He wasn’t a rock star, yet.
But the moment he took the stage, time ground to a halt. His energy was almost unstable, like at any moment you might have to dive down and cover your head as he launched his guitar like a helicopter blade into the small crowd of people.
His music was incredible. It lit something inside you on fire. He was in college getting his degree just like everyone else, but music was his passion. He planned to pursue it full-time after graduation.
And I knew he would make it as a rock star. He had crazy talent. He looked like a rock star. He acted like a rock star. Even his story was unique.
Around the same time, I had been involved in a bunch of other artistic endeavors where I got to know lots of aspiring performing artists. I took a class taught by an amazing actor who had left his career as a Hollywood stuntman to teach acting. He quoted a statistic that only 1 in 10 actors “make it,” meaning they are able to do it full-time as a career. Most of those people aren’t famous or pulling in great money—they’re just getting by.
This particular guy had probably made less money as a fairly productive full-time actor and stuntman than many of the engineering students at this school would make in their first couple jobs out of school. He was part of the 1 in 10. He was one of the lucky ones.
As I looked around, I placed my own secret bets on who would “make it” and who wouldn’t. But among all of the people I met during this time, many of whom were extraordinarily talented, I was most convinced that the rock star musician would make the biggest splash. He was the most special. He had a gift.
It turns out I was wrong about some of those other people. A few of them have had starring roles in feature films, on network television shows, and in Broadway shows. Many others have pursued their art as a career or as a meaningful part-time career.
But the rock star? He landed in an office cubicle and has been there since.
When I first learned about this, it actually shook me up. I had always dreamed big. My definition of “big” was not riches or fame, but it was to live a life on my terms and to make my passions a reality. I assumed that of all people, this musician would make his dreams a reality. If he didn’t, what did that mean for me?
So I started asking around about all of these other amazingly talented people who I thought would make their dreams a reality.
There was the girl with an insane gift for writing and a hunger to author a ‘great American novel’—when I caught up on her story, she had found her way into Corporate America.
And there was the street painter with the goal of having his own studio in a quaint town by the ocean—I learned he was a manager at a call center. No ocean nearby either.
One by one, I found people who had abandoned their dreams and passions for a more “traditional” route in life. I didn’t always know their reasoning. It wouldn’t be fair of me to make these all sound tragic. It’s entirely possible that many of them pursued what they really wanted. Goals change. What’s important to you at one point in your life is not necessarily what’s important to you ten years later.
But that’s not always the full story either. I knew some of these people wanted to make their art the driving force in their lives. Inside I was shouting, Life is too damn short! You only get one life! How can you just roll over and settle?
Of course, I wasn’t shouting at them. I was really shouting at myself. I was projecting my own fears onto their stories, because I felt wobbly about my own life and my own dreams. My choices were not always lining up with what was important to me.
Years ago, I made the decision to pursue music as a career. It felt amazing when I first said it. But it didn’t last. Maybe I never really believed in it all that strongly. Maybe I was enticed by other dreams. I’m not entirely sure.
It happened again with writing years later. Again, I saw myself on the verge of diving into life as a starving artist. But that didn’t happen either. I guess you could say “life happened.” I did keep some creative stuff going on the side. I managed to conquer a big goal and write a book in the midst of “life happening,” and there were other books and projects too.
But instead of becoming a starving artist, soon my art was starving. I had to put it on life support once or twice.
And all of this—the rock star musician turned desk job warrior, the dozens of people I’ve known who have pursued their creative passions to the fullest, the dozens of other people I’ve known who gave up that pursuit, as well as my own spotted history—cultivated intense curiosity in a question:
Should you pursue your passion as your career?
When should you go for it? When is it better being just a hobby? Should you go all in? Should you nurture it on the side?
To me, there is no better way to explore this and get to the heart of it than to do so through the lives of real people whose paths have been the lived experiment of these very questions.
Months ago I began profiling people who made the leap and are daring to live remarkable lives doing what they love.
They are musicians, painters, photographers, freelancers, entrepreneurs, creative people all of all types who have chosen to be bold and to go their own way in life, even if it means taking enormous risks, overcoming their fears, putting themselves out there, and stepping out of the mainstream to live a completely authentic life. For lack of a better description, I’ve called them dream followers. I hope you’ll join me as I join others on their journey.
Please consider sharing these posts and connecting me with others who are willing to share their story. Let’s work together to inspire each other to make our passions a reality.
Yours on this journey,
My sincere thanks go out to all of the creative people who have let me into their world and have taken a chance on allowing me to share their stories. Because of your boldness, you show all of us it can be done.