Nobody cares about your dreams. They care about your actions.
This may sound harsh, but it must be said. I hear from too many people who are convinced by the power of their dreams, but do not realize what’s actually required to reach them.
I always want to tell them: Want to achieve? Dreams don’t do it. Everyone has dreams. You instead must show that, even if you don’t have the experience, you have the drive — and you will bust your ass more than people with twice as much experience.
I’ll give you an example.
But first, about these dreamers…
I often hear from people who aspire to big things, and their emails follow a similar format: They tell me about their background, and how they have accomplished or overcome something, and how they are now pursuing other big dreams.
One of those dreams, for example, is to write for Entrepreneur. Here’s from an email that someone sent me last week:
Another big dream, I’ve only recently realized, is to be published. I have to start somewhere. Can you help?
That’s so often how these emails end: They stress the dream, and how I can make it come true.
Now, let me be clear: I was once an aspiring writer myself, and I owe my career to the people who took a chance on me. In turn, I have always been an enthusiastic supporter of aspiring writers. I have advised them, edited them, and published them. I have given them my time and mentorship. I love doing it, and I will continue to do it.
But you know what drives me to help aspiring writers? It’s when I see how much ACTION they have already taken towards achieving their dream! They are writing for anyone who will take them. They study writing. Perhaps they study my writing. They have written something for me to consider. They have ideas, ideas, ideas. They make it clear that, with or without me, they will continue writing.
They are not waiting around for me.
And that is why I want to help them.
Consider the psychology of this: If you ask someone to help you, and you’ve done no work yourself, then you’re asking them to do a lot of work for you. Nobody wants to do that! But if you’ve done a ton of work already, then you’re like a team on its way to the championship — and everyone wants to rally behind you.
This is the pathway to success. It's how you turn strangers into fans. I learned it myself when I was a young writer with big dreams. I emailed a lot of people asking for help. I got very little of their help. Then I started dreaming of writing for the Washington Post. So here’s what I did:
The hustle playbook
First, I read the newspaper. A lot. I studied what kind of stories they were publishing, and in what sections, and where it seemed that freelancers were most welcome.
Then I came up with a story idea for the Health section, where I was seeing a lot of freelance work. I cold pitched it to a Health editor I’d never met.
That editor, Susan Morse, actually replied! (Most never did; I sent a lot of cold emails.) She asked to talk on the phone. I was so nervous. Pacing. Sweating. She asked me hard questions about the story I pitched, as well as my ability to report it. I was just 23, and had only worked at a small-town community newspaper. I had never proven myself at her level before.
At the end of that call, she told me she wasn’t ready to say yes — but she wasn’t ready to say no. If I wanted to do more work, she said, then she’d take a look.
So that’s what I did. I interviewed maybe a dozen people. I wrote up a 3,000-word outline. I did, frankly, more work than the story itself required, and maybe even more work than anyone else who’d ever pitch this kind of story. It was all in the service of showing her that I could do the work, that I wanted to do the work, and that I’d stop at nothing until the work was done.
I wanted to make it impossible for her to say no. She said yes.
It’s how I got my first big piece. (Here's the story, published in 2004.)
So, let’s go back to it: Nobody cares about your dreams. They care about your actions.
That Washington Post editor did not care about my dreams. Dreams are nice, but they guarantee nothing. They prove nothing. They offer nothing. But actions? Actions are the thing that other people can trust.
Don’t just take it from me, either.
Before writing this newsletter, I floated its core message on my Instagram. I asked my followers if it was too harsh, and dozens of people DM’d me to say they’ve encountered this same truth, and that others need to hear it.