The thing about dreams…

by Nick on December 5, 2011

Kiplinger recently featured a reality check to one of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrators, Kate, a 25-year-old woman from Maryland who came to NYC to become an actress.  It turns out her dream of fame and fortune hit a few road bumps when she added some unexpected medical expenses (no medical insurance) on top of $50,000 in student loans. 

To make a short story even shorter, Ms. Bodnar basically tells Kate that her odds of financial success are better served if she moves back home, gets a “real job” and feeds her dream through regional or community theater. 

But that’s really not the point that I want to highlight here.  Here, I just wanted to highlight a little about Kate’s “dream.”  I have a little experience with Hollywood dreams.  I spent a little time in Hollywood during school (not trying to live a dream, but trying to make a boat load of cash, which worked out OK at the time…). 

Dreams are great, but you inevitably wake up.  If you have a dream, you need to combine it with some reality check to increase your chances of achieving it.  We in the real world call those things plans.  I don’t want to discourage you from having dreams or trying to live a dream, but you need to do it in a way that increases your odds of achieving them and reduces your chance of total failure if you’re unable to live your dream.  Have a freakin’ plan.

You want to be an actress, schedule a few (or more) hours per day for at least five days per week to do specific things that increase your chances to get gigs and meet the right people.  Take acting classes, read books, meet people, network, etc.  Get it?  Getting a gig waiting tables in Times Square and hoping some producer notices you is not a plan.  It’s a death sentence.  Full disclosure: I have no idea what Kate’s plan was.  I’m just talking generally here.

You want to be a doctor:  Start early (or just start now!).  Talk with doctors about their practice and what they see the future like.  Work at a doctor’s office or hospital.  Take classes.  Meet other people in the industry.  Read books about the practice of medicine and the business of medicine.  Oh yeah, and you’ll need to do the same to specifically prep for and get into an appropriate medical school. 

Get it?  A dream without a plan is destined to fail.  If it’s really your dream to do ABC or be XYZ then you’ll do what’s necessary to realize it.  And that includes a systematic approach to winning.  It requires a plan. 

Oh, and they say your “calling” is what you would do for free.  So if you’re not willing to work hard to develop and put a plan in place (a version of doing it for free) to turn your dream into your reality then maybe (probably?) that isn’t actually your calling.  Maybe it’s just something you think “might be cool” or “pays a lot.”

So what are your dreams?  If you could clap your hands and fast forward 20 years to your ideal financial, career or familial situation what would it look like?  Great.  Now what do you need to do to learn everything you can about that?  Start putting a plan together.

By the way, I love her advice that the best way to get out of student loan debt is not to get in it in the first place.  A combination of in-state tuition, living at home (or in cheap housing) and – gasp! – working through college will likely result in graduating with a great work ethic, eduction (yes, even good grades) and without debt.  So it is doable.  And yes, health insurance is attainable for most. 

Until next time, put your credit card down and slowly step away from the mall!

Image: Kenneth Cratty /

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Kooz December 5, 2011 at 11:44 am

Just to jump on a point you made briefly at the end–college isn't necessary for everybody, and for those who go, the best college isn't necessarily necessary. To be a social worker, a degree from NYU and a degree from your local state school will both qualify you for the same jobs (18more or less), with the singular difference that you'll owe more than twice as much if you borrow to go to NYU (18and you'll never get out from under that debt on a social worker's salary). If you're going to be a doctor or lawyer, or you're going to business school, maybe the reputation of the school is a relevant factor, but for most professions, it's almost irrelevant.


Nick December 5, 2011 at 12:13 pm

Absolutely! I've been a big proponent of targeted college shopping (18or none at all) for a while (18see, for example:…. Funny, I was just talking with someone who has been a lawyer for 30 years. He moved to and works virtually from Utah even though his "office" is in Washington DC because he didn't feel the whole East-coast mentality that you're a failure unless you go to "Harvard" or "Yale" was healthy (18or correct). Incidentally, he's really happy about his decision.I think we'll see things change a bit with education as costs continue to rise and the world focuses a bit more on what they're getting for their money.


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