Are You Postponing Your Dream Unknowingly?

Are You Postponing Your Dream Unknowingly?

“PenguinGirl with Thorn Necklace and er… Penguins” (2020)
Watercolor, ink and color pencil on watercolor paper, 4.1 x 5.8 in.

I believe that everyone has a dream, and we go through our life’s journey to fulfil some sort of purpose.

The life you have right now — you’re the only one who can live it, and you owe it to yourself to make the most of it and the best of it, and to live out your fullest potential.

Whatever your dream is, my stand is that you go for it, and take action towards it.

Even if you’ve tried before and given up, as long as you’re still breathing, it’s never too late to come back to it again and continue where you’ve left off.

I know it’s easier said than done, and every dream comes with its challenges, but more often than not, it’s our internal hurdles that stop us, and makes it easier for us to give in to the external ones.

Recently I realised that I’ve been unintentionally postponing my dream as an artist, which is to paint 100 Dream Tree murals around the world.

In the summer of 2018, I had painted the first Dream Tree mural in Spain as part of my first ever artist residency. A few months later, I decided that I wanted to install 99 more around the world, so I applied to more artist residencies, and after attending five of them in 2019, I’ve completed a total of 8 Dream Trees in six countries so far.

Before 2020 even began, I had been accepted into one street art festival and one artist residency, and then the Covid-19 pandemic happened, and life as we’ve known it came to a standstill.

Since I was already in Singapore, I decided to stay put for a few reasons. Firstly because the government is really great with keeping things in control (a little too overboard at times, IMHO lol) and people will just follow along (because they will get fined if they don’t). Secondly, I didn’t think it was a good idea to be out there alone in a foreign country while there were so many uncertainties around this new virus (and there still are, even today). And thirdly I didn’t want to have to deal with the travel restrictions, quarantines, and the chances of catching the virus in a country with poorer healthcare than Singapore (my past experience in Spain had taught me some lessons lol).

Thus I decided to pause “Project: 100 Dream Trees”, and in the meantime explore other projects I had put off, such as telling my stories through animation, which eventually led to the creation of another animation as part of a collaborative art project with an art center in the US. (This second animation won its first award in a film festival this year, by the way. Yes, I’m tooting my own horn a little haha).

But since the completion of my award-winning film (wow, still feels so weird to say this), I haven’t actually worked on any art project since 2021 started.

I’ve been more focused on sharing my journey and what I’ve learnt so far, creating content to maintain two weekly vlog series on YouTube, and practicing more consistency in updating my social media and keeping in touch with my mailing list. I also kinda told myself that I should focus more instead on being a coach and supporting others to live their dreams, and in the midst of all these busy-ness, I kinda forgot about my own dream.

I had told myself that I was waiting for when it’s safe to go back out into the world again. And in the meantime, I’d complain that I was restless, bored, unexcited, unenthused… and I felt trapped in my life here, and that nothing was really happening for me.

Then when people asked “What about painting another Dream Tree in Singapore?”, I’d tell them I’ve already done one in Singapore, street art in Singapore isn’t widely embraced, there are many legal restrictions, people don’t value street art in Singapore like they do overseas, I’m not famous enough to get such opportunities here… etc. etc.

And after nearly a year of citing such reasons why I couldn’t do it, I realised that these were nothing more than excuses I had been allowing to stop myself from pursuing something that truly matters to me.

Because hidden beneath these excuses, the truth of why I haven’t taken steps to install another Dream Tree in Singapore is that I’m afraid — I’m afraid that if I put myself out there as a street artist, I will mess things up, embarrass myself, fail… So it’s better to focus on something else that “makes more sense now”, that is “more practical”, “more helpful for others”, and I basically argued with (and convinced) myself that being a coach to help others live their dreams was a far better contribution to society than creating the art I’ve been called to create.

And looking deeper into where these thoughts really come from, the truth is that I feel more justified in making an impact in the world as a coach than as an artist. I somehow believe that me as a coach will be taken more seriously and be recognised as a functional, contributing member of society, whereas me as an artist was like a waste of time, energy and resources that would be better allocated elsewhere.

To be clear: I’m not saying artists are nonessential or that coaches are “better” than or contribute more to society than artists. What I’m saying is that I have a deep sense of inadequacy as a human being where I tend to feel like I’m “not good enough”, and so “I have to be more”. Thus while I have always been an artist (even before I knew it or accepted it), I also always feel that I’m “not cut out for it”, and because I’m not cut out for it, I’m probably better off letting the other artists who are cut out for it make a difference in the world through their art, and I will be “more useful” as a coach instead.

I think such similar scenarios happen to most of us, whether we realise it or not. When we have a dream, the stakes are somehow much higher than something we consider as part of our “normal” everyday kind of life — our day jobs, spending time with our loved ones, catching up on sleep, watching our favourite TV series… And out of fear, we’ll somehow prioritise these things over our dreams, not because our dreams are less important, but because we are too afraid to do something about them, and so we justify that fear by telling ourselves we “have more important things to do”.

And unconsciously, we’re always going to place those things as a priority, and to use them as an excuse to not pursue that one thing that truly matters to us, which in my example, took the form of many external circumstantial speculative type of justifications why I wasn’t going to paint the ninth Dream Tree right here in Singapore.

So whatever your dream is, it is going to be difficult, and it is going to be one of the hardest things you’ve ever done. (If it’s not challenging, then chances are it’s probably not really your dream.)

Thus I encourage you to examine what’s really holding you back from it: What’s really stopping you from taking action to go forward? What are these internal voices telling you that this other obligation is more important than your dream and you should go and do that first?

Take the time to examine and be honest with yourself: What is this internal stoppage really about?

Usually it’s some sort of fear, so you’ll also want to identify and name it. What is this fear really about? A fear of failure? A fear that all your efforts will go to waste and be for nothing? A fear of judgement from others?

For some people, it may even be a fear of success — we’re afraid that if our dreams come true, then everything in our lives would change. Even if you embrace change in your life, at the core we are still creatures of comfort, and we enjoy our comfort zone and what’s familiar to us. We may not totally be satisfied with the way things are in our lives now, but because it’s all we know, a part of us will always kinda want to stay there, because familiarity comes with the (false) notion of safety.

But if your dream comes true, there’s a fear that “I’ll have to change, my life has to change, everything will change.”

Maybe the reality is that nothing will really change, but what stops us is our perception and idea that everything will change.

So there are many factors which stop us from going after our dreams, and only you can know what your real barrier is. And it takes really being honest with yourself and examining your life, patterns and behaviours in order to see the truth of what’s really holding you back.

And after developing that awareness of how you’re holding yourself back from your dream, then you can start to find ways to push past these barriers, and get yourself back on track again, taking action to forward you in the direction of your dream, and finding ways to make that dream happen in the best possible way that you can with the current circumstances that you’re in.