“Live your dreams” is one of those phrases. One of those phrases that seemed light, easy, and motivating a long time ago, but then were so overused that they lost their appeal. First, there were our parents telling us that “we could make it” if we really wanted. They had all good intentions, but then their version of the “American Dream” became swept away while we were just growing up. Then, self-help authors and motivational speakers joined in, but their advice felt like generic prescriptions in our medical history of life. The effects were minimal, as if they had handed us placebos. After that, the marketers came, and that’s when the phrase became completely void. They told us we were living the dream if only we bought their watches and their running shoes, their cars and their vacation packages to Cancún.
But do things have to be like that? Wouldn’t it just be fair if we humans – buzzwords aside – really were able to follow our dreams and build our lifestyle upon them? What’s the trouble with dreaming, and why do dreams so often lead to nothing but despair? Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard offers an explanation based on our human nature: “A human being is a synthesis of the infinite and the finite, of the temporal and the eternal, of freedom and necessity.” If he’s right, we have to try finding a balance between these two sides, or despair will occur: If we focus on the infinite, the eternal part of our being, we risk to remain dreamers forever, without ever taking the steps to make our dreams come true during our limited lifetime. If, on the other hand, we focus only on the finite, the temporal element, we will feel limited and reduced to our flesh, unable to concentrate on the important aspects of life. We’ll spend our years on Earth running like a hamster in his wheel.
Kierkegaard, as many other philosophers, see us existing in a middle position: We are free to dream and to decide upon our lives, but as we are limited as human beings, we lack any kind of divine control about it. If we want to make our dreams real, then, we’ll have to do it by our very own means, striving for balance between the two sides of existence as good as we can.
Even as an agnostic, I am often contemplating about these cicumstances, and about how they affect us on a daily basis. Balance is also a recurring topic here on The Friendly Anarchist: How can we balance idleness and action, productivity and unproductivity, our life project and the unimportant but unavoidable tasks we have to take care of?
For me, the balance between the finite and the infinite, the temporal and the eternal, freedom and necessity has to be established from scratch day after day. This can be seen negatively, resulting in permanent anxiety and a longing for a more stable solution. An optimist, on the other hand, would consider it an amazing opportunity of empowerment: We are free to take our lives into our hands every single day. As we wake each morning, reality opens up for us. The sun rises, and there’s a new day for us, like a blank page in a book that has yet to be written.
Even if our personal book of life has been full of despair for decades, we are free at any moment to change the story, and put it into balance. If we ignored the infinitude and lost years in aimless busyness, running in our hamster wheel, we may start to dream and get in touch with the infinite part of human existence. If we were mere dreamers, on the other hand, lost in our thoughts and phantasies, we may consciously decide to escape this limitation, and start taking concrete steps towards making these dreams real.
The phrase “Live your dreams”, then, doesn’t have to remain as hollow as it may appear at first look. It just needs to be understood as a part of the balance of our existence.
Illustration based on a photo (cc) BY-NC-SA Zebra Pares. Disclaimer: I’m an affiliate of Jonathan’s products and may make money if you buy anything from him. You probably should do that, as his products are great and I’d like to retire young and wealthy.