[Note: This is the 2nd article in the series How to Make Your Dreams a Reality.]

I’ve wasted a lot of time in my life doing what works. I can’t count how many times I’ve used this excuse to stall pursuing my dreams.

  • I went to college because that’s just “what works.”
  • I go to a job and sit in a cubicle for 8 hours a day because “it works.”
  • I don’t work on the weekends because I feel I need to reward myself for a week’s worth of drudgery. I have to say… “it just works.”
  • I do the expected things. I try to make art because I’m supposed to be creative. I read because I’m supposed to learn. I dress a certain way because I’m supposed to be cool.

It’s not working.

I’ve previously written a lot about the importance of following your own path and not living life based on a template. The truth is, it’s damn hard not to. The few of us renegades that have evolved past living based on conventions and social norms are trying to keep our heads above water. But the mainstream, the sea of “what works,” seems to keep pulling us back under.

The mainstream isn’t working for me (in fact, I can’t remember a time it did). Common sense isn’t working for me anymore either. I don’t need to do things that are common. I don’t need to do things that make sense to other people. I don’t need to go with the grain. I don’t need to take the path of the most resistance. I don’t need to follow the leader. I need to follow myself.

Doing what works is killing our dreams because we have this expectation to follow a pre-planned life.  All throughout our schooling we’re taught the same things. We’re given a template for life that just doesn’t match up with what we really want.

It doesn’t match because it’s a template.

We may never find the job of our dreams. We may never find anyone who can answer our deepest questions about life. We may never have anyone show us how to live the lives we imagine.

We won’t find it because it’s not us. The only one who can answer those questions is really ourselves.

So if we want to make our dreams a reality, we have to stop doing what works. We have to abandon the mainstream and embrace the unstream. This means that we have to:

  • Take risks and possibly make a fool out of ourself once or twice (or 200 times).
  • Make things up as we go along and generally have no idea what how we’ll get to where we want to go. We just know that we can’t settle for anything else.
  • Listen to our hearts. See with our hearts. Feel with our minds.

All of this is hard because it’s so easy to do what works. It’s so easy to follow the path that’s already been paved.

It’s not as easy to do what’s never been done. It’s not as easy to follow your dream of becoming a blogging entrepreneur on collectible 16th century mushroom lamps when no one else has ever done it. It’s not as easy to create a job for yourself, when you could just as easily fill out an application for one that already exists.

So if you want to make your dreams a reality. You’re going to have accept the fact that you’re going to have to be your own boss. Instead of following the rules, you make up your own rules.

Following the unstream

This past February I started this blog. I didn’t know what I was doing. I had experience as a web designer, but I barely knew what a blog was. I found a lot of hype online about making money from blogs and I got excited. I thought that maybe this would be my ticket out from the 9-5 grind. Then I got a reality check. I found that most blogs never make any money. Even more discouraging was the discovery that most blogs that make money, are about how to make money online! People are willing to pay money to learn how to make money. But people aren’t as willing to pay for information on a blog. That’s why it’s a blog. It’s supposed to be free, right?

I realize that in order to make a living blogging, it takes a long term investment. It also takes a willingness to accept a lot of strange looks when you tell people you’re trying to start a business blogging. People will doubt you. They’ll think you’re crazy. They’ll tell you that you don’t know what you’re doing.

And you know what? You probably don’t know what you’re doing. I didn’t. I still don’t. Life is a messy business and trying to have everything figured out in advance is likely to bring more stress than it relieves.

Knowing what your doing has to no longer be a determining factor in the pursuit of your dreams. I don’t know what I’m doing. All I know is that I’m not doing “what works” anymore. I’m doing what works for me. I’m following my own heart, my own path to happiness, wherever that may lead me.

I’m trying my hardest to overcome the voice of practicality. It’s difficult sometimes going to a 9 to 5 and running this blog at the same time. But I would rather be doing that, not knowing when my dreams will be realized than accept just doing what works.

If you’re off the beaten path, you may be lonely. But that’s a good thing. Because when you know you’re treading uncharted waters, you’re following the compass of your heart.

For more ways to not kill your dreams subscribe to Illuminated Mind.

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Comment & Add Your Voice

CB October 22, 2008 at 10:50 pm

“Listen to our hearts. See with our hearts. Feel with our minds.”

Minds don’t feel; they think. Hearts feel.

“The heart speaks in no language. And the heart sings in its own rhythm — no scales and no melodies of this world. Do I have the patience, do I have the time, to listen to the wisdom? Wisdom. What do we think wisdom is? In silence when the heart can speak—that’s wisdom. That’s true wisdom. Uncompromised. You will never hear anything like that. Uncompromised. A delivery that is so perfect and so personal that it doesn’t matter how many millions of people may be sitting in that area, they will not hear it. Only the one listening.”


Jun Loayza October 23, 2008 at 1:12 pm

I have many friends who I graduated with that just do “what works.” I have to be honest and say that when I graduated, I entered a corporate career in consulting because it was what I was supposed to do. Every one of my friends was entering the corporate world and we were all making good money. Three months into my corporate life, I realized that this just wasn’t me. I looked around at my peers and all of the went to happy hour after work while I went home to read, blog, or work on my startup company. We had nothing in common in terms of our personal development goals. When I looked at the Managers, I didn’t look up to them because I want to be better than them when I’m 30.

I stepped aside from the corporate world and did what works for me. I went full-time with my company Future Delivery and joined a team of people who are my equals. It was the best decision of my life.

I make much less than all my peers who I used to work with in the corporate world, but I feel that I’m living a much more fulfilling and rewarding life.

Jun Loayza


Vincent October 23, 2008 at 10:23 pm

Hi Jonathan,

What you saying are totally true. Majority of the people love to move in herd, and this is when people will tell each other about what is right and what is wrong. A very good example will be getting a job is right and starting a business is risky. I believe that only those that leave the herd will truly grow and find their real destiny.

Personal Development Blogger


Martin Wildam October 24, 2008 at 12:54 am

Thank you very much for that post! You are confirming a thought I had myself already often: “Only because many people are doing something does not mean that it is good/healthy.” – As we are now two thinking the same – is it a template now? ;-)

My additional 2 cents (apart from the coffee I donated to you): Where is written that “What works” is really working? You mentioned
“I went to college because that’s just “what works.”” – for many it isn’t working. For the others it got them a job to pay their bills. Is that enough for considering that it is “working”?


Michael | emdoozie October 24, 2008 at 8:04 am

Wow! That was a great post and so very true. I am much like yourself and very motivated to touch people while I follow my own path through blogging as well. Managing a blog and holding down a 9 to 5 is very hard work, specially when your trying to manage consistent quality posts. I am four months into my blogging journey and I’m enjoying stumbling my way through it. I think my greatest challenge was finding my voice and niche I wanted to focus on with my blog, I think I am just about there. Good stuff…



Vish-Writer October 24, 2008 at 5:01 pm

Follow your calling. And till you don’t find it, keep trying.


Padma October 25, 2008 at 1:52 am

Excellent post, I haven’t found anything that has resonated with me like this has in a long time.

The hard part of this equation comes in when you have family that doesn’t necessarily feel the same way. The longer I do “what works,” the longer I realize that it makes me unhappy. It is too easy to get comfortable being unhappy, and so I’ve found that I often have to go against what is comfortable in order to find what I truly should be doing.


Kathy October 25, 2008 at 8:52 am

Trying to break out of doing what works and overcome the voice of practicality – I’m sure this resonates with many of us. It’s much easier to go along than to rise above and follow your passion – especially in the pocket-book area. I too am working on setting the stage to escape my 9-5. It will take a while and it will take persistence – the key to achieving any dream. My own blog is just 2 posts old, but it’s a start. At least its action toward the dream and not just dreaming. Like many of us, I spend too much time analyzing and planning and too little time doing. Action is CPR for dream killers. Thanks for a thought-provoking post.


Jeremy Day October 25, 2008 at 10:28 am

Hi Jonathan,

Great post and so true! It reminds me of a quote I found awhile ago. Sometimes the good can keep us from our best. It’s really bothering me that I can’t think of the author now. Can anyone help?
Anyway, I will be visiting often. Keep the good stuff coming!



P October 26, 2008 at 4:42 am

Jonathan, thanks for your encouragement. There are lots of organisations in England that offer support to one man bands starting up their own thing, but I haven’t found one offering any advice on anything other than ‘what works’, as they’re all salaried people offering the advice!
I’ve just subscribed as a way of getting input from off the beaten track.

Keep up the good work.



Ross October 26, 2008 at 7:56 am

Hi Jonathan,

Well written post, and one that I found to be very applicable to myself at the moment! “I need to follow myself” rings true… Good luck on your journey, it’s reading posts like this that helps me to continue with my own “leaps of faith!”


Juliet October 26, 2008 at 8:22 am

Hey – Cheers to your views! Nice to come across some like-minded people!

We are so drummed into what is “the norm” and what is “expected” and “how things work”. It’s difficult for people to accept (let alone support) something different.

In one of my recent blog posts I speak of leaving the “normal way of work” and the resistance one can experience….



Chris Edgar October 28, 2008 at 3:37 pm

Thanks for this post. It’s hard for many of us to accept that, whenever we try something new in life, by definition we don’t know what we’re doing. Most of us respond to the threat of “not knowing” by simply not trying anything new. Recognizing that “not knowing” is really just a sensation that comes up in our bodies, and that this sensation ultimately can’t harm us, has been critical to me in overcoming that fear. — Best, Chris


Shang Lee October 29, 2008 at 6:51 am

Your message is so obvious, and yet, i’m still doing “what works”. The courage to tread the unstream is made more difficult when family comes into the picture. Something just have to become unstuck first, and that something is most likely my perception. great post, and let your light shine so that others may follow. :)


Kevin October 30, 2008 at 6:21 pm

This is the second posting I’ve read on your page. You put into words, something I couldn’t really describe. Thanks for this.


MFK (Placeholder career success blog) November 11, 2008 at 8:39 pm

Thank you so much for this post — just the absolute inspiration I need! I am starting a blog as a place to talk about the things I am passionate about, and as a place to lay bare my successes, fears, failures and dreams. No idea where it might lead, just a certainty that I should do it, and that it will lead somewhere tremendous. Your post here is a fantastic shot in the arm of energy-producing blog B vitamins!


zen November 12, 2008 at 4:14 am

First time reader. I like your writing style. It felt “authentic” for want of a better word. What this post brought up for me is how do you stop doing what works when you have a family. But then when I was single I would have found another excuse. Currently reading rilke’s letters to a young poet. Great stuff on following the heart. I don’t know what the next step is but I know I have feelings of depression which don’t stem from my original nature. Carry on Blogging!


Tony Chung November 17, 2008 at 9:35 pm

Jonathan, when I first read “don’t do what works”, I thought you were going to merely switch us onto a different template. Then I read:

Even more discouraging was the discovery that most blogs that make money, are about how to make money online! People are willing to pay money to learn how to make money. But people aren’t as willing to pay for information on a blog.

As a fellow writer of a blog that is not about making money, I salute you.


David (barefootrunner) November 23, 2008 at 7:34 am

“Doing what works” will end of ‘working’ for a small percentage of people. I realized this in my late 20’s after running the path so many run. Instead chase your dreams and go for it, any potential failures and not failures, but life lessons that will help you move forward.


Richard Thomas December 26, 2008 at 11:00 am

Sounds like Infinite Play the Movie, the one that blends with your reality.


Anastasia January 7, 2009 at 10:44 am

I spent three post 500 words each to explain how to use Timeline NLP technique and trying to convince readers that it is worth persuing your own plan and vision … and now I am finding this beautiful post! I will have to post it in my blog, even though I am now disappointed I could not come up with such a beutiful way of saying similar thing!
Have to learn a lot yet:-)

The baby-blogger


SEO 'n' Chips June 18, 2009 at 10:29 pm

Another cool post.

Don’t kill your dreams because they “won’t work” – how the heck do you know that until you try?

What if Donald Trump hadn’t bothered because it “wouldn’t work”?


Jeff Stewart July 14, 2009 at 5:49 pm

Jonathan – I can SO SO relate to your mssg. I just quit my job of 11 + years and a career of 25 + years in order to follow my dreams. Most of my friends think I’m crazy as a coon and are all waiting to see my fail and have to get another J ust O ver B roke – But I swear I’ll live under a bridge first. Since I haven’t yet made a dime online – you can certainly say that I’ve thrust myself into a sink or swim situation, and I’ll most likely have to sell my Harley and my awesome little Mazda and perhaps most of the rest of the “stuff” I own – most of which has been sitting in a $100/mo. storage unit for a couple years anyway. But let this be a testimonial of just how much the “Things that work” were NOT WORKING FOR ME.

I am VERY resolved however – though I’m not “sure” in many areas exactly how, that I am NEVER EVER EVER going back.

THANKS for your great articles and I hope to get to know you in due time.

Many blessing to you and yours
Jeff in Oregon


jon August 9, 2009 at 3:02 pm

Excellent post and blog, I just subscribed. I am currently being torn between doing what works and doing what I want. I am 33 and I did what works and what was expected of me for about the first 29 years of my life, and it mostly made me miserable. But it’s hard when the only other options are to figure things out for yourself. Great post I can really relate to it.


Theresa July 13, 2010 at 9:15 am

I am so glad I stumbled onto this site! It has inspired me to start Geo Caching, something I have been dreaming of doing for awhile. I have always been a free spirit and some times you need someone to remind you. Life does have its way of making you feel a bit robotic if you let it.


AAA September 1, 2010 at 8:03 pm

great article. The fear of actually starting your a life on your own terms has been my biggest problem. This is such a great concept in this blog, but definitely not easy.


Akshay September 8, 2010 at 1:08 am

Hey , in the starting of this article , it was like Iam talking to myself..


Brent Kontogianis November 5, 2010 at 12:24 pm

This is actually one of several greater articles involving those that We’ve continue reading this kind of subject lately. Great deliver the results.


Deb Gentile November 14, 2010 at 10:42 am

Started de blog in February too. Did homework, tried to learn everything I could, but I knew I didn’t know what I was doing then, and really still don’t. However, exercising my voice and passion has been at least as rewarding as the money bloggers dream of making. Thanks for another excellent post.


kman January 5, 2011 at 1:26 pm

Totally with you on this. Great post.
I sometimes feel someone is trying to wake me out of a stupor. I can hear them telling me to wake up! Glad I am not alone in this.


Phil February 16, 2011 at 6:57 am

Filling out a job application is not easy and getting a “9-5” job is not easy. Some people do not have the luxury of worrying about having a fulfilling life and instead have real world problems like providing for their families. Instead of floating around on your cloud come back to the gritty, real world and realize that many “9-5″ers enjoy their life.


meghufree May 26, 2011 at 11:13 am

I LOVED your post. I myself started a blog some time ago despite intense opposition and ridicule and a departure from social conditioning…And now – though my blog still doesn’t completely support me, I feel this strange satisfaction knowing that I actually know something about what I want in life. That feels good. The path is not completely clear and it’s weird and unconventional but at least it s my own and not a path I’ve copied from people around me and I am not even aware of….

Thank you for writing what you wrote in this post.


meghufree May 26, 2011 at 11:14 am

I LOVED your post. I myself started a blog some time ago despite intense opposition and ridicule and a departure from social conditioning…And now – though my blog still doesn’t completely support me, I feel this strange satisfaction knowing that I actually know something about what I want in life. That feels good. The path is not completely clear and it’s weird and unconventional but at least it s my own and not a path I’ve copied from people around me and I am not even aware of….

Thank you for writing what you wrote in this post.


hirstmusic February 8, 2012 at 6:52 pm

Man Jonathan, this is one of the best posts I’ve read in a long time. I went ahead and tweeted it to. You were scared to give up your 9-5 and look where you are now. Total fuel to my fire.


Jonathan Crewdson December 3, 2014 at 2:33 pm

I’ve followed my heart several times with businesses and projects that I’ve pursued. None of them have worked. Ive followed my heart in relationships and they haven’t worked. One thing I have definitely learned in the 40 ish years I’ve been alive is that the mind is far more a powerful way of judging if something works than the heart ever will be.


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