The Danger of Sharing Your Dreams

By Jane | November 5, 2015

Sharing your dreams with friends and family can be one of the scariest things you ever do. Here's how to handle their most common (and annoying) reactions.

I’m a dreamer. I get big ideas all the time. Some of them fizzle before they’re even a spark. Others slowly take shape in my brain (and my heart) until they’re too big to ignore. At that point, I jump in with both feet, take that puffy dream and shape it into a plan.

Then comes an unavoidable step I absolutely dread.

It’s time to tell people.

Some folks – like Stephen ‐ can just blab about their crazy dreams to everyone, not caring what they think or how they react. I envy those folks. For me, sharing my precious, fragile dreams is a lot like cutting open my soul and offering it up for everyone to poke and prod.

They feel free to give their ill-informed and unwanted opinions on the color and shape of my soul. Ouch.

Related: How To Find Yourself (and Make the Most out of Being Lost) →

But there’s no way to avoid it. After you take that first step on the road towards a grand plan – whether it’s to ditch your day job to become a stand-up comic, quit the 9-to-5 and travel the world, start up as an online entrepreneur, or move to a new city for a new start – you’ve gotta share your dreams. It’s unavoidable.

This week, Stephen and I finally told our families about a plan we’ve been hatching for a while now.

Huge announcement alert!

We’re moving to Europe in the spring!

Phew. There. I said it. Man, it’s even hard to tell you guys.

Related: Here’s Your Complete Pre-Travel Downsizing Guide

We’ve been planning to leave for a few months now. So why did I just get around to telling my nearest and dearest? Why delay?

Why is sharing your dreams so hard?

For me, I think it’s because, as much as I hate to admit it, I care what other people think. And other people have a knack of being brutal, hurtful, or just plain annoying.

Sharing your dreams with your nearest and dearest can be downright terrifying. Here are some tips on handling the big conversation.

Here are some of the most common ways people react to your big news – and a few tips on understanding those reactions so they don’t kill your dreams before you even get out of the gate.

1. You are amazing!!!

Bless those friendly souls who meet your announcement of grand plans with a cheery smile and a genuine “You are so awesome – you’ll do great!” This kind of high-five reaction can add a little fire to your spark. Sure, their undying support might come off as a little fake, but sometimes a pat on the back and a “you go girl!” is exactly what you need. Let’s hope you have a few cheerleaders in your corner. And if you don’t, go find some.

2. Why me??

On the opposite end of the spectrum is the self-absorbed person who can only see your life through a lens of how it affects them. When Stephen told his students we were planning to take off around the world on a bike trip, most were supportive, but a few said:

“You can’t go! I can’t live without you!”

While this proved to be patently false (none of his students suddenly expired when our plane took off) it still tore at his heart. He felt guilty for letting his students down and abandoning them when they needed him most.

For those of us with kids (obvi I’m talking about grown-up kids), parents, or friends who never want us to change, this kind of reaction can be completely destructive. People close to you (heck, even your boss) will tell you how absolutely essential you are to their life and that they neeeeed you (imagine a seriously whiny voice here).

Basically, they’re asking you to not live your own life so that you can live as a crutch for them instead. Don’t let them stomp on your dreams. Harden your heart, ignore their selfish whining, and keep forging ahead.

3. Yeah, dude, like, whatever.

Ahhh, indifference. It’s not something you expect to face after finally getting up the nerve to reveal massive life-changing news. Usually, it comes from co-workers or acquaintances who you don’t give a damn about anyway.

But sometimes, it comes from someone close to you.

That’s what happened to me this week. I finally got up the nerve to tell my sister that we are moving: I was expecting tears, some “Why meeee?” whining, and maybe a little support. All I got was a shoulder shrug and a discussion about practicalities. She reacted as if I said I was going to the store instead of halfway around the world.

I’m not going to lie. It hurt. It also made me kind of angry. But more than anything, it made me realize that our decision to move is exactly right. Never put your dreams on hold because you’re worried about how it will affect someone else, or how they might react.

They might surprise you and just not care at all.

4. Frowny face; happy face.

Our parents still want us to get nice cozy office jobs and worry about saving for retirement. But by now they’re resigned to that fact that no matter what they say, we’re going to do things our own way.

Lucky for us, they have learned to express their sadness that we’re going so far away (our plans usually involve something happening on the other side of the world) and they also throw in a dollop of support. They don’t always agree with our choices, but they’ve learned to let us make them.

Your own parents probably haven’t reached such an enlightened state yet. Parents have such a fiery instinct to protect you that they want to keep you wrapped up in cotton, doing the safest (and most boring) thing they can imagine. That usually doesn’t lead to good things when you tell them about the crazy, risky, difficult path you’ve chosen to walk.

Remember, your parents might want what’s best for you, but they don’t KNOW what’s best for you.

Your parents aren’t you, they don’t know everything about you, and ultimately, they don’t know what will make you happy. That’s for you to decide.

5. That’s the stupidest thing I ever heard.

Ahhh, you gotta love the negativity monsters in your life. These are the people who can’t help but tell you that your dreams and plans are ridiculous and stupid, that you’ll never succeed, and that only bad things will happen to you if you try.

They might even quote stats to you.

“Do you know that 50% of new businesses fail within a year?”, they’ll ask, as if you hadn’t ever thought of that.

(Imagine if people reacted the same way to wedding announcements. You: “Hey friend, I’m getting married.” Them: “Did you know that 50% of marriages end in divorce?” You: “You’re not invited to the wedding.”)

Yup, reacting to someone’s dream with a wave of negative-ass vitriol is a total dick move. When it happens to you, remember that this is how people express their own fears, their own insecurity, and their own unhappiness.

It isn’t you, it’s them.

Negative people are best handled by never speaking to them again. Say sayonara and move on. You have better things to do.

Steeling Yourself to Tell

One of the toughest parts of telling people your plans is just not knowing what to expect. Give yourself a pep talk before any big conversation that involves sharing your dreams. Prepare yourself to get responses you couldn’t possibly have predicted. Let people react how they’re going to react: don’t fall into the trap of arguing or trying to defend your decisions. You don’t need to justify your plans to anyone.

After the conversation, it can help to sit down and examine how it made you feel and why. Then try to see it from the other person’s side. What sparked their reaction?

Are they worried about you? Are they jealous? Are they projecting their own fears onto your plans? Or are they just trying to say “I love you” in their own, bumbling way?  

18 comments

  1. Comment by rebecca

    rebecca Reply December 3, 2015 at 12:29 pm

    Oh Screw those jealous people!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane December 3, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      :) Indeed Rebecca!

  2. Comment by Hitesh Israni

    Hitesh Israni Reply November 26, 2015 at 11:49 pm

    wow!! Great article. keep it up! Follow your dream and make them real.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane December 3, 2015 at 4:13 pm

      Thanks Hiteshi!

  3. Comment by david de Oregon

    david de Oregon Reply November 7, 2015 at 12:34 am

    So hey–stand-up in all the local languages. Sorry, I can’t stand it, but when you’re in Albania, will it be Gheg or Tosk? :-D

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 9, 2015 at 9:56 am

      Do I have to choose? Might as well learn both!

  4. Comment by Rox

    Rox Reply November 6, 2015 at 7:47 pm

    Yay!! I’m in your corner cheering away – hip hip hooraaay! So happy for you & Stephen for continuing to follow your dreams, it’s very inspiring : ) The “you can’t leave I neeeed you” boss’s voice struck a chord with me. . .

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 9, 2015 at 9:57 am

      If they neeeed you so much, the least they can do is give you a big fat raise, right? Am I right?

  5. Comment by david de Oregon

    david de Oregon Reply November 6, 2015 at 5:55 pm

    Love the responses. Heather’s examples are so true: my Mom was the classic Jewish mother that way, for whom no silver lining lacked a cloud. Kimmy’s anecdote illustrates the standard view of the untravelled Easterner’s imagining of the West–especially those from New York City. (A friend in real estate used to get calls from New Yorkers asking if it was possible to buy a house on the Oregon Coast with electricity and/or indoor plumbing. When a buddy from Long Island broke his arm, his mother wanted to fly him home, certain that we didn’t have doctors here. And I was once asked by another New Yorker if we had Chinese restaurants way-out-there in Ahr-uh-gahn; even after I pointed out that ethnic cuisine follows ethnic settlement and that therefore one could probably have found Chinese food in small Oregon towns before one first could in Manhattan, they weren’t quite believing…so I gave up and brought it back to the reality of my most recent Sasquatch siting.)

  6. Comment by Heather Ordover

    Heather Ordover Reply November 6, 2015 at 11:53 am

    Ha!
    This was just a topic of conversation re: family members who are “realistic” when getting news like:
    “We’re so excited! I’m pregnant!”
    “Oh… oh… well… have you gotten the genetic tests already? I know that after 35 it’s…”
    or
    “I’m so excited! I’m a finalist for a really competitive job! I have to fly out to the final whirlwind of interviews—with the other two candidates!”
    “Well, even if you don’t get it it’s an honor to have made it to the finals.”

    Ai yi yi…
    Thank you for the post!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 6, 2015 at 2:30 pm

      Ahh, I have to admit I used to be guilty of this very thing, especially at work. Someone would come in with a huge crazy idea and I’d immediately shoot it down with a list of practicalities! I’m getting better at cheerleading first and asking questions later though.

  7. Comment by Scot

    Scot Reply November 5, 2015 at 4:32 pm

    For the record, I totally support your plan to move to Europe and become a stand up comedian. Follow your dreams, I say!

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 6, 2015 at 11:48 am

      Stand-up comedy is totally my calling, wouldn’t you agree! I’m going to learn to do it in every European language so I can localize my show!

  8. Comment by Kimmy Sabrosky

    Kimmy Sabrosky Reply November 5, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    I love this! I toy with the idea of moving to Europe as well. I can hardly imagine the response I would get. Years ago I moved from Michigan to Colorado to attend school. When I told everyone, many seemed to think I had said I was leaving not only civilization behind, but also humanity, and heading to Neptune.

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 6, 2015 at 11:49 am

      You never know, the response could surprise you. When we decided to bike around the world, I thought my parents would have a heart attack, but instead they said “Awesome! Go for it.” I’m paraphrasing. My parents would never say “awesome!”.

  9. Comment by david de Oregon

    david de Oregon Reply November 5, 2015 at 8:30 am

    Nice…it occurs that the reactions might also vary by timing as well as person. Where their heads happen to be at that moment, and also where you are in the realization process.

    The part about exposing your soul resonated, especially at that vulnerable stage right past idle fantasy but before practical planning, where “steel yourself” won’t help because at that point it threatens to “steal” yourself.

    Europe. I have the same thought, actually, sometimes quite intrusively. Any idea on where you will base..?

    • Comment by Jane

      Jane November 5, 2015 at 10:36 am

      Hey David,
      I love the idea of “stealing” yourself – so true. That’s probably part of the reason I hate to tell people about my goals. Their reactions threaten to make my dreams feel unattainable.

      As for Europe, it’s all very vague at the moment. We’re going to start in Berlin and then try to housesit as much as possible to keep costs down. We actually don’t have “enough” money to go, but we’re going anyway. Anywhere in the region is fair game, but we’ll probably stay in the northern areas since that’s mostly where Stephen will be teaching.

      J

    • Comment by david de Oregon

      david de Oregon November 5, 2015 at 7:37 pm

      By great coincidence, before I saw your reply, I was chatting today with a friend who is contemplating Berlin. I think it’s a terrific city, although I lived for 4 years as a kid in the Middle-Rhine and that feels “homey” to me (Dad was at the US Embassy when it was in Bonn.) My return-to-Europe fantasies involve either Spain or a German-speaking country (those being the languages after English in which have some facility..) On the other hand, there is something exciting about plopping down in a place where the tongue is completely unknown. (Albania, anyone? Lapland? Basque Country? Malta?)…Cheers, anyway, and don’t have so much fun that you forget to blog!

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