dreams vs reality artwork by bob ostrom

Going From Dreams to Action

Dreams vs action.

Have you ever felt stuck? You have an idea, a dream, but for some reason you haven’t taken action on it yet. You know it would be brilliant but instead of moving forward you let the idea roll around inside your head for a while. You know it’s good so you begin to formulate a plan but the plan stalls. At a certain point the reality separates from the dream and the reality isn’t as pretty, in fact it’s a lot of work and you didn’t exactly count on that. 

The dream looked so easy. Disappointment sets in. The project begins to stagnate for fear of crushing the dream. This feels confusing. Why isn’t this working out the way you pictured it? You might feel it’s your fault or that something is wrong with you. You look around and see all your heroes on line crushing it successfully, effortlessly gracefully living the dream without a care in the world. They glide through life without breaking a sweat or having any fear. It’s just project after project without hesitation. Why doesn’t it work that way for you? What’s wrong with this picture? 

There’s nothing wrong with this picture. This is what’s known as the creative struggle. It’s as old as time. It happens to all great writers, artists and musicians. In fact it happens to just about anyone who’s dared to dream and it is completely natural. The problem is how to overcome the struggle. The answer is as complicated as it is simple. 

Many years ago I was having a conversation with my rep. I was working on a particularly difficult job at the time. The art director on the project was being very fussy and I was fed up. I called my rep to complain and to see if he could help smooth things over. Instead he surprised me. He told me in no uncertain terms this was my problem to resolve. It had nothing to do with the art director and nothing to do with him. I needed to get over the mental struggle and stop complaining every time the road got bumpy. I was furious, here I was asking for help and he just dumped it right back in my lap. I contemplated firing him then he said something else. Something that stuck with me long after he died and I still carry with me to this day. He told me that all the pros go through the creative struggle. I was no different than anybody else. I wasn’t special and if I wanted to make it as an artist this first thing I needed to do was to understand that the creative struggle was my own personal choice. I could handle it however I wanted. Nobody could do it for me and nobody was going to come to my rescue but if I could find my way through and develop a strategy to overcome the creative struggle then I might just might become the great artist he already knew I was. 

You’re frozen for fear of destroying the dream. 

Get over it. The dream is always sweeter than the reality and there’s nothing you can do to change that. Do it anyway. I can not think of a single work of art that ever matched the vision I had in my head but as I work them, shape them, mold them they begin to take in a life of their own. Sometimes they come out brilliant other times they flounder and leave me lying on the ground face down gasping for air. Whatever the result the effort is what distinguishes the true artist from the dreamer. 

Become a doer stop being a dreamer, create an action plan.

It happens all the time. You see people who are stuck in the dream. If you’re lucky it’s only temporary. For others it may last a lifetime. No artist is the same, no dream is the same. I was saving this article for a book, the book I intended to write when I was thirty then again at forty… then again at fifty. I’ve started it over and over again on paper and in my head. Each time I stalled out because I told myself I wasn’t ready or I was too busy, any excuse I could think of not to feel the pain of disappointment when the reality didn’t measure up to the dream. So I figured it’s time to create an action plan because a dream is just a dream and that’s all it will ever be but making something real is how you create a plan. It’s not as easy as it looks but it’s not as hard as we sometimes make it. It involves setting goals and following through with those goals even when the going gets tough. Small incremental steps, no matter how small add up. The trick to following through is to make sure you create realistic goals that are attainable. They can be difficult but if they are completely out of reach most people will wind up shelving them. Don’t do that to yourself. Allow for setbacks and failure when it happens, they are both part of the process. Resist the urge to quit if reality doesn’t match the dream exactly, be flexible and don’t give up.

What’s your dream? How can you make it a reality?


  1. Nice article. That rep you mention sounds familiar to me.

    If I have an idea / dream, if I still have it for a few days, then I figure it must have merit because I’m still thinking about it, so I begin to act on it. If I’m still dwelling on it for days BUT feel no motivation to move ahead with it, then I don’t.
    I’m spending a lot of my time now writing fiction novels. If an idea has merit, it comes together. I had one plot idea I couldn’t get inspired about so I put it aside. It didn’t feel “authentic” so it wasn’t meant to be.

    • That’s a good strategy Mark and yes, I think you might remember that rep. He had a lot to teach and although his methods could be a bit coarse at times I did learn a lot from him. When I first met him I was as green as a young artist could be and I’m glad he was as patient with me as he was. I owe much of what I learned about being a professional artist to him.

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