4 Warning Signs Of A Dream You Shouldn’t Chase

Just last week I was on Zillow looking at properties in the Northwest. Dreaming might be another word for it. My wife and I often talk about a time where we could live off the land. A remote place that could bring us back into another century. An escape from the speed of life and a place that would allow us to find our wild.

There it was. A 40-acre ranch nestled in the mountains of Montana. A fully functioning farm with everything we needed to make that dream a reality. My heart started beating quicker. My mind began to race with questions about feasibility and options.

That next morning, I’m on a call with the realtor. A hundred questions and answers that bring me even deeper. I’m looking at flights and having detailed conversations with those around me. My vision for the years in front of us begin to change. Everything is different and it feels amazing.

But then it hit me… This was an incredible dream, but not for us. At least not right now.

You see, dreams can be as addicting as heroin. And as lethal, too.

They can seduce us into a vision of a more desirable future. A place where life seems easier and more fulfilling. A place where problems go away, laughter increases, and money becomes easy.

As entrepreneurs, dreaming is a critical part of our careers. It’s the fuel to move us from one season to the next, but the quickest way to fail badly is to dream poorly. Not every dream is a good dream. The ability to discern the difference between the two will save you from the immersion in needless distractions simply stealing time from what’s truly realistic.

Those who don’t manage their dreams well will always work for those who do.

They key is to see the warning signs early. To hedge yourself against time lost and emotion spent. Below I have identified 4 critical indicators of a dream you shouldn’t be chasing.

1. You’re giving up what you want most for what you want now

Pursuing a dream before you pursue a plan often leaves people with a life they never intended. Before you fall in love with an idea, spend time painting the big picture. For my wife and I, it’s always been in the form of a five-year plan. It’s built of three simple questions.

  1. In five years, where will we live and why?
  2. Outside of family, what will be our chief focus?
  3. What needs to happen between now and then?

Without a plan, a dream can disguise itself as a shortcut when in reality, it’s a detour. The plan is the banks that your dream river flows. It’s the vehicle that takes you from one season of your life to the next. If we’re not careful, our unplanned dreams of the present can steal your planned dream of the future.

Critical Questions: Is your dream or idea sacrificing the big picture? Or maybe the timing isn’t right. Are you trying to force your river to go left 300 miles before it’s natural curve? Take a moment today to answer these questions.

2. You’re scratching someone else’s itch to relieve the pain

The romance of Silicon Valley start-ups making instant millions has certainly set high expectations for dreamers in the past 10-15 years. It’s given dreamers a false sense of reality and made something very complex appear simple.

A few years ago, I wanted to start a boutique hotel. In common entrepreneurial fashion, I approached the idea with pride. “I can figure this out”, I told everyone. It wasn’t until 90 days into the discovery phase that I realized the idea I was so infatuated with was a dream for someone with more experience in hospitality to take on.

Knowing where your good is great. But knowing where you’re bad is even better.

The hotel itch wasn’t mine to scratch. I was a naive outsider under-simplifying a dream in an area that was over my head. Sadly, I see this happen all the time. People dreaming about apps with no web development background or those chasing down restaurant ideas simply because they love food.

By no means am I saying you can’t chase a dream or start an idea in an industry you’re not familiar with; however, people are typically more successful when they follow ideas which align with their experience. A parent inventing a new children’s product, a beer enthusiast opening a brewery, or a realtor starting a home construction company.

Critical Questions: Is your dream directly in your wheelhouse? Or are you sailing uncharted waters? Remember, it’s okay to be unfamiliar, just be sure you’re solving your problems, not someone else’s.

3. Your dream is deeper than your pockets

Going into debt, taking on investors, or putting your life savings at risk is often the sign of a bad dream. Don’t buy the hype. Big risks and fancy venture capital firms are not as sexy as they seem.

The best ideas and the best dreams are those which you can afford. Any dream that puts your future financial stability at stake is a dream worth waking up from.

For our family, we have a few rules. We must always maintain an emergency fund, a minimum of six months of personal expenses in savings, and zero debt. Any other money required to pursue a dream must be in addition to this financial foundation.

Not an easy message to hear for a generation who wants everything now. But I can tell you this with complete confidence, if you can’t manage your money, you can’t manage your dreams.

Critical Questions: Does your dream cost more money than you have? Does it require you to put your family or future in a risky financial position? Remember, walking a tight-rope is drastically less dangerous if you have a safety net.

4. As much as we’d like it to be, life isn’t a fairytale

This one is less of a point and more of a statement. One of life’s greatest fears is to miss your potential. A fear that sends many people to believe that a bad dream is better than no dream. A place where we fall in love with a fantasy over possible reality.

People don’t believe in bad dreams because they have to, they believe in them because they want to.

A dream without honesty is a dream without legs. Evaluating your dream or idea with the points I listed above might bring a sobering truth to the conversation, but it might save you as well.
Being honest about your dreams isn’t going to hurt you, it’s going to help you.

Bottom line, dreaming is an important part of life. It’s actually the tagline for this business, “Dreams are worth chasing.” But the best dreamers dream wisely. They plan well, solve problems close to home, pursue within their means, and seek these answers with a desire for honesty.

Take My 30 Day Dream Challenge

I’ve been working for myself for 13 years. A dream that’s allowed me to be a better husband, father, and friend. But now I’m calling you out. I’m challenging you to take 30 days to chase your dream and start your own business. If you’re interested, check out my video below.

I Accept The Challenge
Was this article helpful? What’s helped you on your dream journey? Let me know in the comments below.


Dale Partridge
Dale Partridge is the Founder of StartupCamp.com. He's also a keynote speaker and author of the Wall Street Journal & USA Today Bestselling book People Over Profit.


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  1. Rachel A says:

    I 100% agree with this and have been through FPU 2x. I am an impulsive giving free spirit and single (34years)- oh the struggle!!! I want to start living my own life and stop living out/working for others…I just dont even know what I can do…Ive been in childcare for 22 years and am so burnt out on it. My dream was ALWAYS 100% singer/actress(even working with kids on set is better than nannying) -I even won a $10,000 scholarship to New York Film Academy in LA…but declined because of debt…I just dont know if your program (which seems amazing and I told my other siblings about) is for me…I need help! I definitely want more out of life than just that specific dream…I want God to be glorified and to change the world some how…for His kingdom purposes…Now at 34…I have no clue about anything anymore…

    • Keep pursuing your dream, Rachel! There are so many ways to build and engage with an audience – many people get their start on YouTube! The internet is where the people are, right? Dig into it. Betty White didn’t make it into a film until she was in her 40s! And she’s BETTY WHITE. StartupCamp may or may not be for you (definitely check it out, maybe even watch the webinar and see), but don’t let go of your dream. Keep going. 🙂

  2. Keri says:

    Thanks for this article, Dale. It’s a nice dose of reality in a “dream it and they will come” culture. And the perfect message for a big decision I am facing. I’ve made a good living for my family by building a respectable career in the tech world, but as a self-defined creative free spirit, I’ve always felt this is my temporary gig until I have the finances to pursue my real life of doing “something artsy” (insert mood of the moment here). What I’ve failed to realize until just recently is my creative talents are the precise reason for my success in my current career and could take me farther if I channel that energy even more into my role. I’ve spent my spare time starting a bunch of half-baked side businesses. Anyway, there’s a lot more to this story than I can share in a comment, but suffice it to say I’m re-evaluating my dreams in light of an opportunity to take on a new role that is even more technical than my current position (something I never dreamed I’d even be tapped on the shoulder for and opposite of the “artist” life I’ve dreamed of). The truth is if I really wanted that dream of being an artist, I would have made it a reality already. Sometimes our dreams are right in front of us in the opportunities that God keeps putting in our path instead of the paths we feel we have to carve ourselves. And who knows, it could still become a viable dream down the road, but not now with two kids to raise (one about to go to college).

    • Keri, this is so interesting! I felt exactly the same way. Until JUST recently, where I feel disrespected and under appreciated at work which makes me feel “over it.” In October, I started two small businesses that have made small dollars to date but I haven’t been able to give them my all because I’m still working full time and that job really weighs me down.

      Anyways, I totally agree with you Keri and when the time is right I’d like to say, you’ll know full well.


  3. Tavi Stewart says:

    You’re basically telling people not to go to college or get any type of education in #3. “The best ideas and the best dreams are those which you can afford.” No one can afford college. Nearly everyone needs loans, which is debt, to go to school, Yet you get said you and yours will not do anything that puts you in debt. So what are people supposed to do if they are uneducated then?? How did you get to where you are without any formal education and a transcript to back it up? Anyone that has a dream to become a doctor, lawyer, actor…anything that requires education (and a hefty loan) is wasting their time? Interesting.

    • TA says:

      Sometimes an education is an investment. If the $ loan is going to absolutely help and enhance your situation then it’s a worthy endeavor. But, taking out a $30,000 loan to go to an “art” institute because you’re really good at drawing a certain cartoon character, and thats all you know how to do…that’s different than taking out a loan to pursue an architectural degree because not only can you draw really well, but you also understand mathematics, measurements, dimensions, and have worked in basic construction and you feel this is an area you’ll excel in…thats when you take a loan and pursue and education.

      *this scenario is purely hypothetical

  4. This was so helpful and easy to understand. It is so easy to get distracted but all your points are valid and will help me stay on track. Thanks

  5. Nice read to discover today, as I’m still in my time of honing in on my focus and what to channel my energy into. Multitasking, planning to travel 4 destinations at one time, without a map; Not really working well.

    The problem is, at the same time, I have too much to do for clients. Awesome?

  6. Peter Harpster says:

    “The ability to discern the difference between the two will save you from the immersion in needless distractions simply stealing time from what’s truly realistic.” …That’s so good, man! I am definitely one to become distracted by my dreams.

  7. Dale- these insights are so helpful. Thanks for putting this together.

    It is easy to dream. There is no shortage of possibilities out there. But, discerning the good from the best is crucial.

    In addition to exercising wisdom (which you lay out beautifully), it is also important to ask the question, “God, what do YOU want me to do… now? In the future?” He made us and knows us better than we know ourselves. He sees the end from the beginning and can help us let go of the lesser dreams for the greater ones.

  8. Hema says:

    Thanks so much for this article! 🙂 it has put some things in perspective and totally sets my heart at peace about my current life circumstances. As much as people push me to do certain things because it seems to bring about short term benefits, I know in my heart that it does no one any good in the Long term. I am just thankful that I got out of a sticky situation the first time around and am thankful for a second, less risky chance at pursuing my dreams <3

  9. This article was incredibly sobering. My fiance and I dream up so many dreams on what seems like a weekly basis and I know deep down we know which ones are realistic, which are not. However, it’s easy to wonder and be unsure about that judgement. This article clearly outlines the line that is reality. I’ll be bookmarking it to refer back to again and again.

    • Thanks Nicole! It’s a difficult boundary to identify. Glad this was helpful for you two.


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