Corbett Barr

Lifestyle Business Weekly

The Smart Ass Guide to Dealing with Dream Zappers

The following is a guest post by Ashley Ambirge. Read more by Ashley at her blog The Middle Finger Project or follow Ashley on Twitter.


They’re out there.  You can spot them in every city, every town, every neighborhood.  They can take the shape of any human being, but are known to wear a scowl, a bad attitude and dirt-smeared, oversized khaki-colored overalls.

Despite their questionable demeanor, they weave their way into your life, usually by way of stealth maneuver tactics.  Most often you will not recognize them until it’s too late, but all suspects should be considered armed and dangerous. 

In worse case scenarios, they will even land in your yard, chug sugar water and proceed to body snatch a member of your family, friend or significant other, straight up Men In Black style.

Be afraid, be very afraid.

They are Dream Zappers (DZ),  and they’re coming to an aspiration near you.

You’ve probably come across one before.  They’re the ones making passive aggressive comments any time you experience success.  They’re the ones who are are quick to find fault in your ideas, pointing out the immediate flaws and assuring you why your idea won’t work.  They’re the ones telling you that you’re being unrealistic, that you’re just going through a phase, and that you’ll have to join the real world sometime.

In other words, they’re the ones that, when present, you find yourself overwhelmed with an intense desire to deliver a swift karate chop to their jugular.  Don’t worry, no one’s judging.

Who are these dream zappers, and why, oh, why are they so intent on raining on your parade, snowing on your barbeque and, um, busting into your pawn shop?

For starters, any old psychology book will tell you that dream zappers are typically unhappy, disillusioned and frustrated with their own lives, and hence take it upon themselves to ever so generously share the wealth.  Isn’t that sweet?

They minimize your goals and ideas, and attempt to convince you that they know what’s right and best.  After all, they’re just looking out for you. Traditional advice for coping with dream zappers usually goes something like this:

  1. It’s not you, it’s them.
  2. Don’t sink to their level.
  3. Don’t take it personally.

Well, guess what.  I slightly disagree, and here’s why.

If someone is minimizing your goals, you absolutely should take it personally.  You should be furious.  By minimizing someone’s goals, you are essentially minimizing the value of their ideas and, as such the value of their worth.

We are our ideas.  We are our thoughts.  Eventually, our ideas and thoughts become our actions.  So, think of it as an premature slap across the face.  You should take it personally–I don’t know who wouldn’t consider getting a big welt across their cheek as anything less.  But the good news is that by taking it personally, you’ll enable yourself to do what you need to do to eliminate the source of negativity, if possible, and then move on.  Bing, bam, boom, whiskey shot.

However, if the offender happens to be someone who’s close to you and is just temporarily donning an Edgar suit (yes, another Men In Black reference), and you’re unable or unwilling to eliminate from your life, first and foremost, do them a favor and alert them to the fact that the Edgar suit is making their butt look huge. From there you’ve got two options:  ignore it or address it.  For the sake of not being driven to eventually go postal, I’m going to go ahead and recommend the latter.

You’ve got to hold a dream zapper accountable for their behavior toward you–it doesn’t matter whether that behavior is rooted in some inexplicable, deep-seated dissatisfaction with their lives, their childhood or the fact that they they can’t properly apply undereye concealer–that’s not an excuse to let anyone try and convince you to be dissatisfied with yours.  But there is one trick in particular that’s going to determine whether you fend off the DZ effectively, or just come off like a wounded school girl.  Here it is:  Defend yourself, but not defensively.

What do I mean?

Defending your dreams and acting defensively are two different things; one is an assertion tactic, the other is nothing more than your own insecurities backfiring.

By defending your dreams and putting an end to the DZ’s efforts, you’re giving your ideas the respect they deserve.  By not doing so, you’re giving the zapper permission to squash, squash, squash away.

The point of having dreams in the first place isn’t just so you can zone out the next time your significant other starts whining about having to unload the dishwasher again (although no one will fault you); the point of having dreams is so that you can propel your life toward an ideal you’ve envisioned for yourself.  You’ve got to protect that vision, or risk letting it fade into the noise.

Furthermore, other people simply aren’t going to understand your dreams because a) they aren’t you, and b) they can’t feel your emotions.  But you know what? They don’t need to understand your dreams–only you do.

You don’t have to persuade or convince anyone.  Do not let other people decide what your dreams should be.  It’s your life.  It’s your dream.  It’s your future. Check, please!

That said, let’s indulge in a few all-too-common dream zapping comments that I’ve heard on numerous occasions, and maybe you’ve had to deal with, too.  The response is a suggested way of cutting the zapper off dead in their tracks; the comeback is a suggested way of cutting the zapper off dead in their tracks when you’re feeling especially sassy.  You pick.

  1. “You’re being unrealistic.”
  2. Favorite Response:  “Thanks for your opinion.”  And leave it at that.  By leaving it at that, you’ll effectively end the conversation and, let’s face it — unless you’re one of those socially inappropriate people, you’d probably zip it, too, if someone didn’t seem to care much about what you had to say.  Personally, I like this one.

    Favorite Comeback:  “Thanks so much for taking the time to educate me on your opinion as to what I should do with my life.  I’ll be sure to weigh it considerably before making all decisions from here on out.”

  3. “Someday maybe you’ll join us in the real world.”
  4. Favorite Response:  “It hurts my feelings when you dismiss my ideas like that.”  Oftentimes, calling the person out on what they’re really attempting to do is enough to put an end to it.

    Favorite Comeback:  “Judging by how happy you’ve been since joining the real world,  I can’t wait to get started.”

  5. “Who do you think you are that you can just go off and do whatever you want?”
  6. Favorite Response:  “Who do you think you are that you can’t?”

    Favorite Comeback:  “Hi!  I’m a human being, what are you?”

  7. “What kind of crazy, grandiose ideas have you come up with lately?”
  8. Favorite Response:  “What makes my ideas crazy?”  Make them justify their choice of words.  Call ’em out!

    Favorite Comeback:  “Why are you wondering?  Looking for a vicarious thrill through me?”

  9. “Insert any negative comment that hurts your feelings.”
  10. Favorite Response:  Ignore it….but only if you truly can.  If it’s still making you feel bad, then you haven’t really ignored it, you’ve repressed it.  Eventually, those thoughts are going to take up valuable dream energy.

    Favorite Comeback:  “Hey, the jerk store called earlier….”

It’s no secret:  Dream zappers are everywhere.  But what it comes down to is this:  No one’s opinion matters, unless you let it matter.  That’s not novel advice by any means, but it’s advice that’s worth repeating, and and it’s advice worth pausing to consider.  So the next time one creeps up on you and starts a sentence with, “You know, you really ought to..,” feel free to run, jump, hide in a bush, and neuralize yourself immediately.

But whatever you do, don’t forget this:  “You’re no longer part of the system.  You’re above the system.  Over it.  Beyond it.  We are ‘them.’  We are ‘they.’  We are The People Who No Longer Wear Black.”

Oh, and one more thing?  Edgar was nothing but an oversized cockroach, anyway.

Ashley Ambirge is the sarcastic, brash, hot-sauce-addicted founder of The Middle Finger Project, where she gives the evil eye to mediocrity, while inspiring readers to flip a cordial bird to the shoulds, and live how they want. Whiskey shots strictly optional.

photo by Xtream_i

Corbett Barr

A weekly curated email of useful links for people interested in lifestyle businesses and independent entrepreneurship.


Mexico, Parte Dos (Personal Update)


Yes, The World Needs Trash Collectors Too, But It Doesn’t Have to Be You or Me


  1. Jen

    Hey Ash and Corbett! :)
    Such a great post Ash! I always love your take on things, and this is a practical approach to a common problem..some people love to pull others down! Personally, I try and just share my dreams and aspirations with people I know are supportive and like minded so as not to give DZ’s a chance to rain on my parade! Not always possible I know, but genenerally I have weeded out the DZ’s from my life .. I think life is too short to hang out with people that are not looking out for your best interests. Also I try and make sure I am being that for other people. Dreams are so important. :)

  2. Where do you meet these negative people? Maybe I’m filterning them out but I can’t remember the last time someone tried to be negative about my dreams.

  3. I find that I run into these kinds of people less and less, but I think it’s because I’ve become more and more careful who I spend my time with and who I don’t.

    Back in the day, I wasted a whole lot of time with people who frankly just didn’t give me any value to be around (that is, not even happiness, entertainment, etc). If I find myself around these kinds of people anymore, ESPECIALLY if they are the type who drops bombs like the ones you mentioned above, I generally just excuse myself and call up someone with a little more vision.

    Fortunately, it seems most of the people I run into who are flabbergasted by what I’m doing with my life are surprised on the positive end of the spectrum, straying more toward things like ‘I wish I could do that’ or ‘Gosh, that must be fun’ instead of the more negative shock-and-awe quips.

    • I agree. The more we move forward with whatever transformation we’ve chosen, the more discerning we get about the company we keep. It’s tough sometimes, though, especially when family rains on the parade more than anybody else.

      I’m happy to see that so many of the younger lifestyle designers have pulled through all that junk much earlier in life, before the incessant nagging and dream squashing has started to seep into your subconscious and grab hold of your soul.

  4. Those negative people are everywhere, but these are great responses. I really loved this post.

  5. DreamZapper

    But what about the people that are watching their lives decay into nothingness following these unrealistic notions well past their welcome? I call them Flight of Fanciers. I agree that dreams are a healthy human function and one that has its place in the sociological and psychological development of us all, but I also think that disillusionment and desperate clinging are unhealthy human functions. I mean, c’mon, let’s pretend that it’s a perfect a world and that we can all become what we dream of becoming (as the writer seems to imply). If that’s the case, how will society as a whole continue to function? How many musicians and artists and restaurant owners ( not to mention: athletes, doctors, lawyers, socialites, movie stars, etc. etc. etc.) does the world really need? To quote a much better source than MIB, my father, “The world needs trash collectors too”.
    Example time. I have a buddy that has a bachelor’s degree in Psychology from a prominent university. He is employed by a restaurant as a server. He constantly conjures up tales of musicianship (he can barely play a note on the guitar), artistry (he has no marketable artistic skills), entrepreneurship (has no business experience or education not to mention the capital to start a business venture), and other flights of fancy. He rarely, if ever, looks into the possibility of graduate school or finding a job in his field because in his opinion none of them pay enough to warrant his time or he “shouldn’t let society dictate what he should do with his life” and that would be “compromising his intergrity”. This being said, he constantly complains and gripes about how horrible his life is…he has no money, he lives with his parents, he’s working a job beneath himself. All the while he does NOTHING to pursue any of those unrealistic dreams in the first place! And don’t even try to make a suggestion to him because that becomes “preachy” and “talking down to him”, because that’s what the Flight of Fanicer perceives such thoughtful advice as.
    I have said many of the things you wrote, in one way or another, to him. I am pretty happy with my reality. Am I a musician or a writer like I once dreamed? No. Am I a lawyer like I wanted to be as a child? Hell no. Does that mean that I’m “unhappy, disillusioned and frustrated with their own lives, and hence take it upon themselves to ever so generously share the wealth”? Absolutely not. I want more for my friends and family than they sometimes want for themselves. I want them to be happy and to have some money to play around with, not struggle with new dream after new dream never realizing their full potential, and never having the opportunity to go out and see the world and experience how great it can really be! Dreaming is fine and good, we should all dream. But just like those dreams that we experience in sleep, the waking dream should come to an end once reality sets in.

    • Ash

      Hi, there. It sounds like you’ve had a pretty personal experience with this, but in the reverse. It’s clear that you simply just care about your friend, and want the best for him, which no one would ever fault you for. However, from a purely objective perspective, I will say that I think there’s a small flaw in the logic here: The issue is not that your friend dreams “unrealistic dreams,” as you put it, but that he is just having some trouble getting started. I know that you tend to feel that your friend doesn’t have the skill set required to be successful in any of the ventures you listed, and while that may be true, it’s still a subjective opinion. For example, just because his artistic skills may not be marketable in your eyes, doesn’t mean they won’t be in someone else’s. He just needs to find those people.

      I understand your perspective, but the reason why I’m writing posts like this one, and at my own blog, is precisely to counter this perspective, so I think we’ll be at odds no matter what. :) That said, while I may not agree with what you’ve said, I am grateful that you stopped by and took the time to show us another viewpoint. That’s never a bad thing.

  6. these negative peeps seem to be everywhere! I used to just ignore, now I get little more feisty

  7. phil

    loved the MIB reference :) and mmm hot sauce!!!

  8. Ash – I think the best advice you gave here is the simplest:

    “No one’s opinion matters, unless you let it matter.”

    Yes, it’s maybe easier said than done, but I think it’s counter productive to respond with negativity with more negativity…that is, adding fuel to the fire. It implies that someone is right and someone is wrong and by responding with a ‘one-up’ comment you somehow overpower the other person so your ego is held up. Yes, new agey, I know, but I think it’s worth thinking about.

    In these kind of situations, I just try to take the high road. I try very, very hard not to judge the person, because it’s really not them, right? It’s their thoughts and negative emotions coming through. Of course, if there is continued negativity fed in your direction then it’s obviously worth considering if you want that person in your life or if you should sit down and have an honest chat with them to express some of your feelings.

    Ok, having said all that, I got a good laugh out of the ‘Hey the jerk store called’ comment. Hilarious.

  9. what a great post! LOVE IT!

  10. I am with NomadicNeil here, I haven’t heard anything really negative about my dreams and goals since junior high school. Who are these negative people? Family and friends?

    • Ash

      You know, I can only speak for myself on this one, but oftentimes it does seem to be those who think they have your best interests in mind, when in reality, it’s actually their view of what’s in your best interest…not the same thing. Usually this does tend to be family and friends. However, I’ve noticed this is mostly just apparent with people who are just starting out – the initial friction. I don’t imagine you’d get much criticism, as you’ve experienced great success! :) Regardless, everyone’s experiences are different, and it’s awesome you’ve surrounded yourself with a network of super supportive people.

  11. Oh my gosh.

    Ashley you are rockin’!

    “The jerk store called…” hehe. Seinfeld AND MIB in one post? How do you do it?!

    I love the attitude here. Heading over to follow and to check out Middle Finger.



  12. Ash

    @Jen – “…people I know are supportive and like-minded” This is just so key. Like-minded people tend to rev each other up, and feed off of the cool things that one another are doing, providing continual motivation. Find them. Hunt them down. Cherish them. And buy them lots of beer.

    @NomadicNeil – I’ve had my fair share of critical people; it’s not as much of an issue for me now, but negative people are everywhere. (Perhaps in higher porportions here in Pennsylvania?!) In my experience, it’s usually when you’re just starting out with something new when people are most negative; unfortunately that’s also the time when you need positive encouragement most. But it looks like you’ve got a leg up in that department – keep on filtering!

    @Colin – Agreed. Time is one of your most precious resources, so negative feelings aside, so why waste it on people who are anything short of positive? Becoming more careful with our time, as you said, is critical. I’ve recently been consciously working to weed out people who don’t contribute value (that sounds pretentious, doesn’t it?!), and sometimes it is harder than it seems when those in question are long-standing friends, etc. But in the end, what’s more important: Your time & aspirations, or a yearly Christmas card and the assurance that you’ll be invited to the wedding? By the way- someone would have to be a professional dream zapper and/or clinically insane to be negative about what you’re doing. Keep rockin’ it.

    @Sharon – I’m glad my sarcasm is finally paying off in more ways than granting me dirty looks from significant others. :)

    @Anthony – A lot of it depends on my mood – I admittedly let my emotions get the best of me, at times, but I do think it’s important to address the issue in some manner.

    @Nate – Buddy, I know where you’re coming from. The “don’t sink to their level” argument. While this is probably sound advice, I think that in some instances, it’s perfectly fine–if not desirable–to give yourself an ego boost! Also, “In these kind of situations, I just try to take the high road. I try very, very hard not to judge the person, because it’s really not them, right? It’s their thoughts and negative emotions coming through.” I still think that a person’s thoughts and emotions are, essentially, the person themselves. If we aren’t our thoughts, then what are we? (Oooo, profound!) As always, thanks for your insight, Nate. You ARE the bigger person, I won’t deny it. :)

    @GotPassport – Yeah!!!

  13. I love this post. Great choice with a guest poster, Corbett. I run into these situations a lot. Maybe I’m surrounding myself with the wrong people? I love the comebacks, I’m tempted to write them down and rehearse in the mirror, that would be kind of geeky though I think. Anyway, really awesome stuff as ususal Ashley.

  14. Great post! Yes, there are definitely Dream Zappers out there. I found plenty of them while living in the ‘burbs and contemplating selling everything in order to move abroad with my husband and four teenage daughters! I had to deal with the middle-finger urge and rather than get snarky, try to address their feelings (confusion, hurt that you’re leaving or a sense that you’re judging them by making a different choice…or just plain jealousy). I’m a mom and that be-nice compulsion took over. ;-)

    Happy result: we left, things rocked, we all thrived, I got a book published (The New Global Student) and included a Snappy Comeback Cheat Sheet to help parents facing the same naysayer tsunami we did. (Note: if you are single and in your twenties, your friends will be more likely to understand your crazy urge to take off and explore the world. If you are married with kids and all the trappings, your peers are more likely to question you–sometimes harshly–because the very existence of your exit plan reminds them that they had the same one once upon a time–and abandoned it. That’s a sensitive scab to pick at. Ouch.)

  15. I feel like most of the dream zappers I run into are friends and family — folks who think that they’re looking out for my best interests. That viewpoint makes it a lot harder to tell them where they can take their negativity: when I first started working for myself, many of my family members were concerned about my ability to support myself and, while they were negative, they thought that they were being helpful.

    Those negative remarks have mostly become a thing of the past — success is really the best way to respond to negativity.

  16. Love this Ash. I’ve somehow, by the grace of God, managed to get rid of any DZ and most people know me well enough to not even entertain the idea of zapping one of my dreams, no matter how ridiculous even I think it sounds.

    But, I particularly like this one:
    Favorite Comeback: “Judging by how happy you’ve been since joining the real world, I can’t wait to get started.”

    That’s pretty much how I feel every time someone says something totally inane like “welcome to the real world” to me.

    Well said!


  17. Haha! Loved seeing some humor in dealing with people who see limits on their life! Awesome. Keep it up.

  18. Rod

    Love it! Great post.

  19. Good post! I wonder who has told these Dream Zappees that they have to let what these other people say affect them at all? I personally believe in little to no disclosure on plans and dreams anyway. Highly recommend readers of this post also read Harry Browne’s “How I Found Freedom in an Unfree World.”

    The last thing I want when throwing anything around from a business idea to a resume to a book chapter I’ve written is a bunch of rah-rah, you’re doing great, keep it up. Dream zappers are the best people to have around because if you ask that they get specific about their concerns, they will uncover loads of issues that you can build into your plans to make them better.

    I WANT someone to pick holes in my plans where I may have missed considering something critical. I WANT an objective viewpoint as my logic may be clouded by emotion. I WANT to hear (constructive) criticism.

    It seems to me that those whose plans may not be solid are the ones most fearing the Dream Zappers. Having been a professional dream zapper in a previous life (small business lending), I can honestly say that there are so many dreamers out there that at best don’t have any legs underneath their dreams and at worst have no common sense.

    Build some credibility and a pattern of results in going for what you want and nobody will dream zap you again. There are too many sycophants and yes-girls and boys out there who tell you to go for it, but aren’t the ones that will suffer any consequences if something goes wrong.

    Sometimes someone’s got to say that the Emperor has no freaking clothes on.

    Anyway, here’s a great quote – because I do believe in dreaming – really:

    “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost; there is where they should be. Now put foundations under them.” – Thoreau

  20. Like a few others have said, I run into the Dream Zappers less and less. There are a few reasons for that. Some… 1) I’ve either fired them from my lives or trained them to be less negative. 2) I’ve gotten better at framing my lifestyle in a way that has more purpose and sounds less like directionless whimsy. 3) I’ve done and arranged things that make them somewhat envious. Proof of concept is a biggie.

    So… I get that angle, but the cool thing about this post is that it jumps in to solve one of the highest points of friction at the most critical point of getting to the places I just mentioned… The shift from the ordinary path to another route is always where things are most difficult. Get past that and, as others have alluded to, it gets a lot easier.

    • Ash

      1) “Fired them from my lives.” Totally jacking this phrase for my own personal use.

      2) I think you must teach us this fine art of seeming non-whimsy…because no matter what I say, people still look at me like, “Wwwwwwhat?” The other day the topic of my blog came up, and two females who were standing there looked at me with this condescending face and said, “Oh YEAH?” *A knowing look between them* “What is it, exactly, that you blog about?” I think they thought I blogged about shoes and makeup and boys. In any event, I haven’t mastered this art. I need to practice in a mirror! :)

  21. Ash

    @WayThatYouWanderNate – Thanks!

    @Maya – “the very existence of your exit plan reminds them that they had the same one once upon a time–and abandoned it. That’s a sensitive scab to pick at. Ouch.” Well said. I think you raised a good point, here – because of the common perception that children should have a stable home environment, x-y-z, the stakes are much higher and as a result you’d probably be more susceptible to harsher DZs. That said, I believe that children who have the opportunity to grow up experiencing the world would actually be far better off. Those who have the opportunity to travel often say that their experience was the best education they’ve received to date. Cheers, Maya!

    @Thursday – Success IS the best way to respond! That should be an addendum.

    @Melani – Perhaps my number one most hated thing to hear is “Welcome to the real world.” It’s implied condescension. Furthermore, the “real world” is subjective. It is what you make it! Kind of the entire premise of lifestyle design.

    @Robert – Limits schmits. :)

    @Rod – Thanks!

    @JacqJolie – This was a fantastic comment. Thank you for that. I think you make a really valid point, and you’re absolutely right – objective concerns are well worth exploring, as a homemade quality assurance system. That said, I do think that oftentimes the issue that comes into play isn’t criticism in general, it’s unwarranted criticism that is based on other things beyond simple objective observation. Those are the ones that must be zapped! :)

  22. kathy

    Great to see you here Ashley! And once again you have brought up a topic that is so dear to my heart! ;-) Great post! I like the title Dream Zappers or DZ’s. I’ve had a few in my day and have developed a DZ Shield to fend them off. Most of the DZ’s have been family and friends-people I can easily fight off. However, I am finding it difficult when my S.O. shows signs of becoming a DZ. Not so easy for me to put on that Shield in this instance. Do I take my dreams and leave? Or do I wrestle up some well needed courage and face it head on? I’m open for suggestions.

    • Ash

      I’m not too sure you want MY take on that, Kathy! I’ve experienced what you’re talking about in the past, and suffice to say I’m presently single. :) That’s a difficult question, and far be it from me to interject myself into your relationship, but in my experience, if I’ve confronted an S.O. on their behavior on several occasions to no avail, I don’t hesitate to peace out. I don’t care how much I care about another person–I care about protecting my own interests far more. Some might call that selfish. I call that not-ending-up-bitter-and-resentful-down-the-line. That’s just me. That said, it’s highly probable I will end up as a lonely old cat lady somewhere, someday, but it’s a risk I’m willing to take. :) There are so many people out there who would be willing to support you in your endeavors–don’t waste your time with those who aren’t. (Do I need blogger’s liability insurance after this? Ha.)

      • kathy

        Hey! Now there’s an idea….blogger’s liability insurance! I could be a blogger’s liability insurance agent! or maybe malpractice insurance for bloggers…hmmmmm….this could go somewhere! ;-)
        Thanks for the response. Selfish is one word I’ve thought about myself when considering the peace out option. I go back and forth about the whole thing. Who knows, I could be your neighborly lonely old dog lady some day. :-)

  23. DreamZapper

    Ok, fair enough, perhaps I haven’t given him enough time to pursue those dreams. When, according to your expertise (not being sarcastic here, I think you probably are the foremost authority on Dream Zappers!), has it been enough time? A year? Two years? Five years from now? When will a person have pilfered enough of their time and energy on a hopeless cause before it can be considered just that? What indicators would you look for as signs that it’s time to give it a rest and try something else? Or do you truly believe that it’s NEVER a good time to stop dreaming and that you should CONSTANTLY pursue your dreams even if that means putting responsibility and marketable skills aside?
    I feel like that’s “bum talk”. I’ve heard many a homeless person say, and I quote, “Society failed me, not the other way around”. Putting their societal flaws and addictions or mental illnesses aside, many of these folks are narcissists of the variety of which you write. THEY’RE the special ones! THEY DESERVE to live out their dreams! Their integrity and dreams are SO important that everything else, their health, their relationships, their aim, their goals, should take the back seat to them. You see, I draw an important distinction between dreams and goals. The dictionary definition of a dream is as follows: imaginative thoughts indulged in while awake; “he lives in a dream that has nothing to do with reality”. The dictionary definition of a goal is as follows: the state of affairs that a plan is intended to achieve and that (when achieved) terminates behavior intended to achieve it. I think that your personal definition of a dream is a misnomer. It is what is actually refered to as a “pipe dream”.
    I will stop hijacking your blog now, and I thank you for being as thoughtful as you have with me. I realize, and agree with you, that our world view is just so different we will probably never agree on this. I would love to continue discussing things with you via email so as to save space and time, but if you get strange requests like that all the time and take a pass I’ll understand. BTW, great blog entry, had me thinking more than I have in a while and I thank you for that. If I don’t speak to you again, I’ll be following your blog. Good day!

  24. ETown

    I left a very “good” career to pursue a dream, and it was the best thing I ever did. Things did not end up exactly where I’d hoped, but the adventure and transformation of my life were so worth it.

    Also amazing too how many people couch things in “fear”. Not my fears, but they’d project all of their fears onto me, like how will you get a job? What if your book doesn’t get published. What will you do with your time? What if you fail???

    I actually lost “friends” during this process. And interestingly some of those folks were big verbal supporters before I did it, then after it became real, they suddenly freaked out. Mostly all around economics – like that’s a sure thing anyway? As we saw from 2008 – not.

    I like your approach – it is important to address the Dream Zappers directly, and so important to not ignore their comments. I found when I ignored it, especially comments of family members, their fears would creep up as my doubts later on.

    I think a lot people may have dreams, but as said above, they give up, and our action is a painful reminder of what fear kept them from ever even attempting.

    • Ash

      Well said. You raised a crucial point about all of this, reminding us that sometimes the excitement, the thrill, the rush, the satisfaction that we derive from taking that leap of faith is oftentimes so transformative in itself, final destinations aside. It’s a burning glow in you that becomes brighter and brighter as you align yourself with what you truly want to be doing, and you start to feel an overwhelming sense of peace–with yourself, with the world, with your decisions and your life–far beyond you’ve succeeded, just from the knowledge that you are truly giving it all you’ve got. You know if you are, and you know if you aren’t, deep down inside. The moment you make the decision to cross the threshold, awesome stuff starts to happen.

  25. Ash

    Dear Dream Zapper,

    I would be happy to continue the conversation privately, if you promise to eventually tell me your real name, so I don’t have to keep referring to you as if you were Santa Claus. ;) You can get me at ash@themiddlefingerproject / You didn’t hijack my blog; you hijacked Corbett Barr’s, where this was a guest post.

    For the sake of responding to this for anyone who may be following the conversation, here’s my take:

    1. Define “hopeless cause?” If you’re defining it in terms of monetary success….no deal. If you’re defining it in terms of his own personal happiness… then there is no cutoff. No deadline on pursuing happiness.

    2. Distinction between dreams and goals – while I’m certain we could go on forever debating the semantics, I would argue that we use goals to set benchmarks to get closer to achieving dreams. If not, then what is the ultimate purpose of a goal? Simply for the sake of reaching it with no purpose in mind? Unless this is an exercise in self-discipline, I see no point unless there’s a bigger umbrella goal involved. AKA, a dream. To keep up to speed with you on references, you cited the dictionary definition of a dream. Well, here are the synonyms, from ambition, aspiration, design, desire, flight of fancy, hope, notion, pipe dream, wish.

    You tell me – are any of these things that you’d feel good about squashing?

    3. Oftentimes, people have these wonderful visions and then they get stuck because they just don’t know where to start. In order to follow a conventional path, there are people telling you step by step exactly how to do it. Want to become a lawyer? Okay – Get an undergrad degree. Check. Go to law school. Check. Learn this, this, this & this, and this. Check. Use big words. Check. Wink a lot to make people think you’re charming. Check. You get the idea.
    On the other hand, if you want to take the road less followed and carve a path for yourself, based around your interests instead of a pre-determined set of career paths you are allowed to choose from, it’s not as easy. There’s no one telling you how to do it. There’s no school for that. It’s going to be largely dependent upon your ability to be creative and hustle. That said–cut the kid some slack, eh? ;) Oftentimes what you perceive to be the easy way out, is actually the harder option.

    4. Last but not least, please don’t compare us to a homeless person with a potential mental illness. That’s not nice. :) Besides, what if I were actually homeless? You never know…

    Does anyone else have anything to chime in on this?

    • Susan V.

      Hi, first time reader here! I couldn’t help but think of Vincent van Gogh and other artists who had dreams, pursued them, and had no recognition at the time for their work, and have left a legacy that might continue indefinitely. Yes, he did have a mental illness and if it wasn’t for his brother might have been homeless as well. But that’s besides the point! I strongly believe everyone is entitled to follow their dreams, no matter how crazy they might seem. And it’s no one’s business to try to stop them, time them, criticize them or track their progress. It’s HIS or HER dream. So maybe we ought to be focussing on OUR OWN dream instead of spending energy on being a dream zapper to others. Just my two cents.

  26. Great post Ash! For me, I find the Dream Zappers around me are friends I went to college with, who have steadily trudged down the well worn path of everyday life. I think they really do find it offensive that I’m not willing to live with the status quo. They will say things like “What makes YOU so special” or other variations of number 3. Or things like “if it was that easy, everyone would do it” yadda yadda yadda…

    Thanks for the post, it’s great to keep my spirits up!


    • Ash

      Those are exactly the people I was referring to! You know, it’s funny. If someone were to approach me and start discussing an innovative new idea that sounded more appealing than what I was currently doing, I would basically force that person into a choke hold until they told me every single one of their secrets so I could learn too. I would be extremely interested in hearing what they had to say, and whether or not I might be able to do something similar. I don’t think I’d even think to criticize. Is this possibly a personality trait, as well? Are there born dream zappers????

  27. Brian W.

    I *hate* when people bust into my pawn shop!!

    • Ash

      It’s the worst, isn’t it?! It’s only downhill from there….especially when the odds of you getting eaten alive by an alien are relatively high. Watch out for that! ;)

      • Brian W.

        At least if said buster-in shoots me in the head, I can probably grow in another one in a couple seconds.

  28. Brilliant Ash. Honestly. Defending your dreams and passions without getting DEFENSIVE is excellent wisdom – and there is a fine line between the two. You should take things personally when they are personal, but there is a right and wrong way to follow up – getting defensive usually just has you winding up on the same level as the zapper. Surround yourself with love and support, and limit the amount of time you spend defending your dreams to the naysayers. If they’re not on board, let them follow another bandwagon, keep moving forward, and let them come around on their own, or not – no skin off my back.

    It’s also worth noting that I think we get bonus points. We BOTH mentioned Men in Black on our respective guest posts that were published on the SAME day. What are the odds?

    • Ash

      That might actually be the weirdest thing, um, ever???

      You know, the more I discuss it, the more ridiculous I think it is that anyone should even be ever put in a position to have to defend their dreams. What on earth is wrong with people?

  29. Love it! Definitely need to defend your dreams and goals. I’ve had to do that tons of time with my own family. I tend to take the sarcastic approach, so I am all for the “Favorite Comebacks.”

    • Ash

      Sarcasm is an art, that’s for sure! :) And…family is the hardest, because you actually do care what they think.

  30. You know, I think real Dream Zappers get pleasure when they feel they’ve struck a nerve. I’ve gotten to the point with friends and family where they’re long past telling me I’m crazy. Since I don’t disagree with them – we’re just at a mutual point of agreeing I am crazy in their minds. I don’t care if they think I’m crazy. I’m having a great time! What has resulted is that a lot of them are now envious that my dreams have become realities while they have chosen not to follow their own.

    • Ash

      Yeah, Carmen! You go! You know, I’ve felt that way sometime in the past, too. You wonder – “Did they actually like making me second guess myself?” I’m going to go ahead and hypothesize that maybe it doesn’t have as much to do with the dream itself; maybe it’s the level of confidence it takes to forge ahead with that dream that is the element of threat. Coming across super confident people must evoke different reactions in different people — you can’t decide if you want to be them, or hate them because they’re just so cool. I imagine it causes a lot of self-reflection in which the person staring back isn’t as desirable as the confident one working the room!

  31. Fantastic post Ash, and great call on having you guest blog. I enjoy your middle finger project a lot and am excited to see that more people are getting to hear your awesome ideas.

    I have dealt with dream zappers my whole life like all of us have. However, what I have found is that most often we are our own biggest dream zappers. This is for so many reasons that are all based around our rules, habits, programing and past results. These form an our internal voice and that voice can be most challenging to turn off. It’s in the silent moments of life that sarcasm, witty comments and plan ignoring fail to work. For those moments we must learn to overwhelm ourselves with belief, faith, trust and momentum that our dreams are real and we must continue forward. Building up a system to ward off the internal dream zapper is absolutely necessary for the success of our dreams.

    • Ash

      Truer words have not been spoken. “Rules, habits, programming and past results” are exactly the things I’m trying to counter, because I think it’s unfair that we are falsely limited by our perceptions. I feel as if there are many people out there who are living in an imaginary glass cube–it only exists in their mind, yet they are still trapped in it. And worse, they can see what other people are doing on the outside, but can’t make it through the glass wall.

  32. Vince


    This was a great read. I have often found myself on the receiving end of many such comments, relating to my “wild” ideas of life plans. While you take a much more diplomatic approach to responding then I would like to, I do find that it is much more enjoyable when watching someone squirm their way out of such comments when you really call them on what a great life they live following the so called social norms and living in the real world.

    Some years ago I suffered a rather series blow to my free spirit carefree attitude. To shine a tad of light onto this experience, without getting to in depth, lets just say I was attacked, stabbed a few times, and according to doctors nearly lost my life. While I have always viewed life as one hell of a wild ride that should be filled with great laughs, people, and experiences, prior to this event I always believed there was some set structure to follow. Get good grades go to college, graduate college, land a corporate job, find woman, marry woman, start family, and so on. While for a short period I began to live what some will call recklessly, it was a very eye opening experience for me. It took me some time to realize that I truly found life, I was more motivated than ever to experience as much as possible. I found that life does not need to follow any specific path, there are no rules or guide lines for all people to follow, it is up to the individual to create the path they wish to follow. What some people may view as erratic, spontaneous, or “crazy”, a person can view as exactly what it they wish to be doing. Be it changing careers as often as possible, traveling the world, moving from place to place working odd jobs to live, or your simple daily routine of work and family, the fact of the matter is the individual makes those choices because they want to and choose to. So to sum up whatever it is exactly that I am saying here two things I know are sure and guide me in my life choices, one being that tomorrow truly is not a guarantee so live today the way you would like to go out, and two the people who do not support or at least see things from your point of view (regardless of if they agree or not) either A truly do not matter and/or B are so down on their own life that they wish to see others suffer with them.

    • Ash

      Wow. That’s an incredible story and as much as that must’ve been a harrowing experience for you, it sounds like it’s the case of when you come close to losing what you’ve got, you start to appreciate it all the more. It’s funny, because you always hear people saying, “I wish there was a guidebook to life,” or some other related phrase, when in reality, there kind of is. As you put it, “Get good grades go to college, graduate college, land a corporate job, find woman, marry woman, start family, and so on.” But that’s like traveling to a foreign country, and only using your Frommer’s – you’re only experiencing a small percentage of what’s out there, and most of the time, it’s not authentic. Am I saying we should deviate from the default life plan in order to live a life of authenticity? No, not exactly. But I’m certain that by doing so, you’ll be put on the fast train…that’s for sure. Thanks for coming by and sharing this with us.

  33. Ashley! Love this post and what I also love is the feedback and conversation it generated. I am so proud of you! This is great. Years ago I wrote a post on this content site about Naysayers… this reminds me a lot of that. But, I will call them DreamZappers from no one. That’s way cooler than naysayers. I left a job a few years ago because of the constant negativity. There were a few other reasons, but it was mainly to get out of that situation. When I left that job, I was met with more DZ. “How could you even quit a job because you aren’t happy?” My answer? “Because I wasn’t happy.” And of course I was told how stupid that was. When my former boss found out I was getting an MFA in creative writing, I was told she laughed as she touted to others, “Donna wants to be a writer…” Am I published? No. Am I writing. Yes-in-freaking-deed. That’s what matters. And, because I had the balls to get up and leave something I was unhappy with, all the pieces fell into place. I didn’t get to read all the comments here, but will go back. Sure there are some great, inspiring nuggets I need to see! I reposted this comment because I realized it may have been flagged since I included a link. Oops. I anyone is interested in reading my How to Avoid the Naysayers story, you can search my name at Associated Content. : )

    • Ash

      Why is it always the case that happiness is a secondary priority?! If we were to think about this objectively, doesn’t it seem like a no-brainer that happiness would be the number one priority? If you’re not happy, then the rest–money, houses, cars, whatever–are useless. It seems that we’ve got the formula backwards; by getting the money, houses, cars, whatever first, we expect happiness to follow, when in reality it should be the other way around. This isn’t a new idea by any means, but what baffles me is that despite this conscious knowledge, many still engage that path regardless. I’m glad to see you took a stand and make a decision based on what you knew to be true for yourself, versus what everyone else knows to be true. I’ve experienced that same form of condescension: “Oh, Ashley’s just picking up to do this or that now! How wonderful for her!” But the fact of the matter is that your life is no one else’s business, nor their place to comment. Thanks for dropping by, Donna!

  34. You know, a cordial “F-U” always works well for putting out the flame of intolerance :)

    People are meant to dream, baby.

  35. KARI

    Interesting blog. You know, there is a great little book called The Dreamzappers (by D. R. Wise) that I bought early in 2009. In a very topical way (in rhyme), it covers all the dreamzappers and then how to deal with them. In the end when it discusses why dreamzappers exist, the book states, “Plus, at times, it’s outlandish the dreams that one picks — So the Dreamzappers prune till reality clicks.” Dreams and goals are super but they’re just a bunch of fuzz if a dose of reality isn’t part of the endeavor. That’s not to say that I don’t think everyone should try to achieve his dream in life — quite the opposite. You have to go down that road and see if it’s a feasible route — or maybe take an adjacent lane. That’s what living — vs. simply surviving — is about.

    • Ash

      Thanks for the resource! I will absolutely check it out.

      And while I’m with you on going down the road, the concept of feasibility makes me scrunch my nose a little – apart from perhaps physical or mental limitations, isn’t everything technically feasible if we want it badly enough? I hate to sound like a naive optimist, but I honestly believe that if you want something, you go and get it. Period.

      That said, you make an excellent point about the distinction between living vs. simply surviving – I tend to think that there are many that aren’t aware of the distinction, and therefore it’s impossible to take action on something you don’t realize exists.

      Great comment, Kari

  36. Bloody brilliant article! Thank you so much for this! I recently announced to friends and family that I am writing a book and was met with utter astonishment. “Are you writing actual words or are they just gibberish?” was what I heard most frequently. At the time, I just replied calmly – while wanting to rip the questioner’s lips off – that yes, they were indeed actual words that I was writing. I think now, if asked similarly clueless a-hole questions, I will be better equipped to fire back with a better answer.

    • Ash

      That is precisely the kind of dream zapping commentary that I had in mind when writing this post – thanks for sharing that example. But what I hate most about DZs is this: There are many people who might have taken that feedback to heart, and might have lost a little bit of steam because of it. Worse, the feedback might have come before the person even began writing, which has the potential to stall the process entirely – especially if heard on multiple occasions. It’s comments like those that not only offend your ability as a writer, but your intellect as a person….and that’s so just not cool.

      • I can relate to the knock-you-down-before-you-even-get-started mentality. I actually lost a lot of steam myself a few years ago at the hands of a holier-than-thou professor who reveled in the authority she had to throw her weight around for no good reason other than the fact she could.

        From that point forward, I became even more sensitive to what would have otherwise been inconsequential remarks from others in my life, most of which had nothing whatsoever to do with my skills or talents. The residual damage is never as easy to transcend as the dream zappers would have you believe. But it is most definitely possible, if you’re stubborn enough.

        It is comforting to know, however, that so many of history’s most celebrated writers/artists/visionaries also experienced years of emotional turmoil at the hands of people who really had no business opening their mouths in the first place. Not that all of us will ultimately become world-famous in our endeavors, but at least it paints the whole dream-zapping experience in a more positive and beneficial light.

  37. I think the appropriate response to a Dream Killer is: ‘Thank you very much for your input, Mr./Ms. Dream Killer. I’m going to leave you now and stand over there by that nice, six foot tall, imaginary, fluffy bunny rabbit. Have a blessed day!’

    As Seal once said in song, “In a world full of people, only some want to fly…isn’t that crazy?”

    To dream is to fly. I wanna fly!

  38. Ash

    Love the lyric. Fantastic. You’ll be seeing that one spread around The Middle Finger Project for sure!

  39. jj

    I try not to be a dream zapper. I’m a realistic, practical person but I DO know to mind my own business. The problem I have with most dreamers I know are only able to pursue their dream if they are enabled by parents or the spouse who is working a conventional 9 to 5 job — the spouse may not be miserable in that job of course.

    I’m not putting an age limit on dreams but age becomes a factor unfortunately. Is it okay to pursue your dream if you can only do it with the support of someone else (usually your parents)? What if you’re pursuing your dream and then don’t have the means to raise a kid w/o parental or government support?

    • Ash

      I understand what you mean to say, but I simply don’t think that the support of another person is necessary. Many of the people in this community who have taken steps toward achieving location independence, for example, have done so first by continuing to work a typical 9-5 and then spending their free time on their other business, instead of watching prime time TV. I, myself, have no support from parents or significant others or what have you, but have always found a means to pursue what it is I want by thinking outside the box a little, and trying out different options. It’s about making reality work for you, not against you. I believe that anything can be accomplished, if you want it bad enough. You make it happen. Period.

  40. The DZer’s are one of the reasons why I periodically perform what I call a negativity cleanse in my life. I think you have some great suggestions for dealing with the DZ that I will definitely have to try out but sometimes I just get to the point where a cleansing is necessary…it’s like a garage sale for emotional baggage so to speak! Thanks for a good read, I’ll be sure to check back in once in a while and I am looking forward to checking out The Middle Finger Project! ~xoxo

    • Ash

      A cleanse is a great idea! (And unfortunately a sometimes necessary one.) Sounds like a process I’ll have to work toward implementing myself, because there are many negative things that can be cleansed, not just people alone. Thanks for the comment!

  41. Sharif

    Father Christopher, a Christian orthodox priest that I happen to know, who is in his late sixties, once mentioned that he opted for sexual abstinence when he was “signing up” for the priesthood back in soviet Romania (there was such option). Naturally, he deals with plenty of worldly folk in his everyday life. One of his Jewish acquaintances, a married man whom Christopher knew for years, tried to stick it to him saying: Father Christopher how can you possibly ignore women altogether? Are you gay? To which Father Christopher replied: Why should you ask? Are you available? I found that bit of verbal martial art technique quite useful in my own life as well.

    • Ash

      “Verbal martial arts” – love it. Sarcasm might be a form of passive aggressive behavior, but on the same note, I’ve found it to be particularly effective in terms of standing up for one’s self without coming off like a lunatic. :) Thanks for the story!

  42. I have managed to filter most of these people out of my life. The sad part is that the dream stealer usually ends up being a loved one most often. I’ve been called radical and crazy by family members for blowing them off and telling them I want none of their nonsense nay saying.

    • Ash

      Ah, loved ones. Most of the time they really do just want the best for you, and because of their status as a loved one, feel entitled to bathe you with their perspectives/worries/opinions. On the flip side, because of YOUR status as a loved one, you can feel entitled to ignore them!

  43. These are great, Ashley ! Sometimes people are just gonna be people and we have to keep moving on.

  44. The biggest defence against dreamstealers is friends and colleagues who support, encourage and approve big dreams. It’s the only thing that can keep you strong while your dreams are still dreams. Once you arn’t dependent on people who don’t have your best interests at heart you can dismiss the dreamstealers and move on.

  45. I really loved this article!! I’m starting to get some dreamzappers on my site – I learned the hard way that lowering myself to their level and arguing endlessly will give me nothing but grief. I’ll try to combine the mature advice with your clever retorts :)

    “They’re the ones who are are quick to find fault in your ideas, pointing out the immediate flaws and assuring you why your idea won’t work. They’re the ones telling you that you’re being unrealistic, that you’re just going through a phase, and that you’ll have to join the real world sometime.” – this perfectly describes so many people that have felt that they need do “do me a favour” recently. How nice of them to show me how I’m “wasting my time” by being ambitious.

    Does Akismet have a dream zapper setting? :) I’m debating with myself if I should go the Tim Ferriss route and just delete all of this nonsense in future. Our job isn’t to convince the world, but to share our thoughts with those interested in hearing them. If someone happens to not like the thoughts then the door is right there… I suppose a dismissive “thanks for your comment” with you knowing that it actually means might just be the simplest answer…

    • The “akisment dream zapper setting.” I love it. Submit a request to the guys at Automattic.

      I personally don’t publish comments that are especially negative or unproductive. Debate is fine, but when you cross the line into senseless “dream zapping,” I have no problem censoring a comment.

  46. Hey Corbett,

    Just wanted to share my appreciation of and for this article. If only I’d had such an important distinction so clearly laid out for as far back as high school, when dreaming up possibilities for building a lifestyle steeped in health, happiness, sense of purpose and functional success…

    Still a great point to be reminded to keep in mind when encountering the DZs of today and the echos of their nay-saying that sometimes ripple through my mind…



  47. Anthony

    I….effing….LOVE this article!!!!!!

  48. Hi. Great post man. You call them dream zappers I personally have more funny names to call this people. You are spot on when you say take it personal. Keep up with great articles.

    Paul V

  49. Interesting take on energy vampires. (Especially since it’s Halloween week) They vant to suck your bloood! I wear my invisible “Mal de ojo ” 24/7 and keep the faith knowing all is happening as I dreamt it to Be.
    Thank U fellow free spirit Ash :D whhhooohooo!

  50. Personally if you take the time to observe, then these are minutes of waist.
    if i don’t tell everybody my business, they can’t tell me NO.

  51. The other area where some people get let down is in the A for Action – the actions they talk about were not actions they themselves did, but rather what someone else did, or what the team did. Often a little coaching is required to get the candidate to understand that we want to hear about their actions.

  52. Great! Very entertaining article, and very empowering. Especially loved: “Why are you wondering? Looking for a vicarious thrill through me?” … Ouch!

    Funny enough, when I told my parents: “I’m going to sail across the Pacific with a man I met in a bar,” they said: “Well, okay, sweetie, we support whatever you want to do.”

    It was always the random strangers around the marina who made comments like: “You’re going to die out there.” What I could never understand is why they even cared? I could only guess that they were repeating the same tired soundtrack that played in their own heads. Their own fears repeated.

  53. In my experience, most of us zap our own dreams, with little help from others!

    Sad, but that’s what I see in the vast majority of people.

  54. “Who do you think you are that you can just go off and do what ever you want?”

    “Who do you think you are that you can’t?”

    That’s the best retort of them all. I think this alone zaps the dream zappers completely.

    Great article, Ashley, thank-you! Couldn’t agree more.

  55. Joe P

    You go girl!

    How did I find your post? I was searching for POSITIVE articles about acting on my dreams Hopes and desires, and YOUR article came up.

    I am just guessing here since I have only read this one post of yours, but if we did meet in person we would be instant friends.

    Thanks for the confirmation that the internet and life in general is not all scumbag soul-suckers…or as we used to call them in the Marines….Fun Sponges. Take care

Leave a Reply

Happy ! Thanks for reading.

RSS   |    Archives   |    Newsletter