To Dream is Human, After All

Most of us have two lives, the one we live and the unlived life within us. — Steven Pressfield

I had the skeleton ready for a more technical post on startup growth. I was going to spend some time this weekend giving it more flesh.

Then I saw La La Land late Saturday night.

It’s THE perfect movie for dreamers, entrepreneurs, and heck, any professional. It’s a story about your fidelity to your calling, about how we need to nourish our dreams, and the fragility of it all. Yes, there is a romance between the lead characters, but I think the more important romance to consider in the movie is the romance between the lead characters and their own individual dreams. The movie struck chord after chord after chord with me and my own entrepreneurial journey.

Watching the movie was especially timely considering I have read and heard a WHOLE LOT of people write and talk about how stupid it is to follow passion.

To wit:

There are thousands of people saying this. (Do a google search, begin typing in “following your passion…” and see how google finishes the query.)

Look, I get it. Most of these guys are saying it isn’t practical to pursue your passion. They’re saying it just probably isn’t the thing which will lead you to success.

The problem I have with it is the definition of success most of these guys have — a financial definition. The expectation is that you make money with it, that it can pay your bills, that it can facilitate a financial windfall.

But I think there’s so much more to it than just that.

One of my favorite writers, Steven Pressfield, says:

Most of us have two lives: the life we live, and the unlived life within us.

Isn’t this so true?

I remember feeling this way when I was doing HR work in corporate. I was fulfilling my financial obligations, had a substantial salary, yes. But I was miserable in the weekly monotony of dreading Mondays and celebrating Fridays. Miserable of me trying to convince myself everyday that I was happy. Miserable of me thinking it was too late to do anything about it.

Have you felt this unlived life?

For me, it wasn’t that it was HR or corporate per se. It was because it just wasn’t me. It didn’t line up with what my heart wanted.

We HAVE to keep that dream alive. That recurring dream. The one which sometimes keeps us awake at night. The one that we might have chosen to forget a bit because the world reminds us continually of how impractical it all is.

A funny thing happens when we follow our dreams.

We do our art.

Art is what happens when the work of our hands aligns with our soul’s desire. It’s when time zooms by as we do our work. It’s work which reflects the uniqueness of the artist, her truest self. (Seth Godin has a great definition)

In La-la Land, the director executes a striking visual cue when a character engages in her art: everything in the periphery blacks out: the viewing audience, the background, the set. And then the only thing visible is just the artist, doing her craft, doing her art.

It reminds me as well of a scene in the Kevin Costner movie For Love of the Game, where Costner’s pitcher enters a zone and blocks everything out. The entire coliseum fades away. Then its just the pitcher, the batter, and the target. The pitcher’s canvass.

This is where and when the artist creates her art, when and where she is her fullest self.

In the picture above, you can see that I’m writing this at 2:18 am on a Sunday. My wife is beside me sleeping. I’m waking up in few hours for Sunday duties. I’ve a business trip very early Monday morning which I need to prepare for.

Yet I’m typing away. I’m in a zone. And I feel happy, alive. I feel…human.

This is my art.

For those of you who’ve followed Juan Great Leap, you know I stopped writing posts around 2 years ago. Things got really busy, everywhere. But there was an incompleteness I felt.

No, I don’t profit from this. It takes up valuable time. (and in this post’s case, SLEEP)

But it engages my soul.

Something in me just clicks when I write. It’s the same zest I feel when I begin thinking of a product or a business idea, and I begin piecing the fragments together in my head, on a piece of paper, or on Keynote. It’s also the same electricity I feel when I get up in front of people and share ideas I believe in.

What is your art?

For a good number of people, the pundits can be right: our passions may not allow us to pay for our bills. There is a great chance we may make a mess of things. Following our dreams can and will break our hearts, make us feel stupid. It can cause other people to criticize and laugh at us.

No, it might not be such a good idea to quit that full-time job of yours right now and be a musician.

But don’t you let that dream go.

Find a way to still do your art. Find a way to do work which engages your soul. LIVE, don’t just exist.

Don’t let that dream go. Find a way to plant it, water it, and care for it. Find an hour a day. An hour a week, even. Treat it like the fragile thing it is, because in the world we live in, dreams can often be fragile. Sometimes we just blink a little, conform to certain choices here and there, only to find ourselves waking up to a life where we feel hopelessly stuck. I think this is precisely the state writer Henry Thoreau writes about when he says “The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Avoid the masses.

So find a way. It’s not too late.

We all will be better for it.

So let’s ignore the naysayers, shall we?

Let’s uncover the romantic in each and every one of us and follow our dreams, do our art. Yes, we can engage our souls much more, but who knows? Perhaps we can also change the world in the process.

Lyrics for Audition (The Fools Who Dream) by Emma Stone from the movie La-la Land

My aunt used to live in Paris

I remember, she used to come home and tell us

stories about being abroad and

I remember that she told us she jumped in the river once,


She smiled,

Leapt, without looking

And She tumbled into the Seine!

The water was freezing

she spent a month sneezing

but said she would do it, again

Here’s to the ones

who dream

Foolish, as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts

that ache

Here’s to the mess

we make

She captured a feeling

Sky with no ceiling

Sunset inside a frame

She lives in her liquor

and died with a flicker

I’ll always remember the flame

Here’s to the ones

who dream

Foolish, as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts

that ache

Here’s to the mess

we make

She told me:

A bit of madness is key

to give us to color to see

Who knows where it will lead us?

And that’s why they need us,

So bring on the rebels

The ripples from pebbles

The painters, and poets, and plays

And here’s to the fools

who dream

Crazy, as they may seem

Here’s to the hearts that break

Here’s to the mess we make

I trace it all back,

to that

Her, and the snow, and the sand

Smiling through it

She said

She’d do it, Again

2 thoughts on “To Dream is Human, After All

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