few years later, develop a wild mad passion for photography and get a really good camera.
I want to do a handstand in the middle of the room :)….without wall support….whoohoo!
It’s no secret that I’m in love with business and action sports….so my dreams are…….To continue to develop an impressive physique through bodybuilding….To compete in professional freestyle motocross, more specifically X-games….To compete in aerobatic flight, in airshows and etc……To establish a very successful corporation…..to develop a retirement portfolio of real estate, businesses, etf’s, and paper assets…….to use the income generated by the former to establish several non-profit orgs…blur the lines between business and philanthropy by inspiring and sponsoring…….Very lofty (goals) dreams that I am continually working on…..I really see know reason why I can’t do all of the above if I live to be 80 or so….since im 21 i have 59 years to do it.
PS. I realize these aren’t meaningless dreams…but idc becasue idc about meaningless dreams.
Last week I just accomplished a dream I’ve had since 2005: to move from metro Detroit to the Blue Ridge Mountains in Western North Carolina.Why? The mountains. Milder winters will be great, but I fell in love with the mountains. And now I have to make a go of freelance copywriting or find a job, which is same situation I faced in Detroit. Rather here than there.
Michelle O says
@AndrewToynbee keep at it and your dream will come to fruition! What is your book about? I’m always looking for guest bloggers for http://www.michelleoeltjen.com.
Matt Batavia says
It’s been a dream of mine to travel around the world and the U.S. jumping off of sick waterfalls and connecting with people who know about such cool spots in their area.
Great post Jonathan and it makes a ton of sense. Regardless as to whether your dream has any merit in the eyes of someone else or not it is still YOUR dream and you should live it and do it to the fullest. Thanks for that reminder.
Yes, it makes it less valid. I think it is worth investigating the judgement too.
I do think we need more people doing what they love to do. I think this will make the world a better place. That tie up is important I think.
I always wanted to jump off a building and land on the leg of a helicopter, and then climb my way inside…ever since I saw Keanu do it in the Matrix :)
Validation! Thank you
I like this post, just wish I could find a dream, any dream, that meant something to me. I want to find something that gets me out of bed in the morning looking forward to how I might make one tiny step forward towards that goal. Yes it’s depressing and I suffer from depression.
So, to those of you with goals, my best wishes and much envy, as, whether they are self-centred or apparently pointless or not, they will energise you and that will flow into other things you do and to people around you.
My purposeless dream is to hike the Pacific Crest Trail from end to end. Just a whole lotta walkin.
I have lots of purposeful dreams but it feels good to work towards a Dream Lite.
Meg @ Onelovemeg.com says
I plan to travel the world next year….. It may not effect anyone but me, but I want to do it. I also want to teach in a foreign county for a year but hopefully that will affect some people or I am not doing my job. This is a really great post. I have a lot of small dreams that only serve me, maybe there is a different way at looking at these dreams that could serve purpose. Like, I am sure once you master your pull-up you will more strength, more arm muscles and the wife may like that. :)
ChrisRodgers – I had success with nutrition & alternative medicines for treating depression.
@ethanwaldman @AndyFossett Oh, nice, I like both of your “also” goals.
I’ve wanted to be able to do a backflip for years. The only problem is I’m getting older, not younger. I guess that’s what trampolines are for.
Professionally record an album before I’m 30.
Sit outside with an easel and paints somewhere in Italy and spending a sunny day trying to paint the most ridiculous looking cathedral I can find
Be an awesome mom who inspires my kids and has lots of fun!
Publish …. something! I’ve thought about writing a novel, but am now getting hooked on the idea of publishing a book of sketches and stories from my current travels through Yunnan, China
Make a few traditionally hand-drawn animated fan videos of Calvin and Hobbes and the Legend of Zelda
Making any of these dreams a reality! I’m so excited from reading other people’s amazing dreams, thanks for the inspiration!
Agreed. It’s nice to just be able to do something just for the sake of doing it. If anything, those “meaningless dreams” give you self-worth and help you prove to yourself that you can overcome boundaries.
Ha! This post makes me feel a lot better. I have a TON of dreams that really will serve nobody but myself. I love the one-arm pullup dream (that’s on my list too!). Dreams that may be meaningless to others, are meaningful to me and therefore, when I accomplish them, I’m happier…and that makes me a better person in society (so in a way I’m kind of helping others that way). Here are a few of my selfish dreams: Become fluent in Spanish and Italian, appear in a movie or TV show, roast my own coffee, gain freakish strength without becoming freakishly big, travel the world and learn to meditate.
@murphtim Those are great dreams Tim, thanks for sharing them here.
@joebertino A lot of local gymnastic schools have adult night classes. You should look it up in your area. I’m sure you can do it man.
@alchemystudios That would be so badass. I’d love to do that someday too.
@quantafire Anything is possible.
@Matt Batavia There’s some pretty awesome waterfalls over here. You should drop by sometime.
@GinaRafkind That’s totally doable. You should check out Gold Medal Bodies video tutorials on the topic.
@bigbrightbulb I see it in your future. :)
@CoachRandi What will you do with your fake accent once you get it perfected?
@AndyFossett @AndyFogarty I’ll join you on the beer mission. I can hardly think of things more meaningful.
My meaningless dream is to go to all the MLB baseball stadiums and watch a home game.
My meaningless dream is to ride around Australia on a motorcycle. I’ve already made it here and currently working and saving money for the trip. Dreams are great, realizing those dreams is even better :-)
I agree, it is important that our goals and dreams are for ourselves, setting dreams for someone else won’t help, it will only hurt.If you enjoy your dreams you will do it better and in that way you might change the world, climbing every mountain in the world might inspire some child somewhere to go the extra length and all of a sudden that child has invented the cure to aging (when he/she is older) all because you climbed mountains.Who is to say that your dreams don’t have merit?
@murphtim learning to meditate will benefit countless people…honestly! When we have a happy mind we are way more useful to others :-) Good luck with ALL your dreams Tim.
@joebertino I SO want to do this too! I practice acroyoga (partner acrobatics, yoga, thai massage) and am polishing up the gymnastic skills I learned as a kid. Huge fun :-)
@Vorobyey and Jonathan – I know this is going a bit off topic, but Chris have you thought of trying a meditation class? I hope this short article is useful: https://kadampa.org/en/meditation/the-benefits-of-meditation/
@KateBacon Yeah, I mean, at the very least I could work on my flexibility.
I forgot to mention my most meaningful dream, that I am making a REALITY this fall: I will be bicycling the pacific coast from Vancouver to Los Angeles, starting in mid September.
my purposeless dream is to dive in cyberspace and shake all hands of the readers of this site while flying … is this weird? In my dream there are many very meaningful encounters. I wonder how easy it is to shake hands in cyber space?
To: marc.zanderson – Meaningless is not the same as purposeless.
Doing what we enjoy makes out life worth something. Anything else is pointless.
@illumary yeahh, maybe it has a purpose :-)
@Michelle O @AndrewToynbee Michelle – my novel (if I’m allowed to call it that at this stage) is a supernatural romance – a kind of ‘girl meets angel’ story. My first reject slip today stated ‘there is no market for this sort of story…but good luck’
Wow..amazing view point..This just made me look at life in a whole different way…I know many people that have purpose and succeed and other are just driven by money…I used to think that to have purpose you have to be helping others, however it totally depends on the person’s personality…Each person has something different about them that drives them inside…In the past I also would think that everyone has to believe in metaphysics..There are people who are also more spiritual then others…
Greet post once again:))..
My meaningless dream is to skydive! :-)
Fiona Leonard says
I really enjoyed this post. I have lots of wonderful ninja writing skills honed working for government and NGOs. I’m living in a developing country and feel like I ‘should’ be using those skills to important, world changing purposes. However, what I really, really love doing is writing fiction. Whenever I read articles about world saving goals I have a guilty twinge that I’m not doing enough. It’s taken me ages to appreciate that writing good novels is my best contribution to the world.
Funnily enough when I finally accepted that I should just do what I love, I started discovering that in the process I could actually inspire people to read and write (which are important skills when you live in a country with an illiteracy rate of around 60%…)
Hang in There says
Great Article. Sometimes short and to the point does the trick. I must say though, anything you do that inspires someone is not meaningless. So, climbing every mountain in the world to me would be excluded.
“If you’re doing a lot of things that don’t excite you because they’re “practical,” well, that serves no one.” Being practical cost me before because it went AGAINST what would’ve excited me. So that goes out the door unless it feels authentic to me as well.
I play disc golf and would like to get an ace. Failing that I’d just like to get round my local course in par.
I feel I let them kill my meaningless dreams. Always: this is wrong or this is right, don’t waste your time, study to get a job, work to be promoted,… Grown, I feel difficult to have them.
Gypsy Love Warrior says
I have so many of these kind of dreams! One is to ride in a hot air balloon. Another is to meet my favorite author and take an in-person workshop with her.
My “purposeless” dream this year is to section hike the Appalachian Trail from the NY/NJ border to the PA/MD border for no other reason than I like to hike and it’s there to be hiked.
Great post :-) I love this comment: “Not all of them serve others, but an excited me will do more good for this world than any other iteration.” -aeriath.
I think this is an old post, but I’m going to share my dreams too, anyway: See all 50 US states and all of the continents except Antarctica. (It’s just too cold. I went to the Antarctic Research Center in southern New Zealand, and that was close enough for me!) (Only Africa left to go!). Brush up on my Spanish to the point where I feel fluent. Learn French and then another language. And retire – or at least feel retired, perhaps be “paid to exist” – by 30 (I’m 24). The sooner the better… I am so sick of cubicles!
Thanks for the encouragement :-)
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