The Idealistic Dreamer: Risking Everything with No Plan B

dreamer roadThere are two types of dreamers: the realist and the idealist. While a realist sets an achievable goal, an idealist is more likely to pursue a pipe dream: “an idea or plan that is impossible or very unlikely to happen.”1 They can become obsessed with their dream, overestimate their chances of success, and make foolish decisions. An idealistic dreamer is often willing to risk everything—no matter what the cost or consequences—and has no plan B.

An idealist is “someone who believes that very good things can be achieved, often when this does not seem likely to others.”2 They imagine the “perfect life” they want to have and set out to achieve it. Unfortunately, not all that the mind preconceives can be achieved. Some dreams are pipe dreams that can never be realized no matter how hard a person tries.

The bigger the dream, the more passion and excitement it can awaken in a person’s heart. A strong desire to achieve one’s dream is important because it propels a person to take action. However, when an idealist has a dream, their desire to make it a reality can go beyond normal ambition. Their dream can turn into an obsession: “an idea with which the mind is continually and involuntarily preoccupied.”3

Obsession with a dream can impair a person’s ability to think logically. Consumed by their desire to achieve their dream, the idealist will make foolish decisions. Common mistakes include spending all their money, borrowing money from family or friends, and quitting their job or refusing to apply for one. The idealistic dreamer fails to consider the consequences if their dream doesn’t come true.

It is natural to be inspired by stories of people who achieved what seemed impossible. These stories give the idealist hope that their dream can come true too. However, for every story of someone who achieved the impossible, there are countless untold stories of people who tried and failed. Although the idealist may be right that their dream is possible, it may not be that probable.

An unrealistic hope can cause the idealist to misjudge their chances of success. They may overestimate their abilities, not realizing they could face competition from people with even greater abilities. They may engage in magical thinking: the idea that anything is possible if you believe it will happen.4 Although it is important to have hope in the pursuit of a dream, obsession with a pipe dream can be a way to avoid facing reality.

If the idealist becomes “high” on hope, and confident that their dream will come true, they are often willing to risk everything to achieve it. The pursuit of a dream always involves some degree of risk; however, an idealistic dreamer is like a gambling addict in a casino. The gambler risks all his savings to win big, but if he isn’t lucky at the card table, he will lose it all. Like the gambler, the idealist takes a large risk to achieve something with a low chance of happening. Sadly, the more that they risk, the more they are likely to lose in the end.

In contrast to the idealist, a realist “hedges” against risk.5 A realist considers options that will increase their future alternatives. For instance, if they work part-time while pursuing their dream, they won’t run out of money as quickly. A realist makes choices that will increase their future alternatives, so they can still have a quality life if they decide to stop pursuing their dream.

A realist can still “dream big”, but they are not willing to risk everything if the dream has a low chance of coming true. Instead, they will pursue their dream part-time until they have a greater chance of success. Later, if they pursue their dream full-time, they set a deadline, and are ready to implement plan B once the deadline passes. In contrast, an idealist has no deadline for achieving their dream, and continues to pursue it at all costs. They only think about plan B if they have no other choice, usually when they run out of money.

When a person has a dream, it gives meaning and purpose to their life. Whether a realist or an idealist, the greatest danger in pursuing a dream is to turn it into an idol: “a statue … worshipped by people who believe that it is a god.”6 Although no one makes their dream a literal god, it can become a substitute. A dream becomes an idol when it is all that a person lives for, when they exalt it above and beyond any other person or priority in their life. If the dreamer idolizes their dream, the desire for its fulfillment can become linked to their identity and self-worth. In the end, if the dream proves unattainable—and they spent many years of their life pursuing it—their identity and self-worth may implode.


  1. Cambridge Dictionary, s.v. “Pipe dream.” Accessed August 25, 2017,
  2. Cambridge Dictionary, s.v. “Idealist.” Accessed August 25, 2017,
  3. Mosby’s Medical Dictionary, Eighth edition, s.v. “Obsession.” Accessed August 22, 2017,
  4. Miller-Keane Encyclopedia and Dictionary of Medicine, Nursing, and Allied Health, Seventh Edition, s.v. “Magical thinking.” Accessed November 17, 2017,
  5. Investopedia, s.v. “Hedging for Beginners: A Guide.” Accessed August 28, 2017,
  6. Collins Dictionary, s.v. “Idol.” Accessed September 7, 2017,

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Obsession with Perfection: Black Swan (2010)

black_swan_xlgAn obsession is “an idea or thought that continually preoccupies … a person’s mind.”1 In Darren Aronofsky’s Black Swan (2010), Nina Sayers (Natalie Portman) has a dream that goes beyond a passionate pursuit. She is obsessed with reaching “perfection” as a ballet dancer. Tragically, her obsession with perfection drives her insane.

When a person is obsessed with one thing, other aspects of their life become neglected. Nina’s obsession with perfection has stunted her emotional maturity. Her mother calls her a “sweet girl”, and her bedroom reflects it: Filled with stuffed animals, it is decorated like a bedroom for a young girl. When Nina wins the role of the Swan Queen, she phones her mother, and, in a tone of voice like a little girl, she says, “He picked me, Mommy.” Nina has such a singular focus on her dancing, she has not matured into a normal adult.

Nina’s passion for dancing goes beyond a natural desire for excellence. Thomas Leroy (Vincent Cassel) tells her, “Every time you dance I see you obsess, getting each and every move perfectly right.” For Nina, achieving perfection is something she believes is possible, telling Thomas, “I just want to be perfect.” Unfortunately, perfection is unattainable because there is always room for improvement.

Achieving perfection as a dancer is Nina’s path to becoming complete as a person. This marks the difference between passion and obsession: Passionate people can pursue an interest with intensity, but they have an identity apart from their passion. In contrast, obsessed people find their sole identity in the object of their obsession. They feel incomplete until they achieve their dream.

Nina’s dream of playing the Swan Queen does not make her whole and complete. The pressure of the dual role puts a tremendous strain on her mental and emotional health. Thomas assures her that she can play the White Swan, but seeing her struggle during rehearsals, he has doubts about her ability to play the “evil” and “lustful” Black Swan. This leads to a doubling of Nina’s character in the film. Her personality splits in half, and a Black Swan is born. On numerous occasions, she has hallucinations of her doppelganger: in a long passageway, in the bathtub, and in the mirror at the studio. In a later scene, she imagines feathers growing from her back and her feet becoming webbed like a Swan. Nina is now suffering from insanity: “a mental illness of such a severe nature that a person cannot distinguish fantasy from reality.”2 Her mother can see that she is mentally ill. The night of the performance, she tells her, “You’re sick … This role is destroying you.” The pressure of playing the Swan Queen causes Nina to become separated from her true self.

In the obsessive pursuit of her dream, Nina unleashes dark forces inside her that she cannot control. Initially, she is like the White Swan: humble, bashful, and kind. As the story unfolds, she becomes the Black Swan: envious, paranoid, and violent. In the climax of the film, she discovers that she stabbed herself with a shard of glass. Yet instead of going to the hospital, she finishes her performance with blood oozing from her stomach. In the final scene, she achieves her dream, telling Thomas, “I was perfect. I felt it.” Then she pays the ultimate price: Nina loses consciousness, and the screen fades to white. Her obsession with perfection ends in death.


  1. Oxford Dictionaries, s.v. “Obsession,” accessed January 25, 2015,
  2., s.v. “Insanity,” accessed January 25, 2015,

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