The very phrase “follow your dreams” can fill us with bliss. For a working voice over actor, it’s something society, pop culture and Disney movies reinforce at every turn. While following your dreams may sound like the only course of action you would want to consider taking, is it really the best road to success in our competitive and ever-changing world?
Maybe it is. Maybe it’s not. But you’ll never know until you try it, right? On the other hand, it could entail a big risk without a guarantee of reward. The risk may feel just too great, especially considering the uncertainties we’re now experiencing.
Some may feel the decision boils down to only two options. So what to do?
- Pursue the “dream job” that you think will be fulfilling and rewarding on all levels?
- Pursue a solid way to make a living that may not be very fulfilling emotionally but will meet your needs financially?
Flipping a coin may not be the best way to decide. I’d like to instead share my thoughts on some of the pros and cons of each scenario, along with my own experience landing on a solution that was fulfilling, rewarding and financially profitable.
Let’s look at the pros and cons first.
The Pros of Following Your Dreams
Since most of us dream big (because we’ve been taught to do that), following our dreams can be a huge risk – but it can also come with huge rewards. It can make us feel excited, alive and fueled with passion. We may expect the work we’ll be doing in our dream job will feel more like joy-filled play than actual work. Enjoying what you do and making money at it – what could be more amazing than that?
Another huge benefit of following our dreams is to live without regrets. Research says 98% of the population dies without fulfilling their dreams, which is a scary thought. Following our dreams ensures we at least gave them a try and won’t have to live with the remorseful thoughts of what could have been.
The Cons of Following Your Dreams
While we won’t have those regrets if we choose to follow our dreams, we may not have an easy road ahead of us, either. Our culture glorifies certain professions as “dream jobs” – such as actors (and yes, even voice talents), athletes, rock stars and celebrity personalities.
We imagine living a life full of fame and glamour, working every day on projects that feel exciting and artistically fulfilling. We likewise envision feeling constantly validated by doting fans, or even just by our own satisfaction that we are truly “living the dream.”
But the harsh truth is that this level of success is reserved for a small percentage of professionals in each field. In the most-pursued dream careers (especially in the arts), only a handful makes it to a level where they can earn enough money to make a living. And only a few from that group ascend to the level of success that fits the profile of what everyone is chasing. The vast majority often find themselves in a perpetual struggle to make ends meet.
We may not make enough to fulfill our financial needs, or we may find that the dream job is a lot more work than we anticipated.
Being a voice talent, for instance, may seem like a glamorous job. Parts of it are. But other parts behind the scenes require extremely hard work and don’t feel very glamorous at all. Voice training, honing your acting skills, learning the mechanics of editing and other software, constantly auditioning for the next job, becoming a great marketer, adapting to the ever-changing market, and the day-to-day operations of running your own business are just a few of those parts.
Cons May be Ongoing
Then there’s the constant rejection. Even as someone who has been a working VO professional for the past 25 years, I am rejected daily, usually multiple times per day. I lose far, far more jobs than I win.
Sometimes a voice talent will snag one of those jobs that is truly fulfilling and provides the sort of validation and fulfillment to inspire them to keep marching on. But most of the time you’re on your own. Being a working artist requires an incredibly thick skin, and unfortunately many find that their dreams are too fragile to persist in the face of the rejection and daily grind that is required.
Yes, work can feel like play at times – but other times it’s undoubtedly work. A dream job is still a job, and sometimes fueling such passions is incredibly exhausting and consuming. This particularly holds true on those days when you feel, despite all of your hard work and joy for the craft, you’re just not getting anywhere.
Once you’ve invested all you have into pursuing your dreams, you may end up disappointed. Reaching that part of the journey can feel both depressing and liberating. Depressing because the dream did not unfold as you envisioned. Liberating because you know you gave it your best shot and you can now move forward in a different direction that may bring more rewards.
How to Balance the Two Options to Create a Third
The cons of pursing your dreams may appear to outweigh the pros by a ton. Yet nothing can outweigh the passion in your heart for doing something you truly love. I faced this same dilemma years ago when I began my own career. What I wanted involved a tough road ahead, yet it was something I absolutely knew I had to try.
I made it work by finding a happy medium. This involved:
- Having a more general dream job goal
- Keeping realistic expectations
- Being flexible
- Never giving up
General Goal, Realistic Expectations
As a young college graduate, my dream was to be a working actor. I didn’t set out to be a star or to win an Academy Award or even be on Broadway. I just wanted to make my living as an actor.
Fast forward 30 years later and I have been able to achieve my goal in a way that I did not know was possible when I set out on my journey. Having a more general dream job goal actually worked to my advantage. I was able to adapt and evolve over the years all while staying true to my dream.
On the road to becoming a working actor, I was open to working at other jobs until I was able to get a foothold in the business. Perhaps pursuing your dream job as a side gig while working a full-time day job can give you a good taste of what’s possible and what “living the dream” would look like – warts and all.
If you’re a performer, maybe gigging in a local coffeehouse or performing in community theatre is enough to give you what you want. Such a setup could feed that creative desire inside of you while also ensuring you are financially stable enough to pay the rent and put food on the table. With something else to support you, the rejections will not seem as emotionally and financially crushing.
Never Giving Up
Keeping my eye on the prize was another great motivator – and it still is. For me, the rewards consistently exceed the rejections, the risks and the ongoing hard work required to maintain a career as a working actor.
If your heart is truly set on a path you want to take, there are ways you can weave your dream into your life to make it a possibility. Set a general goal with realistic expectations, be flexible enough to adapt your plan as needed, and keep your eye on the prize.
Also keep your eyes open for opportunities. So much of the dream job appears to boil down to luck: being at the right place at the right time, knowing the right person, stumbling into just the right circumstances. With a little luck, a lot of hard work and ongoing perseverance, you never know what might happen.
Please also check out the part two of this series on Following Your Dreams.