Need Permission To Follow Your Dream?


Need Permission To Follow Your Dream

“You wanna fly, you got to give up the sh*t that weighs you down.” ~ Toni Morrison

I always thought I was in need of permission to follow my dream. Specifically, someone else’s permission. It didn’t occur to me that wanting it for my life was reason enough to pursue it.

I kept getting told as a kid that when I grew up, I needed a good paying job with great medical benefits. That, my father said, is something to strive for. He meant well, I’m sure, but what it taught me was: don’t risk. Fiction writing, of course, doesn’t have the reputation of being either good paying or offering medical benefits. So I opted to be a journalist. Steady, risk-free career, yes. Did it satisfy my soul? No.

The permission to follow your dream that you actually need

Because of my parents’ voices banging around in my head, I didn’t follow my heart. I spent 8 hours a day in a newsroom, chasing down stories & writing up articles. At home, I wrote fiction in journal after journal but didn’t let anyone see it. I equated I-can’t-make-money-with-it to it’s-not-worth-pursuing. For a lot of years, I felt like I needed someone else’s permission to follow my bliss.

Then, one day, I met this great woman, a total stranger, whose name I don’t even remember now. I don’t recall what we were doing, other than I was in California at the time. We were both milling around, waiting for something; that much I know for sure. We got to talking, small talk mostly just to pass the time. She talked about her job & then asked what I did.

Out of the blue, I said, “A reporter. But if it were up to me, I would be a novelist.”

And she cocked her head a notch then said, “It’s your life. Who else is it up to?”

I didn’t have an answer for that.

A few minutes later she got what she came for & I never saw her again. But that brief conversation, less than 5 minutes really, sparked the beginning of a change in me. I got to thinking: She’s right. I don’t have to keep waiting around for someone ~ parent, sibling, boss, spouse, whoever ~ to say it’s okay to follow my dream. I started sending out my work after that. I applied & got accepted to graduate school for fiction writing. I wrote a novel then another and another. I didn’t look back.

Act now & give yourself permission to follow your dream

Don’t spend anymore of your life waiting around & hoping that someone will give their blessing to your goals. You’ll be wasting time ~ days or weeks or maybe even years ~ that you can’t ever get back. Or, even worse, that approval may never come. Give yourself permission & let that be enough. Like that sage woman said: It’s your life. Who else is it up to?

37 thoughts on “Need Permission To Follow Your Dream?”

  1. Loved this. It is exactly what I needed to hear today.
    “Who else is it up to?” – Why hasn’t that crossed my mind?

  2. That’s wonderful, Shelli! I have so been there and know exactly what you’re talking about. I guess that non-creative-soul people don’t quite get those of us who have to write (or paint or make music or act) to live. The thing that always got me was that my dad, who told me similar things as yours, is also a novelist. Unpublished and frustrated, but he wrote too. Go figure.

    1. Hi Merry. My dad probably knew how hard it was to make a living with fiction writing, so I’m sure he thought he was doing me a favor. Maybe your dad was in the same frame of mind. But you’re right, if you have to write/paint/make music to feel alive, then you don’t have much of a choice.

  3. There’s something to be said in favor of doing something that only serves to put bread on the table. There’s also something to be said about following your dreams. I think it’s a good thing to spend some years in the former-mode paying your dues and filling your life with “story material” to depict in the latter-mode.

    NO matter how bad things get, they’re always story material. Making the transition from having a day job to following your dream can be tricky. I really liked Jon Acuff’s story in his book “Quitter” but everyone must make that transition in his/her own way on his/her own terms.

    1. Hi Steve. I haven’t read “Quitter” but I agree that everyone has to do what works best for them. I absolutely don’t advocate quitting your day job & running off to chase your dream because, really, how are you going to eat? Since my fiction writing doesn’t pay much at the moment, I still have a day job. But I am also working toward my dream now whereas before I wasn’t.

      1. Well, this has been bugging me all day, so I’m going to add to my reply. I actually did quit my full-time day job & move to Chicago to go to grad school. I was willing to do whatever it took because it was my dream & that’s what I wanted. But I also found a part-time job & worked while I went to school, so I no longer had a career but I did have an income, something to support myself while I worked on becoming a published novelist. What I meant to say earlier: I don’t advocate giving up all sources of income. 🙂

  4. Oh this world is so connected. I just retweeted the link to this in twitter world and then I re-read it. Your post speaks to me. I have a similar story although I haven’t been as forthcoming in telling it. Thank you for inspiring me today!


  5. My dad wasn’t even big on me being a reporter; he kept telling me he could get me a job doing PR for the gas company!

    I almost had a screenwriting career several times, but now what I’m doing to follow my dream of writing fiction is writing a romance novel that I plan to publish within the next couple of months. My newspaper skills have come in handy not only in writing the book, but also when it comes to marketing. My blog, Man Writing a Romance, is kind of like the column I never had.

    1. Hi Dave. That’s fantastic ~ not the PR but that you’re following your dream. My newspaper skills have actually helped me tremendously, both with researching & not being shy about interviewing people to get what I need. I love this ~ my blog, Man Writing a Romance, is kind of like the column I never had. I feel that way about my blog, too.

  6. Shelli, what a wonderful post. I can’t wait to read “Mustard Seed” – I’m sure it’s a wonderful book. You and I really are on the same page in so many ways. But the most important thing we agree on, as you write, is that if you hear that voice from deep inside you have to heed it. Where would society be if it weren’t for the artists who once heard that inner voice and acted on it? We are creating our own culture, bit by bit, creating our own memories by telling stories. It’s important work. Take care and let’s keep in touch!

    1. Hi Fred. I read your own post about following your dream & was nodding my head the whole time. As someone who knows that a story can literally save your life, I agree that telling stories is important, even vital, work. I love this ~ if you hear that voice from deep inside you have to heed it. That’s the absolute truth. I would love to & will keep in touch.

  7. Thanks for sharing this wonderful insight and your experience. I also went into the career path that came with benefits…and left behind many paths that my family advised me wouldn’t. It takes a while to discover the inside voice that is your own, saying, hey, what about me in here? Let me play!

    1. Hi J.J. I think a lot of us did that ~ out of fear or maybe wanting to please somebody else or for whatever reason. I love this ~ it takes a while to discover the inside voice that is your own. It reminded me of a poem by Mary Oliver entitled The Journey, which is all about listening to your own voice & leaving the other voices behind so that you can do what you need to do in the world.

  8. Great article, Shelli. Thanks so much for sharing. Its always great to hear that people can take those leaps-of-faith and come out flying. I still can’t leave that 9-5 behind without feeling like I’m doing a disservice to my wife and children. That being said, I know that if I don’t pursue writing than I’m doing a disservice to myself and to them, because I’m not being the creative person I was meant to be. Hopefully once I’m more established and have some experience under my belt as a writer I can find the confidence to leap. For now its a balancing act – juggling what I must do (pay bills) with what I long to do more of (create.)

    Thanks again for sharing your inspirational story.

    1. Hi Geoff. I love this ~ “I know that if I don’t pursue writing than I’m doing a disservice to myself and to them, because I’m not being the creative person I was meant to be.” I totally agree that not being who you’re meant to be is a complete disservice to everyone around you. I still have a day job, too, but it’s part-time & less of a commitment. So I can still pay my bills but also have time to write. I’m much happier now & so are the people around me. 🙂

  9. This is post is painfully relevant to my life right now, Shelli. While I’m far from the moment I can take on the beast full-time, I am happy to say I’m settling into that place within my heart that says ‘this is your dream, go for it!’

    While posts like this make me feel inordinately lucky that I’ve figured this out relatively early on in my life, your words have still made me question my confidence (or lack there of) for the better. The line that reads, “[Don’t hope]that someone will give their blessing to your goals” will certainly sit with me for awhile!

    Thanks for sharing and making me think, Shelli 🙂


    1. Hi Ashley. I love it when someone’s post speaks to me; I’m glad that line spoke to you. I’m grateful I got pointed in a different direction ~ well, the direction I had always wanted to go in & didn’t think that I could/should. I’m glad to hear that you’re now moving in the direction of your own dream. 🙂

  10. Thanks, Shelli. This echoes my own feelings on publishing and writing and I’m glad to find someone else sharing them.

  11. Stavros Halvatzis

    I enjoyed the post, Shelli. As writers we probably have an advantage: we can’t help ourselves but write, no matter how much time we spend away from it, thinking we can. I’ve recently given up my day-job to pursue writing full-time, so, this post is spot on for me!

    1. Hi Stavros! Lovely to see you here & on Twitter. 🙂 I love this: “we probably have an advantage: we can’t help ourselves but write.” I think any artist is drawn/compelled to make their art. I also think to not do so is to live dishonestly. Congrats on pursuing your dream; I wish you all the best.

  12. Very inspirational post, Shelli! One of the hardest things about pursuing a dream of writing is that family (and even close friends) hardly ever give you that word of encouragement you’re hoping for. And they rarely seem to take you seriously. Yes, writing is a very lonely profession.

    If I didn’t have the supportive community of other writers in my circle of friends (that I have mainly met on Twitter), then I never would have starting writing my second book, and I certainly wouldn’t have tried to promote my first.

    Keep pursing that dream…and never look back.


    1. Hi Rob! I agree that support makes all the difference in the world. I’m incredibly grateful for my husband, who is my biggest fan. I’m glad you’ve found a support system (& that I’m part of it ~ yay!) because all of us need that. Cheers to you, too! 🙂

  13. Hi, Shelli, I’m Brazilian and living in New York has always been my biggest dream! My family always says that I’m only dreaming and dreaming and that this is almost impossible to happen… I used to get really upset with this sort of comments but after reading your texts I think: what the hell! This is my decision, if I want to live in New York my whole life I can do it, but I know I have to follow my dream and you have really helped me. Thanks!

    1. Hi Raissa! *waves* I’m so glad this post helped you. New York City is fabulous!! I hope you love living there & cheers to you for following your dream. 🙂

  14. We can only achieve our full potential when we are balanced. You brought that into your life and look at you now. Makes me smile to read your words here – I have retweeted this link and will also share on our facebook wall. Cheers to you and continue to go the WRITE way!

    1. Hi Gayle! *waves* I love this because it’s so true: “We can only achieve our full potential when we are balanced.” Thanks for sharing the link & for the good wishes. Cheers, darlin. 🙂

  15. Pingback: Need Permission To Follow Your Dream? – SHELLI JOHNSON | Writing the Journey

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