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Couldn’t Be Me: Help, responsibility is crushing my dreams

In this week’s advice column: How do you make time for your passions while also doing what you need to survive?

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Welcome to Couldn’t Be Me, a weekly advice column where I solicit your personal dilemmas and help out as best as I can. Have something I can help you with? Find me @_Zeets.

One of the big problems of life is that we have to do the things that are necessary for survival. Often that means putting the things that we do want to do, our passions, off to the side.

There’s so much in this world that asks for your time. The realist view of life is that chasing dreams, making space for those activities that bring us joy, is hopeless romanticism. Life demands a sense of duty and practicality. But when we see life as this endless job that we have to grind through, something to grin and bear, we end up hating the world and our participation in it. When you can’t make space to do the things that make you happy, you reduce the wonderful gift of life to something ordinary and dull.

This week, we tackle that conflict of how to make space for those joys within a world that asks us to do so many unglamorous things. How do you find space for life as it should be, in the midst of the world telling you that endless struggle is life as it is?


How do you stay motivated and find the time to write everyday? I’m a college student and sometimes it is difficult to find the time.


This is a tough question to answer for me, considering that writing is my job. The motivating factor here is that I HAVE to do it. My time is built around writing.

But in terms of personal or freelance writing, then I think the solution is discipline, which I struggle with myself. You make time for writing, and you keep faithful to it, even if it’s an hour and a half every day, or every other day. Continue a routine until it becomes a habit.

I would also suggest writing about fun and challenging things, so that it doesn’t become a dreadful period in the day. I know many writers love the myth of writing as some awful exercise that they grind through with little satisfaction, but I like to see the process as play. Writing is a space to think out problems or to do weird shit. My frustration only manifests when I don’t get to do either of those things.


I’ve had this goal of getting a PhD. I got my masters back in May, and was feeling extreme burnout, so I decided to put that goal on hold and look for a job. Until this point, I’ve done all of my schooling straight through, no time off. I worked a boring desk job for a month before finding something “in my field” a few weeks ago, and I feel like I should be content. But I’m not. It’s so stupid to say, but it doesn’t feel right.

I now realize that I don’t really morally fuck w/ what I signed up for, which is something I didn’t realize when I was desperately seeking the validation of a “real job.” I started looking up PhD programs again yesterday and it was the first time in a while that I’ve been so excited about something.

Anyway, my question is: how do you balance trusting your gut with being practical? Should we really follow our hearts, or is that a romanticized lie we’ve all been told?


This problem is often a matter of the size of one’s personal safety net. People who tend to come from a working class background — who are aware that any misstep might mean losing everything, or people who still retain that anxiety, even when it’s not their reality anymore — tend to persuade themselves to make more “practical” decisions and view their heart’s desires as folly. Often people will only follow their dreams when they have absolutely no other resort or, conversely, when they are so secure in life that they know failure won’t lead to their destruction.

There is nothing wrong with a practical life. I’m a son of immigrants and an immigrant myself. One of the heartbreaking things that I’ve come to understand in the reflection of adulthood is how parents, especially those with families, give up their personal hopes and dreams to build a better foundation for their children. They often take demeaning jobs and do the necessary, ugly things that make foundation-building possible. So, I can never look down on those who do what they must to make sure that they, and their children, survive.

I think everyone has a romantic notion of what their life should be and what will make them happy. But life is so complicated, and the world so unforgiving for dreamers, that sometimes you can only do what is necessary to give yourself some stability.

With that said, if you’re one of the lucky ones who has the space and safety to do what you love, to go after the life you want to live, I think you have an obligation to not waste that chance. There’s no lie in following your heart. Life is short, and if you choose to live an unfulfilling life when you don’t have to, you will never forgive yourself.

When I left engineering to pursue playing professional soccer like I’ve always dreamed, my mother said that if a passion that has that much gravity in my heart, then I should go after it until I feel satisfied. If that dream comes true, then good. If it doesn’t, then I could come back home, reorganize, and do something else. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with failure.

The fortunate position I was in came from my parents’ struggle to create a semi-stable home life. In her words were the implication that your life is your life, and you only get it once. It’s a miracle. As Mary Oliver asks in the poem, The Summer Day:

I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down

into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,

how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,

which is what I have been doing all day.

Tell me, what else should I have done?

Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?

Tell me, what is it you plan to do

with your one wild and precious life?


How does one talk about the most important issues without coming off as snobbish and arrogant in a circle of friends? My closest friends just don’t seem to want to talk about the issues facing most of humanity and want to talk about the more mundane things. I get that such topics (suffering, pain and the deep questions) can be exhausting but I really think they are important and so I find I have to curb my enthusiasm and concern most times in the group chat.


You might need to find a different group of friends, or a space to discuss those problems away from the group of friends that you have now. That’s not to say that you should abandon your friends, but the bond that you have with them doesn’t seem conducive to the type of conversations that you’d like to have more frequently.

And that’s fine. Trying to force those conversations will only exhaust them, and perhaps lead to disdain towards you.

Many people have different friends groups for different things. You don’t want to take your party friends to a museum, and you don’t want to take your museum friends to an underground rave. The ideal group of friends is flexible enough to do everything you want to do, but those groups are rare.

Still, it’s important to find a set of people who can actualize that other side of yourself, rather than muzzle the conversations you’d like to have or try to force them on people who aren’t interested.