Warning: 7 Signs That You’re Living Someone Else’s Dream

“So, insert stranger’s name here, what do you do?”

It’s probably the world’s most frequently asked question. It tells us a lot about a person and it’s generally easy for them to talk about in an otherwise awkward social situation.

However, it doesn’t tell me what I really want to know. So I always ask a follow up question after someone tells me what they do.

“Do you love it?”

It seems like a simple, rather innocuous question that people would tend to answer in a socially-polite way by saying, “Definitely,” before changing the subject. Much like people do when you ask them how they’re doing.

“Fine, just fine. Did you see the game last night?”

But that’s not usually what happens. Instead, I feel like Oprah probably felt. People open up. And while it doesn’t usually involve tears and me giving away free cars to the studio audience, I get to learn a lot about what makes people tick.

And I’ll tell you what I’ve observed: the majority of people I meet are not doing something that excites them. In fact, 55% of people say they are not satisfied with their jobs and, in my opinion, “satisfaction” is a pretty low standard to aim for.

Dad: “So, Johnny, what do you want to be when you grow up?”

Johnny: “Satisfied.”

Yep. It’s a bad goal.

So, given those stats, chances are good that most of you reading this don’t really love your job.

Consequently, you are not performing your best. You may be slogging through a career or a job you hate and yet you’ve convinced yourself that this is normal and to be expected.

“It’s called ‘work’ after all.”

You have bought into the myth that work is supposed to suck. So you show up, punch in, do the work, then clock out. The next day, you simply rinse and repeat all the while longing for a weekend that somehow feels shorter and shorter.

Why? I’ll tell you what I think one of the biggest culprits is:

Most people are living someone else’s dream and it has slowly extinguished their passion. Maybe you are one of those people. I know I was.

The “Family” Business

Too often we do what our parents or our families or our teachers want us to do (or what we think they want us to do) and we live someone else’s dream for our lives. Well intentioned parents who usually want the best for their children sometimes impose their dreams for their kids onto them and, in the process, cause difficult pain for their kids who feel like they are living some else’s life and not their own.

At other times, kids will do things they think will win the approval of their parents by sacrificing what they want for what they think their parents want for them. I’ve met too many people who are doing what their parents wanted them to do simply because they wanted to win the approval of their parents.

I believe many adults have no clue what they want to do because they have been told to get a “real” job, settle down, and do things that they don’t feel inspired by. They are denying the person that God created them to be and are consequently feeling turmoil, frustration, humiliation and pain.

So how do you know if you’ve been living someone else’s dream? I’m going to share with you the 7 common warning signs that I’ve observed in the people I’ve worked with.

7 Signs Your Dreams May Not Be Your Own

  1. Fear of Letting Others Down. You’re afraid of letting someone other than yourself down if you change direction. A parent, a teacher, a mentor, a grandparent – it could be anybody. This should be nobody else’s to determine other than yours. But instead, you’re worried how someone is going to respond and what they’re going to think of you. (Obviously spouses have a say in this but that’s a whole different post.)
  2. You Dread Going to Work. Every day you spend in the office feels like pure misery. You live for the weekends and every Sunday night is filled with dread as you countdown the hours until it starts all over. Be careful with this one though. It could just be a bad job or lousy company within an industry or career choice you otherwise love. I have met a lot of people who simply changed jobs and are thriving. If this is the only sign on the list that fits you, try changing jobs first.I’ve had so many jobs I dreaded that the stress of them actually caused me to have serious physical problems by the time I turned 30. This included two different auto-immune diseases, weight gain, high cholesterol and other stress-related problems. Life is too short to do work you hate.
  3. You Are in the Family Business. I’m going to catch a lot of flack for this one. Sorry. I think family businesses can be a great thing. However, most of the people I’ve met who go into the family business do so out of obligation or expectation. If you are a multi-generational pastor/doctor/lawyer/contractor/etc. you have to do a gut-check on this one. Did you really want that as a career or did you fear letting someone down? Now, before you all hate on me, I don’t have anything against family businesses or people who go into a family business. But you have to understand when it’s something you want or if it’s something you did because of family pressure.
  4. You Chose a Career for the Money. Maybe you saw someone who was successful at something (usually financially) and you decided that you wanted to do the same thing. However, it wasn’t because you would love the work, but because you wanted that person’s lifestyle! You’re trying to live their dream and it doesn’t fit.
  5. You Change Jobs – A Lot. I frequently changed jobs because I was terribly unhappy with my career. I made great money but I chose it for the money (see the previous point). When you’re in the career you want or are called to be in, job changes will usually be reduced. Not that you won’t – just that you will find your stride and learn to find the right company (or create your own) that will marry your skills, passions and talents.
  6. You Feel Like You’re in the Right Career Niche, but Things Seem Sluggish or Stalled. This may be a sign that you are doing things in the way that your parents or some other influential person did them. My dad had a very successful service-based business. As a result, I gravitated toward service-based businesses in my early career.I tried for years to get a service-based business up and running. But every time I started down that road, I felt something inside of my screaming, “Don’t do it!”I had helped a lot of people launch service businesses and I realized that while I could do it for others, something inside me prevented me from doing it for myself. There was a mental block there. Why? Because I’m not supposed to have a service-based business. It’s the wrong model for what I want out my business and my life.I knew what I wanted to do but was putting the wrong framework to it because I felt like it would help me win my dad’s approval. It wasn’t his fault. I grew up wanting to be my dad and starting a service-based business seemed like a great way to make him proud and bond with him.
  7. You Feel Empty Inside or Passionless About What You Do. You’re going through the motions and I guarantee that people can sense that in you. Those who are driving toward their dreams come alive – there is something different about them that is inspiring, energizing and intoxicating. We want to be around them. Things seem to happen. They aren’t usually empty or dead inside.

So the question is, are you living your dream or someone else’s?

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~ Howard Thurman

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  • Joey Strawn

    About 4 months ago this post would have make me choke up and vow to change my life. Now it makes me happy to know that I wasn’t the only one who felt like I did and proud that I took steps to change my situation. 

    You’re good at inspiring people. Keep up the great work!

    •  Thanks, Joey! You’re actually one of the people I was thinking about when I wrote this (as was Amanda). The changes you two have made in the last couple of months are awesome and it’s great to see you both thriving in your new positions.

      You two have tremendous courage and I applaud that!

      Cheers!

  • Oh, I’ve had a ton of different jobs. But none of them really felt like it could be my impassioned career. Until I started writing. That’s where my joy is. I’m building that dream job little by little. It’s not easy with 3 little people in my life. But it’s worth it for them to see me doing what I’ve come to love. 

    • Thank you, Susie! Pursuing your dream is NEVER easy (or everyone would do it). 😉

      It’s awesome that you are doing that for your kids though. They will respect you and look up to you for it. It’s a great thing to model for them and I applaud you for it. Please keep me posted on how it’s going!

      Cheers!

  • Joe Fisher

    Thanks Travis. Prospective employers shame you about changing jobs as though you should be branded with the scarlet “H” for hopper. It’s nice to know that I’m not alone.

    •  Thanks, Joe! You’re right about how employers perceive it. I can’t say I fully blame them but I think the problem goes deeper than that to the fundamental question of *why* you haven’t found the right path yet. I changed jobs roughly every 12 months until I really figured out where I’m called to be.

      Maybe the hopping should be a sign to you and not just the employers. And maybe it is but I didn’t pick up on that in your comment. 😉

      Cheers!

  • Hey Travis, really important stuff here. I think a lot of people get caught into following certain social “blueprints” on how we are supposed to live our lives: go to school, get good grades, get a job, have a family, retire, die, etc. It’s important that before making such big decisions in our lives that we make sure it aligns with our core values. Doing things just because others want us to is a recipe for disaster and unhappiness. Sometimes, we need to let some people down in order to follow a dream that really matters to us. Liked your thoughts on this a lot.

  • Hey Travis, really important stuff here. I think a lot of people get caught into following certain social “blueprints” on how we are supposed to live our lives: go to school, get good grades, get a job, have a family, retire, die, etc. It’s important that before making such big decisions in our lives that we make sure it aligns with our core values. Doing things just because others want us to is a recipe for disaster and unhappiness. Sometimes, we need to let some people down in order to follow a dream that really matters to us. Liked your thoughts on this a lot.

  • Hey Travis, really important stuff here. I think a lot of people get caught into following certain social “blueprints” on how we are supposed to live our lives: go to school, get good grades, get a job, have a family, retire, die, etc. It’s important that before making such big decisions in our lives that we make sure it aligns with our core values. Doing things just because others want us to is a recipe for disaster and unhappiness. Sometimes, we need to let some people down in order to follow a dream that really matters to us. Liked your thoughts on this a lot.

  • Hey Travis, really important stuff here. I think a lot of people get caught into following certain social “blueprints” on how we are supposed to live our lives: go to school, get good grades, get a job, have a family, retire, die, etc. It’s important that before making such big decisions in our lives that we make sure it aligns with our core values. Doing things just because others want us to is a recipe for disaster and unhappiness. Sometimes, we need to let some people down in order to follow a dream that really matters to us. Liked your thoughts on this a lot.

  • #2 really rings true.  I see way too many people at work who hate their jobs, and it not only ruins every weekday and even Sunday for them, but also causes health problems (like you experienced… sorry to hear about that!) and depression. It’s not worth it!

    Luckily, I truly enjoy work, like many of your other commenters.  You have to take ownership of your career and not let anyone else dictate it to you, including a bad boss.  “The key to change… is to let go of fear.”  – Rosanne Cash

    Great post and advice.  Thanks!

  • bencrosthwaite

    Great post! Absolutely love the quote at the end!

  • Travis – I thought IIIII was the only one who asked the “Do you love it?” follow-up:) Thrilled to know I’m not! And LOVE THIS POST! Right on! And thank you

  • Travis – I thought IIIII was the only one who asked the “Do you love it?” follow-up:) Thrilled to know I’m not! And LOVE THIS POST! Right on! And thank you

  • As a coach I ask people all the time if they love what they do. Most people do not. A great follow up post would be to help people to take the next steps.

  • I really enjoyed this article.. I am doing what i love.. its not a job/work for me.. its like a game or a pleasure to serve.. where clients are my friends…

  • I really enjoyed this article.. I am doing what i love.. its not a job/work for me.. its like a game or a pleasure to serve.. where clients are my friends…

  • Wow, that’s kind of confronting! -In a good way though. -What if someone else’s dream pays the rent while you pursue your own?

    • Thank you! I’m glad you found it challenging. 🙂

      I’m not advocating you run out and quit your job tomorrow. I had rent-paying jobs for years while I built my business. The challenge is to avoid getting comfortable in the routine of your rent-paying job and never pursue your dreams.

      Sometimes, having your rent covered removes the hunger and the need to pursue your own dreams. You have to create a “Why” big enough to motivate you beyond just paying the bills. Otherwise, you’ll never act on them since the bills are covered. 🙂

      Something bigger than money has to be the motivation. Do you have that?

  • Kandyce

    Travis! Love this post and the overall concept for your business.  As you know, a concept such as yours is so needed as people are becoming more discontent, and perhaps (hopefully) a bit less apprehensive about stepping outside of the box that either themselves or others have placed around them (either consciously or unconsciously).  

    After changing jobs 7 times in 5 years, making more money than all of my peers, yet feeling more and more discontent, I knew something was terribly wrong.  Initially, I thought something was wrong with me.  I didn’t understand why I wasn’t “getting it!”  Was I lazy?  I had to take a huge step back and get to know myself…find out who I really way, what I truly valued, and how that translated into the work that I do.

    The revelation has been, and continues to be astonishing!  I am beginning to make some pretty drastic changes in my life that will allow me to live the life that I was created to live…and consequently, become the answer to the prayers I was sent to answer.  

    My apologies for rambling, but this movement is something that I am incredibly passionate about!  I absolutely hate it when I see people settling into lives that will never satisfy or inspire.
    Thank You for all you do….look forward to meeting you one day, and perhaps working together.  God Bless!

    • Kandyce,

      Wow! Thank you so much for your comment! I can’t tell you how much I enjoy hearing stories like yours.

      I love what you wrote about becoming “the answer to the prayers [you were] sent to answer.” That is beautifully put and I couldn’t agree more. We were each created for something and, when we live that out on a daily basis, we are blessed with the joy and satisfaction that comes from living a life of significance rather than chasing comfort.

      Our stories are extremely similar and it’s great to connect with you here. If you have any thoughts about how we might work together, feel free to shoot me an email. God bless you too! 🙂

  • horsewisevt

    Interesting topic thread.  The same concept, giving away your dreams- is one of the things I used to try to pound into my students brains sometimes- stoned students, hence the pounding.  I taught for a year in an alternative program.  I loved the kids and the idea.  I hate schools as much as an educator, as I did when I was a student.  the difference is now I know WHY.  But that is a different story.

    anyway- I tried to make my students grasp a very elusive concept.  the inverse of living someone else’s dream: someone stealing  THEIR life-dream. They would sit around being stoned, imagining all sorts of fantastic events and lives for themselves.  Dreaming. But that ultimately, they were smoking their dreams and destroying their potential and handing their future into the hands that dealt them their drugs.  the kids sit around dreaming about being on a boat.  And the person who sells them the drugs HAS that boat. a real live solid boat- their dreams, their future, their potential.

    But the idea is the same- about giving away our dreams and our Power, choosing to be sheep, and looking for the escape from the guilt-hangover.  It is quite sad that so many people have lost their belief in their own power and potential.

    excellent and straightforward checklist for the reality-check:)

    • I applaud what you’re doing and the difference you are making in the lives of these kids. I love how you’re explaining it to them as allowing others to steal their dreams.

      Unfortunately, it’s not just kids on drugs who choose to be sheep rather than looking for significance and purpose from life. We have each been give so much potential and yet so many of us squander it and “phone it in.”

      Again, I am in awe of the work you’re doing. Thank you.

  • Great post Travis. I am just starting down this road. After spending 20 years doing something I do enjoy, I find myself realizing I wasn’t doing what I truly loved. So now I am entering the speaking phase of my career to try and motivate and coach. I find that seeing others succeed is what truly brings happiness into my life. If I can be a part of that, I would be happy.

    Dave

    • Dave,

      Thanks so much for sharing! Congrats on your career change and for having the courage to change direction after 20 years. So many people are afraid to make the switch and it’s people like you who inspire others and make a difference in the world.

      Keep me posted on how it goes!

      Cheers,
      Travis

  • Love this post and thank your wife for leading me here by following me on Twitter!
    A year ago I would have probably ignored this post. Yet a lot can change in one year and although I am still doing the same job and I am loving it, my attitude has changed. I realized that working for a big corporate organization the relationship between corporate and me was totally unbalanced: they held all the power. And that hit me when they changed the deal we made 2 years ago. And all I could do was take it, or leave. And since that deal involved a move to another company with my entire family, leaving wasn’t so much of an option. Which was good because all of this forced me to take full responsibility and ask myself the question what I could do to make our relationship one of equals. And that has led to a number of things which are way too many to discuss here.
    I guess it is the same point that you are making with your book so I’m glad our paths have crossed. And I am looking forward to more crossings in the future!

    Haven’t read your book yet, it is on my reading list. One question I have though is whether you work with specific organizations who are open to listening to your story? If so, I’d like to pitch this idea within the company I work for, again because it will help my relationship with the company.

    Kurt

    •  Hey Kurt!

      Thank you so much for dropping by! Truly appreciate you checking out the site and leaving a comment. In answer to your question, I definitely work with organizations on this stuff. I offer consulting, leadership coaching, and/or speaking. It all depends on the needs of the company.

      I looked for your email address and didn’t see it. Please shoot me an email to travis [at] travisrobertson.com or you can call me at 949-791-7040.

      Look forward to speaking!

      Cheers,
      Travis

  • Nate Miller™

    I am still in college and I don’t have a career job, or even a job for that matter. I am currently majoring in something I can’t stomach the idea of doing for the rest of my life, but my dad gets so excited every time we talk about it. He wants me to teach and to be a coach. And every time he talks about coming to watch me coach football he gets this shine in his eye and I can’t stand the thought to tell him that what I want to do is much less practical. I have no passion for teaching, I don’t even like kids. What I want, more than anything on this earth, is to direct and write movies. Your article made me realize that I am living his dream rather than my own, but how can I go about telling my dad that I don’t want to chase his dream for me? Every time I see that glimmer in his eye and hear the excitement in his voice, I think maybe I’m being impractical and am just going through a phase. Then I realize I’ve wanted to go into film since I was in high school. He pays for my college education and says he will support my choices, no matter what they are. But I feel like if I came to him and told him what I really wanted to do, he would laugh and tell me it was a good joke. Your article is good, and it made me really think, I know what I want, I know I’m not living my dream, but how do I go about getting the courage to be honest with my dad?