Why We Cling to Unobtainable Dreams
American Idol has fueled the mega-star dreams of wanna be singers across the country. Yet, as acerbic judge Simon Cowell is quick to point out, many of those dreams are woefully misplaced. The crushing of dreams as impassioned but horribly off-key singers audition season after season makes for dramatic television. We laugh at their folly, wondering how these people can truly believe they have the talent to become professional singers. A new study by psychologists at Ohio State University and the University of Florida published in the current issue of the journal Social Cognition sheds some light on the phenomenon.
Researchers found that people cling to their career dreams with fierce tenacity. Telling someone they lack the skills or knowledge to achieve their goal isn’t enough to shake their belief that they can accomplish their dreams. It takes a clear, often humiliating, demonstration of their lack of ability to convince someone that their dreams are misplaced.
“Most people don’t give up easily on their dreams. They have to be given a graphic picture of what failure will look like if they don’t make it,” study co-author Patrick Carroll, an assistant professor of psychology at OSU-Lima, said in an online article posted on Newswise. “We have a brilliant ability to spin, deflect or outright dismiss undesired evidence that we can’t do something. We try to find reasons to believe.”
It’s a harsh lesson seemingly at odds with the “Dream big! Follow your dreams!” advice that parents use to encourage their children. Shows like American Idol, America’s Got Talent and America’s Next Top Model only fuel our dreams of being “discovered” and catapulted from oblivion to stardom. Idol judge Simon Cowell has often explained that his comments may be cutting, but they’re geared to drag would be stars back to reality. Few make it in the music business, even those with talent.
The problem transcends the entertainment industry. Researchers found that many students harbor unrealistic career dreams, sometimes spending years of fruitless study on career paths for which they lack the ability to succeed. It can be a costly mistake, particularly in today’s uncertain job market.
“Educators are trying to lead students to the most realistic career options,” Carroll said. “You want to encourage students to pursue their dreams, but you don’t want to give them false hope about their abilities and talents.”
Next time: Lessons for parents