Is Your Dream Just a Metaphor for Your Ideal Work?

Finger Pointing To the MoonWhat do you want to be when you grow up?

Harold always answered the same way — architect.

From the time he was 6 years old, being an architect was all Harold wanted to do. He drew plans, made models, and took pictures of buildings.

When he was about 10 years old, he checked out a book on building forts from the library. It had pages and pages of plans for building different types of forts. Though he never actually built any, he loved going through and studying the plans.

When he tried to find a copy to buy, he discovered that it was out of print. So he told the library he lost it, paid the cost of the book (probably more then it was worth), and kept it.

A Dream vs. Reality

Harold never became an architect.

He began the path in college, but quickly realized he was more interested in the idea than the actual career. He liked the planning, models, and hands-on stuff. But not the reality of all the regulations and bureaucracy.

So today he makes custom furniture and stained glass windows. The dream of being an architect was just a metaphor for what he really wanted — to design and build beautiful structures with his own two hands.

A Finger Pointing To the Moon…

When pointing at the moon, it’s easy to get transfixed on the finger. But it’s just a pointer. The moon is the real target.

I thought I wanted to be a cartoonist — but what I really wanted was the freedom to do creative work on my own terms, and make a good living at it.

The would-be teacher becomes a highly-paid corporate training consultant. The would-be screenwriter becomes a master storyteller in the form of a marketing coach — using copy and presentations to tell his clients’ stories. The would-be dancer becomes an elite personal trainer.

The dreams we have can offer clues into what our ideal work may be (the moon), but we are so focused on the dream itself (the finger), that we lose sight of what we’re really after.

Your dreams may be trying to point something out to you.

Are you too focused on the finger to see what it is?


  1. Wow … this one really hit home. My “finger” has always been pointed toward helping people, primarily through traditional therapy or counseling (always thought I had to be a Psychologist to amount to anything).

    The daunting thought of more years in school was always hanging over and me, so that’s why I never went through with it. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize I wouldn’t want the hours of a therapist (evenings & weekends) and/or I wouldn’t want to deal with the medical insurance/benefits, etc. What an epiphany!

    So…instead, the “moon” was when I realized I could help others realize & re-establish their creativity and wellness through simplifying their lives … and I didn’t need to be a licensed therapist to do that. That was something that already came naturally and was fun. ๐Ÿ™‚ Thanks for the post … others can definitely benefit from this short but meaning-packed article. I know I did.

  2. Though a very true and a very insightful piece, I can’t but wornder. Wonder if I skipped the dream and went straight for the goal, or am I still chasing the dream.

    At 41 I haven’t completely grown up, well which man ever really does, right ? But for as far back as I can remember I was always intrigued by my grandfather. I was barely 11, when he got his first computer and the only thing I could remember, was wanting to go to his house and – “make it do stuff” -. Well 30 years later, I am still making the computers -“do stuff”- with a handsome reward as the result.

    Somebody please tell me what my goal is…

  3. Well said. Although I tend to err the other way. My dream is to leverage my unique skills, gifts, talents, and desires to create wealth for philanthropic purposes. I tend to be to vague in that I don’t have to many limitations on what I will do to create, and even what I will exactly do with the wealth. I could use to be a little more finger focused at times.

  4. Jen – Great epiphany! It’s amazing what opportunities appear when you get into the right mindset.

    Michel – The goal (at least for most) is to live YOUR life YOUR way. Sounds like you have that on track ๐Ÿ™‚

    Happy Rock – As long as you’re focused when it counts (at the project or venture level) that’s all that matters. Nothing wrong with keeping your options open as you move from one to the next, as long as you follow though and get the results you’re after.

  5. This hit home for me, too. I’m currently pointing at a big galaxy of jobs with a finger that can do all of the stars, but will only actually enjoy doing a few of them for a living and “a loving.”

    As long as it pays the bills and provides financial security for my family, working for “a loving” will be the thing that keeps the spring in my step and the sparkle in my eye.

  6. I have always wanted to be an artist. But I had an interest in so many artforms. I even managed to get a degree in Fine Arts and in Theatre but I’ve explored writing, scriptwriting, painting, sculpting, printmaking, directing, children’s books, cartooning, design, webdesign and more. I love architecture and comic books and film making and fantasy novels and more.

    Looking past all my fingers, there obviously is a lot of them pointing, I realised that I like to explore creative living. So I’m on my way to become a life explorer.

    Don’t ask me what exactly I’ll be doing. That’s where the creative part comes in and I’m only now getting my fingers out of the picture.

    Gerhi Janse van Vuuren

  7. Gee, Tony, you really struck a home run on this one! But I’m like Gerhi; I have ALL my fingers pointing “out there”.

    Thanks for making me think this early in the morning (sound of gears grinding)!

  8. Tony,
    This post really resonated with me. My basic philosophy is “Stay curious and open to life. No matter what happens keep learning and growing. Find what you love to do and find a way to share it with others.รขโ‚ฌย

    Goals can be a great tool at times. But if you’re inwardly motivated and keep developing your skills and interests, you can afford to trust yourself and enjoy the adventure of life.

  9. Actually.. Last night I was watching Ray Romano… due to a lack of better programming in my direct market I guess. Well something on the show triggered something.

    I realise that, through both the piece and the follow up comments, we may have, inadvertently answered a small part of the eternal question “What’s the meaning of life”

    That is so cool !

  10. Jesse – Well put.

    Gerhi – Most creatives are like that. Part of being creative is wanting to make something new. So you’re always looking towards the horizon.

    Sherry – Glad you liked it.

    Robert – Getting people to think is why I do this ๐Ÿ™‚

    Jean – Great philosophy. Variety may be the spice of life, but curiosity is what draws you to sample the variety.

    Michel – Maybe I should change my tagline — “The meaning of life, served up with cartoons.” ๐Ÿ™‚

  11. I’m seeing myself in a similar boat as you Michel. Granted, I’m only now 21 years old, I have been doing design work since I set my eyes on my first Macintosh six years ago.

    The question that comes to my mind is: are we chasing our dreams? Or are our dreams results of our desires?

  12. Thank you for a wonderful post!

    My 16 year old is so busy at the moment staring at and wondering what “the finger” means that it’s hard for him to look UP and see it’s not the “finger” but what will make him happy to be doing later in life.

    It’s also hard for me (and most likely that’s what really grabbed my attention with this post), because I never quite managed to figure out what I wanted to “be” when I grew up… and frankly that was many, many moons ago ๐Ÿ™‚

    The one thing I do know is never, ever settle. While you can’t get along in this world as it is without money, should that be the be all and end all if you give up happiness…? Of course not!

    Again a big thanks! I’m bookmarking and off to discover your other posts (and sharing your blog with others!).

  13. Wow, I love the finger pointing at the moon analogy. It’s sometimes hard to keep the big goal, the outrageous dream in focus. The reminder to re-calibrate now and then is priceless.

  14. I’ve got all my fingers and toes pointed out there! They do block the moon out sometimes, so I have to refocus. It helps to read something like this to help that happen! I get so caught up in process that sometimes the goal becomes blurred.

    Thank you!

  15. Great take. This is a similar concept to the one I use in my speaking presentations, but you’re metaphor takes it to a whole new level.

    I myself wanted to be a superhero (being George Lucas was my backup plan.) Looking back at it, I really wanted to be a superhero because I wanted to help people. And make a difference. I wanted to be George Lucas because I admired how he used his creativity and imagination to create characters and stories that entertained people all over the world.

    Through my comic strip and writing and speaking, I’m getting to make a difference and entertain and inspire people. Now, if I could just get my wife to sign off on the full-body Batman costume…

  16. I’m 58 & retired & for many years I thought I to wanted to be an architect ,but, lack of confidence & raising a young family ceased my finger pointing . I later learned through counseling & self help .That I recieved more satisfaction , fullfillment & pleasure from helping people & teaching what little I do know. So it is my mission to work a business on the internet that I know fulfills the needs of people & changes their lives. I will keep plugging away until I find that “Perfect” business. so I ended up way off the mark from my first finger pointing

  17. Hi Tony,

    Great site! Thanks. I’ve been following your site for some time now, but this post just jumped out and grabbed me. This explains why I’m drawn to certain activities. In my case, the moon is doing creative work and communicating ideas to others (and getting paid for it).

    Btw, I’m also planning on my transition from employee to entrepreneur.

    Again, thanks a lot.

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