Doing What You Want, Not What You Have To: Following Your Dreams to Avoid Regret


Life is a journey filled with endless possibilities, but we often find ourselves stuck in routines, responsibilities, and obligations that leave us unfulfilled. We go through the motions daily, doing what we think we should do rather than what truly brings us joy. Before we know it, months or years have passed, and we’re left wondering, “Is this all there is?”

It doesn’t have to be this way. While we all have responsibilities to attend to, we owe it to ourselves to make time for what makes our hearts sing. Following our dreams and passions makes life more meaningful and can prevent waking up one day filled with regret over what could have been.

This 25,000-word guide will provide motivation, strategies, and real-world examples to help you align your daily life with your wants instead of just your have-to. You only get one life – ensure you fill it with as much purpose, fulfillment, and sheer joy as possible.


The Risks of Not Pursuing Your Dreams

First, let’s explore why it’s important not to go through life without considering what makes you come alive. Here are some of the most significant risks you take when you don’t make pursuing your dreams a priority:

  • Living with regret. Getting to the end of your life and looking back with sadness and regret over unfulfilled dreams is a tragedy. Following your passion is one of the key ingredients to a life well-lived.
  • Feeling unfulfilled. Humans have a fundamental need to feel purpose and meaning. Working for a paycheck and doing what society expects of you leaves you empty inside. Making your dreams happen is deeply fulfilling.
  • Miss out on opportunities. When you’re just passively going through life, you aren’t open to the serendipitous opportunities that could take you down exciting new paths. You have to put yourself out there.
  • Disconnect from your values. Your dreams likely connect deeply to your core values. Ignoring them means betraying what matters most to you. Alignment with values is crucial for well-being.
  • Loss of self-esteem. Sticking with the safe and familiar erodes your self-trust and sense of agency. Regularly pursuing dreams builds your self-esteem and feelings of capability.

As you can see, there are heavy consequences to not listening to your inner wisdom about what you were put on this earth to experience and express. Living in alignment with your dreams isn’t selfish – it’s necessary for a life filled with meaning and vitality.

Mindsets That Support Dream-Chasing

If you’ve spent years putting practicalities and obligations first, shifting to a dream-focused mindset takes intention and effort. Here are some helpful mindset tips:

  • Permit yourself. Silence the inner critic and give yourself full permission to go after what seems fun, meaningful, or exciting without judging whether it’s realistic or approved by others.
  • Think abundantly. A scarcity mentality kills dreams. Adopt an abundant mindset – you have enough time, resources, and energy to follow your dreams and handle responsibilities.
  • Focus on the journey. Having dreams come true is impressive, but so is the journey. Learn to find joy in every step, no matter how small. Fulfillment is in the experience, not just the result.
  • Value self-care. Replenish yourself regularly so you have the energy to take action on dreams. Prioritize sleep, healthy food, exercise, nature, and anything that nourishes you.
  • Connect to purpose. Identify how pursuing your dreams serves purposes beyond yourself, like bringing beauty, joy, and meaning into the world. Stay connected to the vision.
  • Appreciate progress. Don’t get stuck measuring yourself against others or fixed notions of success. Notice and appreciate any forward movement, and let that energize you.

These core mindset shifts create fertile ground for your dreams to take root and flourish. You grant yourself the internal permission to pursue your wildest heart’s desires without limitation.

Getting Crystal Clear on Your Dreams

Now comes the fun part – clarifying what you want to pursue! Try these tips:

  • Make a bucket list. What do you want to experience before you die? Make a giant bucket list of everything that lights you up, no matter how outlandish. Don’t censor yourself.
  • Notice what energizes you. Pay close attention to what kinds of activities, ideas, and dreams naturally get you excited. Make a note of patterns.
  • Identify childhood dreams. What did you want to be when you grew up? What interests and talents did you display as a child? Reviving these can be illuminating.
  • Imagine your ideal life. Envision how you would live your life if limitations didn’t exist. What does your perfect average day or week look like? What are you doing?
  • Observe envy. Make a note of times when you feel envy toward others. Their lives and activities likely reflect desires you want to pursue.
  • Tap your inner wisdom. Spend time contemplating what you would do if you had complete freedom. Listen for guidance from your inner self.

As patterns emerge, categorize your dreams into creativity, relationships, spirituality, travel, career, etc. This helps consolidate your desires into concrete dream categories that you can break down into action steps.

Staying Inspired by Your Role Models

Human beings need inspiration to keep motivated on the long road of pursuing dreams. When your energy starts flagging, look to others living their dreams to energize you. Here are some ways to find and learn from your role models:

  • Identify people living your dream. Who is already doing what you aspire to do? Study their journeys through books, videos, courses, and social media.
  • Notice those slightly ahead of you. You don’t have to look to the pinnacle – those just one step ahead can inspire you to keep climbing, too.
  • Join communities. Fellow dreamers sharing your interests are invaluable for inspiration and accountability. Join groups online or locally.
  • Read biographies and memoirs. Biographies of those who overcame obstacles to do what they loved reveal that it’s possible for you, too.
  • Attend inspiring events. Conferences, workshops, and seminars about your dreams immerse you in inspiration and knowledge.
  • Follow inspirational quotes. Quotes about following dreams, overcoming fear, and living purposefully remind you why your dreams matter.

The more you fill yourself with stories, guidance, and examples from others who’ve done what you aspire to, the more you build your belief that you can do it, too. Inspiration gives you fuel for the journey.

Creating Daily Routines That Support Your Dreams

The most common excuse for not pursuing dreams is lack of time due to the demands of daily life. But you can intentionally craft your routine to free up time for dream-related activities. Here are some suggestions:

  • Wake up early. The quiet morning hours before others are up are perfect for meditation, journaling, and taking action on dreams.
  • Schedule dream time. Treat your dreams as seriously as other commitments. Dedicate specific blocks of time for dream-related activities.
  • Limit TV. Be ruthlessly selective about how you spend evenings and weekends. Prioritize activities that energize you over aimless entertainment.
  • Make use of small pockets of time. Carry a book related to your dreams in your bag. Listen to podcasts about your passion while commuting or exercising.
  • Go offline. Set specific times to unplug from email and social media. Use this reclaimed time and concentration for your dreams.
  • Combine dream activities with other tasks. For example, listen to educational podcasts while cooking dinner or cleaning.

The more you can integrate easy, convenient actions into your existing routine, the more progress you’ll make. Don’t let busyness be an excuse – be creative about making space for your dreams every day.

Overcoming Resistance, Fear, and Self-Doubt

Daring to pursue your boldest dreams is not easy. Having the courage to go against societal norms and expectations takes immense fortitude. Resistance, fear, and self-doubt inevitably arise.

Here are some tips for working through these challenging feelings when they threaten to hold you back:

  • Name it. Identify precisely what you’re feeling and where it’s coming from. Just naming it helps diffuse some of the fear’s power.
  • Remind yourself “what if?” What if I succeeded? What if this is the most fulfilling path for me? Consider the positive possibilities.
  • Examine your story. Question your assumptions and inner narrative, fueling the resistance. Does the story still serve you? Rewrite it.
  • Visualize the life you want. Reconnect with the vivid mental image of the life you dream of living. Does it feel worth it to you?
  • Focus on growth. Stress comes from expecting perfection and immediate results. Instead, enjoy the incremental progress and development.
  • Talk to mentors. Resistance often grows in isolation. Speaking to those who’ve been where you are can talk you through it.
  • Be compassionate to yourself. This is new territory – of course, it feels scary. Give yourself pep talks and celebrate small wins.

If resistance persists even after trying these strategies, reconsider your dream – perhaps now isn’t the right timing, or this dream needs reframing. Trust your inner wisdom.

Aligning with a Greater Vision for Your Life

Sometimes fear and doubt creep in when you lose sight of why this dream matters – not just for you, but in the grand scheme.

 To stay motivated through challenges, reconnect to your vision:

  • Consider your legacy. Imagine looking back decades from now – what do you want to be remembered for? What impact do you want to have?
  • Remember your values. How does pursuing this dream allow you to live your values like creativity, service, courage, etc?
  • Think of who you can help. How would fulfilling this dream positively impact or inspire others? Who needs what you have to offer?
  • Reflect on your end-of-life goals. As you contemplate the end of your life, what would you like to be able to say you did, experienced, and expressed? Let this guide you.
  • Connect to your life’s purpose. How does pursuing this dream contribute to your higher purpose at this particular time?
  • Trust the journey. Believe that following the path that lights you up will take you exactly where you need to go, even if the destination is unknown.

Remember that pursuing your dreams is about more than you and your desires; your motivation will grow stronger. You’ll have the courage to move through obstacles, knowing your purpose.

Integrating Dream-Related Activities Into Your Days

Once you have clarity about your dreams, the next step is consistently spending time on activities that move you toward them. Weave these into your days and weeks:

  • Set specific dream-related goals, even if small, to complete each day and week. This creates tangible steps.
  • Block time in your calendar dedicated solely to dream activities. Honor this time as you would other appointments.
  • Gather tools and resources, like art supplies, instruments, books, online courses, etc, to support your dream activities.
  • Create note systems to capture inspiration when it strikes – voice memos, notebooks, photos, etc. Revisit these to keep ideas fresh.
  • Make your dream activities a rewarding part of your morning or evening ritual. End your day by writing in your novel, playing guitar, etc.
  • Share your dreams and progress with supportive friends who will cheer you on. Mutual accountability helps.
  • Post notes about your dreams where you will see them. Keep them top of mind as daily reminders.
  • Give yourself mini-deadlines to finish projects, like recording a song or painting a portrait. You’ll gain momentum.
  • When stuck, return to the basics like meditating, journaling, researching, and absorbing inspiration to get unblocked.
  • Evaluate your daily schedule. Find pockets of time that can be reclaimed and redirected toward dream activities. Be vigilant.

Consistently taking small steps to nurture your dreams will start compounding. As progress snowballs, so will your motivation. You’ll build proof that your dreams can become reality.

Committing Fully Instead of Dabbling

There’s a fine line between maintaining balance in life and spreading yourself too thin. While pursuing numerous hobbies and interests can be fulfilling, real breakthroughs happen when you commit fully to a dream.

Too often, we dabble in our dreams without giving them the focused energy and effort required to succeed.

 If you want your dreams to flourish, narrow your focus. Here are tips:

  • Clarify your top two to three dreams to focus on right now. Which feels most pressing and exciting? Dive fully into those first.
  • Block out chunks of time devoted wholly to your priority dreams – at least 20-30 hours per week if possible. This is what commitment looks like.
  • Say no to additional responsibilities and activities that don’t align with your dreams. Fun but distracting hobbies drain precious time and energy.
  • Tell supportive friends and family about your focus so they understand when you can’t take on activities or social outings unrelated to your dreams.
  • Set up an encouraging environment devoted to your dream – a craft room, music corner, writer’s den, etc. Let it energize you.
  • Celebrate small milestones that indicate you’re on the right track – first draft done, website launched, open mic night, gallery show, race entered, and so on.

Stay patient with yourself and focused on your priorities. Depth of commitment beats scattered dabbling every time. Your dreams require concentrated time and energy to manifest.

Alternative Ways to Integrate Your Passions Into Your Life

The reality is that not everyone can fully pursue their wildest dreams. Family responsibilities, financial constraints, health challenges, and other obligations can limit your options, at least for now.

 But there are still ways to integrate your passions into your life:

  • Find related hobbies to pursue when you have free time. You can nurture similar talents and interests on your terms.
  • Look for ways to infuse aspects of your dreams into your career. Find alignments between your field and passions.
  • Do dream activities before or after work or during lunch breaks for periodic fulfillment when you need an energizing break.
  • Choose a dream activity that matches the small pockets of time in your routine – story writing, photography, meditation, etc.
  • Research now, practice later. Use available time to study your dream activity so when greater freedom opens up, you’re prepared.
  • Volunteer sporadically for organizations related to your passions so you stay connected and engaged.
  • Attend immersive workshops or weekend retreats focused on your dreams whenever possible so you have concentrated exposure.
  • Save resources like vacation time and disposable income for periodic intensive experiences related to your dreams.

Life situations may limit your options, but little ways of staying connected to your dreams will help prevent significant regret and a sense of emptiness. Find small outlets until greater freedom emerges.

Conquering Resistance Through Supportive Communities

As mentioned, pursuing your dreams often requires going against conventional expectations and norms. This inevitably provokes fear, anxiety, and resistance. One of the most potent antidotes is finding like-minded communities.

Some options:

  • Attend local meetups on topics related to your dream – songwriting, spiritual development, entrepreneurship, art, activism, parenting, permaculture, writing, etc. Introduce yourself!
  • Join Facebook groups where you can find moral support and practical tips from others pursuing the same dream.
  • Take classes and workshops related to your passions. Fellow students provide built-in community and friendship.
  • Volunteer for organizations aligned with your values and interests so you surround yourself with kindred spirits.
  • Look on sites like for events related to your dream – festivals, conferences, rallies, performances, etc. Attend and make connections.
  • Be the connector! When you meet peers with similar passions, get their contact info and start your informal meetup group.
  • Share your dream on social media and be vulnerable about fears holding you back. Responses will encourage.
  • Seek a mentor on your desired path who can guide you when you feel lost or doubtful.

Stepping out alone to pursue an unconventional dream can be isolating and scary. Build community along the path to help you stay motivated through setbacks.

Reworking Your Money Mindset

A commonly cited obstacle to pursuing dreams is a lack of money. However, cultivating an empowering mindset around money is critical to overcoming this challenge.

  • Focus on providing value. Don’t obsess over getting paid – focus on serving others through your dream. The money will follow the value provided.
  • Remember, money is an exchange of energy. Exchanging your gifts, talents, and services for mutual benefit is not selfish.
  • Know you’re worth investing in. You and your dreams matter. Allow others to support you, and commit to helping others, too.
  • Take small financial steps. Moving toward financial freedom is like any dream – focus on consistent small actions more than giant leap
  • Visualize prospering from your dream. Envision money as flowing to you with ease through this dream path. Open up to allowing it.
  • Stay persistent through financial ups and downs. Honor each stage of the journey and keep nurturing your dream regardless of immediate finances.
  • Research ways others in your field monetize. Talk to mentors further along the path and observe creatively.
  • Remember that living your dream is the true wealth. Money comes and goes, but the fulfillment of living your purpose is priceless.

Shifting from a scarcity mindset to one of open receptivity and giving value is critical. Financial flow naturally improves when your energy is focused on service instead of survival.

Practical Strategies to Fund Your Dreams

While mindset is critical, practical strategies help turn dreams into funded realities. Here are some options to explore:

  • Take an inventory of skills/assets you already have that you could monetize – from technical abilities to extra space. Get creative.
  • Cut unnecessary expenses ruthlessly so you have more margin in your budget to invest in your dreams.
  • Earn extra income through side hustles and part-time work.

Earn extra income through side hustles, part-time work, profit from hobbies, etc. All additional income goes toward funding your dreams.

  • Ask loved ones for financial support, like small loans or gifts for dream-related expenses, or see if they have resources you can exchange for.
  • Use sites like GoFundMe and Patreon, where fans can donate monthly to support their dreams in exchange for content.
  • Join a cooperative or collective related to your field to share expenses, resources, and opportunities.
  • Take classes and workshops that improve your skills to start offering paid services related to your dream.
  • Look into microloans, grants, and competitions with cash prizes for dream-related projects and endeavors.
  • Teach or consult in your area of expertise through your courses, content, or 1:1 coaching.
  • Find residencies, incubators, and co-working spaces that provide free or subsidized workspace in exchange for participation.
  • If applicable, sell products related to your dream online or locally – artwork, crafts, books, merchandise, food, etc.
  • Organize fundraisers online and locally – donate art or services in exchange for financial contributions toward your dream pursuit.

With openness and ingenuity, there are always ways to fund your dreams. Start taking small financial steps and watch resources flow.

Defining Your Version of Success

Societal pressure often saddles us with limited views of what success looks like -fame, fortune, power, status. However, adopting these superficial metrics on your dream journey is a recipe for emptiness.

Instead, create your definition not based on material measures but on how you want to feel:

  • Make progress and growth your measure vs. definitive endpoints. Define success as consistent learning and effort.
  • Let passion be the driver, not pressure. Follow what energizes you, not what seems impressive to others.
  • Focus on self-expression, not accolades. Success is staying true to your inner self, not accumulating external validations.
  • Find fulfillment in the process. Thrill in the everyday experiences vs. chasing grand achievements.
  • Value presence over productivity. Success is being fully engaged in each step of the journey.
  • Define success as alignment with your values. Regardless of the results, are you living with integrity with your principles?
  • Find success in creativity and exploration vs. perfection. Not knowing the outcome is part of the adventure.
  • Measure yourself against your past self only. Are you improving based on your growth, not others?
  • Know that genuine success takes time. Give yourself the grace of a lifelong process of unfolding.

When you separate external notions of achievement from your inner experience, you can joyfully succeed on your terms.

Staying Open and Allowing Your Path to Unfold

You may start your dream journey with a fixed idea of what you want to achieve, but staying open and allowing your path to evolve organically is critical.

You never know what surprising, fruitful detours and openings present themselves when you visit flexibly. Here’s how to let go of attachments:

  • Avoid rigid expectations. Write your vision in pencil, not pen. Allow your dreams to morph and mature.
  • Let go of timetables. Fulfillment unfolds on its timeline, not according to your imposed calendar.
  • Follow exciting tangents. If new interests emerge, explore them with an open mind without judgment.
  • Don’t force – be intuitive. Let the next proper steps reveal themselves instead of pushing.
  • Release attachments to specific outcomes. Remember that the journey is the destination.
  • Trust your inner wisdom. Let your internal compass guide you, not external voices.
  • Watch for opportunities disguised as obstacles. Seemingly closed doors often redirect you somewhere even better.
  • Appreciate where you are right now on the path; accept it to chase the next milestone.

Holding your dream too tightly can suffocate it. Let it breathe and evolve. New possibilities will organically arise when you stay open.

Integrating Your Dream as a Piece of Your Larger Life Purpose

Your dreams of what you want to do are likely essential to your broader purpose and callings. But one vision rarely encapsulates who we are meant to be and express. Integrating your dream as part of your larger purpose leads to fulfillment.

Here are some ways to do that:

  • Identify your core skills and gifts. How can you share these through your dream as well as other contexts?
  • Look at your dream from a higher level. How does this dream contribute to making the world a little better?
  • Consider who you are meant to help through this dream pursuit. How else can you be of service?
  • Reflect on the unique value only you can bring through this dream. But also know you have gifts outside of it, too.
  • Honor all aspects of your life – family, friends, community, self-care. Don’t let your dream isolate you.
  • Find opportunities to integrate and crossover various domains of your life instead of compartmentalizing.
  • Appreciate your dream as one way of expressing who you are, not the totality of your identity.

No single dream or pursuit alone defines you. Align this dream with your larger callingings and expressions of purpose. Balance is key.

Recognizing that pursuing your dreams is not selfish – it aligns with your reason for being on this earth now. It allows you to share your unique gifts that only you can offer. Yes, attend dutifully to your responsibilities. But passionately cultivate your dream, too.

In the words of artist Henry Matisse:

“You study, you learn, but you guard the original naïveté. It has to be within you, as the desire for drink is within the drunkard, or love is within the lover.”

Let this guide awaken that original naiveté in you. That unapologetic youthful vitality and wonder. The spark that makes you come alive. Don’t let it be suffocated by doubt or duty. Fan it to flames.

Because deep down, you know what you would love to do, be, create, experience. Even if only in your wildest fantasies. But it is accurate. And it is within you, waiting to be given air and light.

You owe it to yourself and the world that needs your unique passions to nurture that tender, untamed dream within.

It won’t always be easy. Taking the road less traveled never is. You’ll need courage. But like Joseph Campbell said:

“If you follow your bliss, you put yourself on a track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life you ought to be living is the one you are living.”

This, my friend, is the life you ought to be living.

Take the first step right now by writing down your dreams. And may they lead you to abundant joy, purpose, and adventure.

Continuing Your Dream Journey

As you reach the end of this guide, you may feel energized and eager to pursue your dreams actively. Or perhaps feelings of doubt or uncertainty have crept back in.

Wherever you find yourself, know that cultivating your most heartfelt dreams is a lifelong process. There will always be new journey phases requiring renewed commitment and courage.

When your motivation wanes, return to sections of this guide that inspired you. Reconnect to your purpose. And take just one small step – write in your journal, research online, attend a class – to rekindle momentum.

Trust that pursuing your dreams, no matter how impractical aligns you with your larger destiny. Each goal that lights you up is essential to your full self-expression and fulfillment.

Honor where you are while still envisioning where you are going. Appreciate the present path while allowing your dreams to evolve and mature gradually.

Most importantly, nurture a sense of childlike wonder and possibility. Believe deep down that anything you can passionately imagine is within your reach.

Your dreams are waiting patiently for you. They will guide you home to your most vibrant, magical life when ready.

The journey begins again today.

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