First, let me say that I didn’t watch the Super Bowl for a couple of reasons: 1) I don’t like watching football, even though I’ve tried, and 2) I’ve discovered that it’s the absolute best time to run errands in New York City. No lines! I did, however, see the Go Daddy “I Quit” commercial featuring Gwen, a machine engineer who always dreamed of starting her own puppet business. One hundred million people, including Gwen’s boss Ted, saw her quit her job during the Super Bowl to start PuppetsByGwen.com. “Ciao, baby!” said Gwen, voicing one of her puppets.
“It was super cool,” said Gwen.“I finally convinced my father these were completely translatable skills to puppetry.”
But here’s the part where I get nervous for Gwen. As a person who always follows her dreams (I used to be an actress and now I make my living as a writer) I can’t help but wish that Go Daddy took a more moderate approach to the whole “following your dream” narrative. Here’s what I do know: following your dream can be “epic,” but it can often be a nightmare. That nightmare begins the moment you quit your day job and you’re left holding the reality of something you’ve pinned your hopes on for so long and it disappoints you. A dream career, whatever it may be, is something you have a long, arduous and often tumultuous relationship with. When it’s good, it’s really good, like flying over a rainbow on a unicorn. I’m sure that’s how Gwen will be feeling for the next few weeks.
But like any deeply passionate relationship, the bliss can quickly turn into something much darker. Especially on days when you find yourself not loving that thing you used to love so much or secretly wishing you were back in that office faxing stuff because then at least then you’d know exactly what you are supposed to do today as opposed to having no fucking clue. Those are the days you find yourself wringing your hands and reminding yourself that you made a commitment to this damn thing and now you’re going to find a way to make it work. Add to that the pressure of 100 million people rooting for you and you’ve got a nervous breakdown on your hands.
I’m sure Gwen has everything it takes to be the next Jim Henson, but once the hoopla surrounding her Super Bowl ad dies down and it’s just her alone with all those puppets, day after day after day, trying to make something BIG happen, what will THAT look like? How is she going to feel if she doesn’t become the next Jim Henson and she has to go back to working as an engineer to supplement her puppet business? Ashamed? Like she failed? I hope not. Such is the life of a person living their dream. It’s a series of highs and lows through which you have to manage to stay the course or go in a different direction. Both options are respectable.
My issue with GoDaddy’s “I Quit” ad is the paradigm it creates around what success should look like. It says, “If you’re not dreaming huge and following that dream with abandon, you’re not living your life to the fullest.” There is some modicum of truth to this message, but not entirely. What is beyond the decision to chase a dream? That’s the little detail that always gets left out of the success story. And not all dream-chasing tales end with great success, at least in the way that our society measures it — by fame and fortune.
I quit my day job during the financial crises of 2009 because I wanted to be a writer. I didn’t make the announcement in front of 100 million people. In fact, there was no fanfare surrounding it at all. I knew I was going to do it for months. I had a very solid plan in place. I sat down with my boss and had an honest conversation. We hugged at the end of it. I cried because I would miss him. When I said, “I quit,” I already had a regular freelancing contract in place and two, yes TWO, other part-time jobs in the hopper. While I was setting myself up to be a full-time writer, I attended classes, networking groups, panels and joined a writing group. I woke up at 7 a.m. everyday, wrote until 2 p.m., then went to one of my other jobs until 10 p.m. I did this for about a year until many strokes of luck landed me with a full-time writing gig. That was all the honeymoon phase. And it lasted for a long while. And then it was over and I entered the long-term phase of my dream, when the unicorn goes away and the rainbow fades and all that you’re left with is a sprawling desert of hard work FOREVER.
Here’s what no one ever tells you about that part: It’s up to you to continue to manage what your dream actually is. Along the way, you will get bored, frustrated and confused. Your passion will wane and you’ll have to try different tactics to reignite your inspiration. You’ll question yourself on the bad days and feel like you could be doing even more on the good days. You’ll struggle on some days and feel like all is right with the universe on others. Sometimes you’ll be handsomely rewarded for your bravery and tenacity and other times you won’t. You might not ever be rich and famous at your dream. But that doesn’t make you a failure. You’ll be left trying to sort it all out.
All of this is not to say that you shouldn’t follow your dreams. You absolutely should. I wouldn’t choose to live my life any other way. But there’s no need to be dramatic about it. Following dreams can happen even when you do have a day job. Let’s not shit on that 9 to 5, which affords us the means to write a novel, or build puppets on the side. There’s nothing wrong with doing a job that you don’t love, in order to get to one you love a little more. Let’s not uphold some illusion that making your career dream come true will automatically make your life magical. It won’t.
Not long ago, I was talking to a famous friend of mine. For so long, I looked at her career and thought she had it made. She was living the ultimate dream — lots of money, respectable roles in films and TV shows, and all the perks of being a celebrity.
“How is it?” I asked, “Living your dream?”
“I wish I would be considered for more serious film roles,” she said, sighing.
The truth is, whether you’re a famous actress, a struggling writer, or a puppeteer who just quit her job in a Super Bowl commercial, the path to living your dream is a long and bumpy one. In the midst of all the excitement surrounding the Go Daddy ad and the parable of success it touts, let’s not forget that. No need to quit your job today. Your dream will still be there tomorrow, waiting for you.