Don’t be a dreamer, be a planner

Let go of your dreams. They are stupid. I’m going to show you why. But first, let me say that I’m a big fan of deciding what you want for your life. It’s just that I’m a practical person. If you say you want stuff you can’t have [insert here, for example, a list of 20 things you have to have in a new job] you’ll never get it. So the first step to getting what you want is dumping all your dreams. Here’s why:

1. Dreams are distractions from what you are good at. 
I have dreams. That’s why I know they are stupid. I have the dream that I look like a model with perfectly pulled together outfits and three-inch heels to match. But I keep shopping at sneaker stores. So my dream just distracts from my efforts at being my best self.

Another dream is that I can write like Stephen Rodrick in his piece titled, Here is What Happens When You Cast Lindsay Lohan in Your Movie. Oh my gosh, it’s so fun to read and he has so much insight about Hollywood. But here’s the truth: I could never write like this. He had to hang out with Hollywood types for a long time to have this insight, and then he wrote a piece that is like, ten times longer than my longest blog post. So it would be impossible for me to write like this. I can like it without dreaming that I can do it.

2. Dream are not goals. They are information about where you can grow. 
Another thing I do is see a good video and think: I need to do one like this. And I start dreaming about how I could do it. Here’s the best travel video I’ve ever seen.  It’s great because I hate travel, but also because it’s so simple. I am scared to be simple. I am scared I won’t keep you interested. So what I want is this guy’s bravery to trust in himself that it’s worth doing something simple.

3. Dreams are things that nag you. That’s why I hate them. 
If you want to be a good blogger, you have to read Barstool Sports. I love it so much. It’s a good bet that every day on this site is NSFW, but I love the site for how smart it is. It’s the new millennium version of reading Playboy for the articles. Here’s a post from yesterday (that is, actually, safe to read at your office) and it’s such a good post that I had to pause and take a breath after it.

I had to think a lot about why it’s good and how I can use it to make myself better at writing posts. Sometimes my dream is to write like the guys at Barstool Sports. But I remind myself that I take life too seriously to write like them. I’d feel stupid after a while. So I like reading the site but I wouldn’t like being more like the site. When I acknowledge that about myself, I feel better reading the post.

4. Goals are dreams that have a plan. Goals get done. Dreams don’t get done. 
My son is obsessed with the apocalypse. I’m not really even sure what the apocalypse is. I thought it was peak oil, but increasingly I think that it’s zombies. At any rate, he has joined the ranks of those making extensive preparations. At first I ignored his rants about off-the-grid heating and stockpiling food. But then I thought: learning moment. And I showed him how to use Microsoft Project to turn his dream of survival into a plan.

Now each family member has assignments, and, surprisingly enough, we are doing them. The Farmer just bought a generator, I found Enerhealth’s bucket of food for forty days of survival (it’s organic!),  and my son is investigating Radiant Heating for our floors.

5. Most people who talk about living their dreams are delusional. 
If you are doing what you love to do you are living your plan, not your dream. So, okay, I’m a lucky duck that I get to write about whatever I want and get paid for it. But do you know what I did to get here? Write every single day of my life since I was pre-literate. I didn’t spend every day saying “my dream is to write” – I spent every day writing.

And this is true of people who are “living their dreams”. But the world doesn’t like hearing about hard work—the world likes hearing “you can do anything” (which is stupid because of course you cannot do anything.) “Live your dreams” lives in the same realm as the BS of “you can do anything.”

6. Kill your dreams with productivity tools. Really. 
Do you know how I get the life I want? By being a total nut about getting things done. First, I spent years learning how to create a to do list that will get me where I want to be in life. Now, when I find myself ignoring my to do list on a regular basis I tell myself I have to find different tools for managing my plans. Because I don’t have dreams, I have plans.

I love the pitch I read from Easilydo: “The average person makes 35,000 decisions a day and the difficulty of juggling multiple productivity apps makes that harder.” This pitch reminds me of the studies about decision fatigue that we get from making decisions all day. So I am trying Easilydo to decrease my decision fatigue, which will help me focus on plans. (You can try it out if you want: download Easilydo here.)

When you think about your dreams, think instead about productivity tools. I know it’s not nearly as romantic, but if you want to be excited about your life, it’s going to be the plans you make an actually implement, not the dreams you spew to your friends.

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  1. Jennie
    Jennie says:

    I’m loving your posts for 2013 so far – this one is sooo good and true, AND a great reminder. I also love how organized it is – bullet point, bullet point, bullet point. Great work!

  2. Christopher Kober (@chkober)
    Christopher Kober (@chkober) says:

    Great post. I like the fact that you’re telling people to stop with those “general” dreams. You are absolutely right, specific targets is what we need. These are a few specific GOALS from my list for 2013:

    Don’t “Improve your diet”
    – Do remove chocolates from your shopping list.

    Don’t “Read more”
    – Buy TWO books and read them.

    Don’t “Go traveling”
    – Book a flight today and mark the dates as holiday in your calendar :)

    Best, and keep up the good work!

  3. danielle
    danielle says:

    Ya.. This is the last thing I needed in my day. What we don’t need: people not going after their dreams.

  4. Karen
    Karen says:

    I haven’t even read Rodrick’s article yet, but I saw it on the front page of the Times and thought, “That’s the best article title ever.”

  5. Miranda H.
    Miranda H. says:

    I’m an INFP (which is “the dreamer” type) so implementing this plan-based strategy into my life will be very difficult for me. I should be making plans that are practical and evaluating my strengths and weaknesses. But every time I try to plan, I start thinking about my dreams and getting lost down “what-if” paths. “I want to travel and learn new languages.” “I should go back to school.” But it’s all “want to” or “should”, nothing concrete, so nothing gets done.

    I will have to pay close attention to when I am dreaming vs. when I am planning. I wonder if, because of my personality type, it’s harder to distinguish when my dreams are feasible because I hold onto them so tightly. I just need to let go of the dreams, figure out what I should be doing, and actually do it. Thanks for writing this.

    • liveonfred
      liveonfred says:

      I’m with you (INTP). What’s working for me is to allow myself to dream a little. In the past, I would put hours, day and night, into the planning process required to make the dream a reality until I had a map years into the future and a clear visions of what my life would be like once I acheived my goal (going back to school, career change, etc.). I felt excited during the planning, but really anxious and guilty when it began to sink in that I wasn’t really going to do all of that stuff on my list. What’s wrong with me? Now, I’m able to recognize my pattern and spend maybe a half hour dreaming, then crumble up my recorded thoughts, and throw them away, knowing that is it okay to dream without taking action.

      Penelope, Number #1 is so true. Thank you for reminding me that dreams are a distraction.

    • CairoGirl
      CairoGirl says:

      I’m an INFP ‘dreamer’ too…I realised that I was spending way more time fantasizing my success than thinking about the hard work, planning and sacrifices I would need to get there.
      “Stop fantasizing, start planning” really changed my course.
      I wonder if there are any INFP support groups ;)

    • TP
      TP says:

      I’m an INTP and this is so true, I’m sick of dreaming and today was the first day I started doing. I am not a great writer, but I vow to write every single day, so I will be able to eat these words a year from now.

  6. CL
    CL says:

    I like the way that you’ve defined goals as dreams with plans. It makes me feel better about being an anal retentive INTJ who almost compulsively plans everything. It gives me hope.

    On another note, Jenna Marbles, the viral Youtube star of How To Trick People Into Thinking You’re Good Looking, got her start at Barstool Sports: Her exit was very contentious:

  7. Evy MacPhee
    Evy MacPhee says:

    I *LOVE* that you and the Farmer listen to and act on the things that your boys say.

    Lavish verbal praise to all of you!

    It may not prove to be zombies in real life. It may be weather, Just a guess.

  8. Kat Lessin
    Kat Lessin says:

    Penelope I just love reading your posts. Most of the time I totally agree with you but cringe in discomfort until I get to the point where you wrap it up. You have such an unique way of introducing your argument that makes me totally uneasy and then relieved at the end of it all. Sometimes your blog shows me more about myself then a therapy session. :) I also find your obsession with personality types a relief as well…coming from an INFJ who was ridiculousness obsessed with personality types when I was in direct sales.

    Anyway I loved this line “Goals are dreams that have a plan. Goals get done. Dreams don’t get done. ” This is how I have always felt and what I have lived by. If it’s quantifiable then I can plan for it, if I can’t plan it with a strategy then it’s a dream. I heard somewhere that “a dream has no backbone, no structure.” They both serve a purpose.

  9. Hannah
    Hannah says:

    Awesome post. Plenty of people throw around platitudes like “Dream big” and “The sky’s the limit” but the key lies in actually *doing* the things that will make those dreams and aspirations come true. It reminds me of a great quote I saw last week:

    “If you want your dreams to come true, you need to wake up.”

    I think this post is one of those ‘wake up’ moments :)

  10. Lynn Lawrence
    Lynn Lawrence says:

    From ONE counseling session with this woman last summer, I began to piece together something like the above. She is going to be so excited when we have our next session, which I already paid for months ago but resolved not to use till 1. The pace of how things are improving slows down and 2. I actually get stumped. I have read her entire blog and had one to one counsel. So it’s fairly easy to extrapolate what I should be doing next.

    I first became unstuck when she said look for not happiness, because what is that, look for something interesting to do.

    Today’s post I think is another earth shaker…

    Oh boy will we have a great call when we do talk!

  11. Sadya
    Sadya says:

    I just read Stephen Rodrick’s article and now finished reading your post. A good reading day for me.
    His article is so good that I read it to the last word (in the print edition, it goes on to 3 different pages).
    And did you notice, that nowhere was there a mention of a dream for any of the people in his article. How interesting, to tell a tale of Hollywood with no talks of a dream.

    PT, you are on a roll. Great stuff from you.

  12. Robert Wenzel
    Robert Wenzel says:

    Great article! Thank you.
    As you said in one of your former articles, you are a great achiever. So it is for you normal to define your goals and live them. However, the majority just dreams because they can’t define what their goals are. That why we have a lack of good entrepreneurs and most of the people just like to be employee. The market is full with books about how to define your goals. Many of them are really good. But, I would be interested in how you would do the process of goal definition? What’s your suggestion?
    Thank you again and have a nice day.

  13. D'Ella Peters
    D'Ella Peters says:

    It’s 7:00 am. I’ve slept 4 hours. Long story. The point is, I always wake up to a new POV when I read your posts. Better than coffee! Here’s to productivity planning…& I’m sure I’ll be loving the app Easydo. You Bleepin’ Rock PT!

  14. Laura
    Laura says:

    Dreams are not stupid, and if they are, then running around doing, doing, doing without ever stopping to give yourself time to think and dream is just as stupid.

    My dreams don’t nag me, they inspire me. Thinking, dreaming, intuiting are some of my biggest strengths and they are just as valuable as making lists and planning. I think the world made only of planners would be functional, but not beautiful. The world needs both.

    • Miss Britt
      Miss Britt says:

      “I think the world made only of planners would be functional, but not beautiful. The world needs both.”


      And I think for our lives to be both functional and beautiful, we have to figure out how to do both (or enlist the help of others who do the parts we don’t.)

      • Laura
        Laura says:

        Exactly! Life is about knowing your strong points and recognizing your glaring weaknesses (we all have them).

        Penelope has been a huge help to me during career coaching. She and I are exact opposites and she immediately honed in on the fact that I am “horrible” at planning (and Miss Britt, as you mention in your other comment, Penelope’s bluntness does not bother me in the least. To the contrary, I find it refreshingly honest in a world where honesty is a rare commodity). So I use Penelope to help me plan because she is an amazing planner.

        Penelope has really gotten me going. That’s her strong suit. And in return maybe I can bring some inspiration, since that’s mine.

  15. Wenko
    Wenko says:

    Great job Penelope! You just pointed out in one blog post all the BS that self help books are raving about. I should stop reading them and start planning for my future instead lol. Love it!

  16. Miss Britt
    Miss Britt says:

    On any other blog, I would read “your dreams are stupid” and become indignant, because I’m a big fan of dreams. But here, I laugh – and I keep reading.

    And I end up agreeing with a lot of what you’re saying.

  17. Lou
    Lou says:

    I agree, thinking about your dreams when you should be doing something is not productive. What I like to do is “dream” during the time that I should be unwinding from my hectic day. That’s when I need to slow myself down anyway. It kind of stops the continual loop of “todos” from the day. So instead of thinking about things that are hanging over me, I imagine myself on vacation with my family.

  18. Ebriel
    Ebriel says:

    Brilliant post about dreams vs. plans. Dreams don’t want to be real.

    It’s like when people say of ‘creatives’: “You’re doing what you love.” Nope. It’s doing what you’re driven to do. Torture avoidance. A completely different thing.

    • Ann
      Ann says:

      Two great insights in one short reply: dreams don’t want to be real, and creative people are avoiding torture. Both true. Love Penelope’s post and all the links too.

  19. Senait
    Senait says:

    Needed this!

    You know the hardest thing about breaking my dreams down into plans is that you’re right – it automatically feels less romantic. And that’s my weakness, being a romantic.

    But the real person I am with friends, family and even lovers is very very unromantic. So for the longest time, my dreams felt like they were something outside of me. Something that could exist only in my solitude, or to make me smile or feel better about my future…(romantic)

    But if your dreams don’t match up with the person you are – then you’ll never do them. You’ll just feel them.

    So, I just LOVE that you wrote this post – it’s so demystifying and earthbound. In other words, get out of your head and make shit happen. Ughhh, I needed to hear that.

    Happy New Years Penelope!

  20. Grace
    Grace says:

    “I think the world made only of planners would be functional, but not beautiful. The world needs both.”

    Dreamers are not beautiful. Because, if they are just dreaming, none of us get to see the fruits of their thoughts.

    Those “dreamers” that make our world beautiful are actually “planners” – people that did more about their dreams than just talk about them.

    My favourite line from this post is “my dream just distracts from my efforts at being my best self.” I live with a dreamer who goes on and on about what he wants to do with his life, all the while sitting on the couch with the tv remote. Just dreaming brings both disappointment (because you never attain it) and a weird sense entitlement expecting the world to hand you “your calling”. We become disgruntled perfectionists who don’t do anything because we can’t do everything.

  21. GingerR
    GingerR says:

    My dream was to raft the Colorado River. Thus, a vacation to Moab. It wasn’t such an exciting part of the Colorado, but it was the Colorado. Now I want to raft the Colorado in the Grand Canyon.

    Dreams aren’t any good if you don’t make them happen.

  22. Becky Castle Miller
    Becky Castle Miller says:

    Has your son read “World War Z”?

    It won’t help stop the apocalypse prep…it’ll probably make him more determined than ever. But it’s a great read. It’s written as an oral history, from multiple points of view, and it’s one of the most brilliant things I’ve read in the last few years.

    • Pamela
      Pamela says:

      100% agree! Great, great book! Frightening, too. :)

      Now, the jump from dreams to plans is actually honing in on one dream enough to make it real. That’s my biggest hurdle.

  23. Ryan Chatterton
    Ryan Chatterton says:

    The students I work with live in dreams all the time. I know I still go to that place; the place where I dream and don’t do. So I don’t blame them. They are human, and they’re young.

    What’s tough, and what I haven’t figured out yet is how to help them see that they are stalling and coming up with excuses.

    Why do we put these artificial barriers around ourselves and our daily activities?

    The worst part is that they understand what I’m saying and it makes sense to them, but they just don’t see themselves as the type of person who can pull it off. I can hear it in their voice.

    I have a friend who loves to play the guitar and sing. He’s VERY good and has the right personality as well. I recently started helping him with his job woes. I asked him, “Why haven’t you pursued music as a serious career option?”

    Obviously, he never saw it as a possibility. We’ve been brainwashed from the old days of music where you needed a major record label to pick you up. But times have changed, a lot.

    Turned out there were all sorts of things he’s been artificially limiting himself on, such as not playing publicly enough. Being a musician isn’t a dream for him. He is definitely a musician, but I think the career portion of it is very much a dream.

    I’m now bent on figuring out how to get my clients out of dreamland.

  24. Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel
    Rebecca@MidcenturyModernRemodel says:

    My son is nuts for the apocalypse too. For Christmas he got The Walking Dead graphic novel compendium (volumes 1 and 2). I read volume 1. Reading graphic novels feels kind of weird. I am not used to reading and looking at pictures. He also got a t-shirt that says “The hardest part about a zombie apocalypse will be pretending I am not excited.” I am also obsessive about planning systems. I implement a new task tracking system at least once a year to get a handle on “things.” I have never found the perfect system. Nor the perfect purse for that matter. Both have been quests for several decades.

  25. Gib Wallis
    Gib Wallis says:

    I love this post. And especially the links.

    How did you find Barstool and the crazy cruise ship video? Link ESP?

    I wish Easilydo were available for Android. Please keep us updated on your success.

    I notice that you’re posting lots lately — love it! And I’m guessing this means that you’re very happy or that you were very happy a while ago and you stockpiled a bunch of posts that are being published all in a row.

  26. K
    K says:

    Thanks for keeping it real. On a somewhat related note, I can help you put together outfits with 3 inch (really, Penelope?) heels to match.

  27. Deb Mills-Scofield
    Deb Mills-Scofield says:

    Penelope – your gift for getting us to think is so important. Perhaps its an issue of semantics, but I think dreaming is critical – it’s way to envision a future and then create a path to getting there – a path that has concrete steps, goals, contingency plans, etc. Some dreams are delusional, some are attainable – the power of a dream is in its combination of possible and probable ( If we don’t dream, the status quo remains firmly in place…that’s why dreaming matters – see Whitney Johnson’s post here –

  28. Regine
    Regine says:

    Dreams and Desires are feeling we want to satisfy, which is why we do jobs we hate. Dreams are like an addiction, I want that car, I want to be like this and that. So we do everything to quiet those dreams. And when we get that car we still realize that we are unhappy.
    Dreams have nothing to do with our true nature. Our true nature (inner child) can be looked after today, we don’t need to work towards making our inner child happy.
    Dreams can be like a really bad drug which will forever stop us from really becoming who we are truly meant to be, because we are busy satisfying the craving of getting our dream .
    I just figured this out last week myself:

  29. Mina Grace
    Mina Grace says:

    Gosh- this post kicked my butt, but I needed it, so thanks.

    I have to be very careful that I don’t let my dreams (especially my aspirations for my career) drift off on the clouds in la-la land. I realize I have to keep my head down and feet on the ground and do the work. I keep waiting for the ticker-tape parade to arrive at my door and declare, “You have arrived.” But that is not going to happen. Hopefully what WILL happen is that I will get a good momentum going, put out awesome, helpful content to my peeps, build my network of compadres, and in the midst of all the doing happen to look up and see that people are taking notice of my efforts to serve/impact the world.

    Thanks again & happy new year.

  30. John J.
    John J. says:

    Love point #4. Goals are attainable, while dreams are usually just dreams. I dream of being a billionaire, but is that a goal? No. Great post.

  31. Ann
    Ann says:

    I’m an INFP who stumbled on making detailed plans years ago. It’s been my saviour, because it counteracts my natural tendency to ‘wait and see’ and I can’t recommend it highly enough. The method is to make several categories (financial, relationships, home, job etc) and make 10 year, 5 year, 1 year, 6 month, 1 month, 1 week, 1 day and 1 hour plans for each. This gets you nice and focused, shows you clearly what stuff you need to ditch, points you in a direction and sees you taking action. INFPs need things spelled out like this!

  32. Gus
    Gus says:

    I’m not a particularly shallow guy, but I applaud the genius of linking your audience to pictures of hot chicks. Post delivers.

  33. Paula
    Paula says:

    Great post, great style. I remember the times I hated it to make plans and tried everything not to! Who wasnt spontaneous was not able to dream and simply banned from my life. Now that i am growing older, plans became my new spontaneity… as i recognized that without plans my dreams will never become true, i guess it is a mixture, that is the key. Make your plans to reach your dreams but stay spontaneous to react on opportunities that step into your way ;)

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