Do dreams have an expiry date?

One of the best things about travelling is the excuse it gives you to pre-read. Off to Colombia? Read García Márquez. Off to Chile? Read Allende. Off to India? Read Rushdie. Off to Cuba, read bloody everything. It is a bit like being in a book club – it forces you to make time for something you enjoy (Sometimes I wish I was in a “going to the gym” club – perhaps that would stop me walking past my gym each day, head down, eyes averted)

I was lucky enough to study journalism at university and I loved it. We spent a long semester learning to write, a painful process I did not excel at (and have remained haunted by) but it did involve studying the work of people like Gabriel García Márquez and George Orwell, the latter one of England’s greatest. I fell in love with Chronicle of a Death Foretold then and I had Orwell’s six rules for good writing branded on my brain (“Good prose is like a windowpane,” they said, over and over again) I break those rules all the time but who cares? So did Orwell.

Myanmar was a great excuse to rediscover the maestro, especially as the Myanmar people think Burmese Days, Animal Farm and 1984 are a prophetic trilogy of the history of their country. I’m sure they’re right. I bought a copy of Orwell’s essays, on a Rangoon street, while I was there and, of course, you can’t read the man without feeling inspired or indignant about something, can you?

So what do you think about this? Orwell explains why people write: “Sheer egoism, desire to seem clever, to be talked about, to be remembered after your death, to get your own back on grown-ups who snubbed you in childhood… it is humbug to pretend this is not a motive and a strong one.” That is so accurate he probably should have kept it to himself eh? Just because something is true, doesn’t mean you have to run around and tell everyone.

What really got me thinking, though, were Orwell’s thoughts on dreams because they are not quite egotistical enough to be applied only to writers, but to all of us.

He said: “The great mass of human beings are not acutely selfish. After about the age of thirty they abandon individual ambition – in many cases, indeed, they almost abandon the sense of being individuals at all – and live chiefly for others, or are simply smothered under drudgery. But there is also the minority of gifted, wilful people who are determined to live their own lives until the end and writers belong in this class.”

Really? The majority of people just give up their dreams and resign themselves to a life of drudgery at the age of 30? And that is a good thing? Are you bloody kidding me?

I went for dinner with a friend last week to celebrate the fact she had just turned 30. She is a smart and talented, but also extremely hard-working, entrepreneur who has been successful in the last year having battled her way through her twenties in Bogotá. She has the same story as most Colombians and foreigners I know here – fight, fail, fight, fail some more, fight, fight, fight, fail again. By the time you finally get somewhere you are so battle-worn all you can say is “Gracias a Dios” (Thank God) a million times over and look back on the days when you price-compared empanadas and negotiated renting “the maid’s room” even though it was too small for a bed.

I asked my friend if she had any dreams left – or was planning just to rest on her laurels – and she gave me a strange look and said: “Of course. I just turned 30. It feels like I am just getting started.”

A few days later I spoke to another friend of mine, a 35-year-old Colombian singer, and he said exactly the same: “Some people get to 30 and put their dreams on a shelf. But it’s ridiculous. Dreams don’t come with an expiration date. If you believe in them, they will happen.”

In my country though, your mid-thirties is pretty much “retirement age” for a lot of artists. The charts are full of skinny, spotty teenagers and ex-Mickey Mouse Club “divas” who are barely old enough to drive. Those who do manage longevity have to be “legends” or “icons” which means if you haven’t made it by 30, you probably won’t.

Colombia is a bit different – possibly because success is harder to achieve (unless you are born into it) or because Colombians need more time to fight, more time to find the money they need to succeed, more time to finish their education, more time to leave home. If you look at the Colombian charts, the bias is definitely on the side of age. Perhaps Colombians respect the struggle a bit more.

I feel the same as my friends. My twenties were a mess – okay, there was a lot of fun, travel, work and moving around – but I didn’t have a plan. I certainly didn’t have dreams. Turning 30 was great because I realised two things – that, yes, I could have dreams and, no, I didn’t have to give a damn what anyone thought about them.

But figuring out your dreams is only the first step. It then takes years of love and sweat and grit and luck to make them happen. Surely it’s impossible to get all that done by the time you reach 30? And then you are supposed to just give-up your self-centred selfishness and become, well, beige? I cannot believe Orwell was right. I cannot believe it is only the minority who are “determined to live their own lives until the end” I mean, if that is the case, whose lives are the rest of them living?

Like this? You’ll love Colombia a comedy of errors.


  1. angloadventure

    I am 33. I think I am going through a mini-age crisis. My writing dreams have changed from “be a famous literary novelist/poet/photographer” to write some articles, some essays, write them well, submit them, and see where it goes.
    My travel dreams have only widened and I am impatient at wanting to see the whole world and balancing that between my need to make money and save for retirement.
    I don’t think the thirties mean it’s time to put dreams aside. I think it’s time to go about them more realistically. It is also a time to separate those who write for the ego, and those who write for pure joy. When a dream is realized, you kind of just want the next one.
    And you’re right: I don’t care what anyone thinks anymore. That’s the best thing about being over 30. The worst is that I have to decide whether I want kids. Like tomorrow. Also, I have less and less time for myself.

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Yes, I think when you read this it is pretty obvious I don’t have children. My friends with kids who will read this – if they have time – will be rolling their eyes and saying: “When does she have time to worry about this stuff. And why does she bother?” but having children doesn’t have to mean giving up on your dreams, does it? Like you say, you can be a bit more realistic and also realise that having a dream is not enough – you have to slog and slog and slog for it and that is the hard part.

      1. angloadventure

        *Nods* I hope having kids doesn’t mean you have to give up. I think it all depends on your ability to balance the two, to make enough time for your dreams and goals and your kids and your kids’ dreams and goals. But I don’t know either. I just know that it’s completely normal to feel this weird pressure, no matter how accomplished.

  2. Cassie

    I’m in my mid 30s have a baby (well, a four-year-old) and I think I’m more focussed and determined now than ever. If anything, I think it makes you more aware that you want the little spare time you have to write count. I was late coming to Orwell, and read his work when I had a newborn. It was thought-provoking and harrowing in that way only great literature can be. I still think about it, especially 1984, and shudder a little. But, I actually don’t entirely agree with him in this respect. I think there’s something else that drives creatives as well. It’s what drives artists to tear up their work, or writers to burn their journals. It’s the act of creating for arts sake. Where it doesn’t matter if anyone reads it, or sees it, you just keep going because you can’t imagine a life of not doing it. And in that place, there is no ego. And, for me, I think there’s something beautiful in that. Keep doing what you’re doing Vicky – I get the feeling that even without the blog and the readers, the book deal and the articles, you would always have a journal, always be scribbling. As long as you’re doing it for yourself more than anything else I think you’re on the right track.

    1. bananaskinflipflops

      Re: shuddering, I agree with you completely. That line in 1984: “We are the dead,” “You are the dead,” still gives me chills, I think it is one of the most frightening moments I have ever read. If you like Orwell, this article is fantastic – strange to know that the author of such a brilliant book was full of fear about how bad it was and struggled with it so much…… p.s You are probably right re: other motives. Think it was Kafka who ripped up and tried to destroy everything he ever wrote, was only a friend or someone who went against his wishes and got them out into the world. Writers are strange beasts, as are we all!

  3. Tigre

    “What happens to dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?” – Langston Hughes As you know, Toby and I are fervent dreamers and we are well-past 30. I never considered that dreams have an expiry – some have a shelf-life to be certain – but most can stand the test of time. It is interesting that, as a spinner of nightmares, Orwell would be so succinct about the death of dreams. And, indeed, he could only be referencing his own motivations for writing with what I consider a rather self-indulgent monologue – one that can actually serve to dissuade further reading of his works for if these are his reasons for writing, than we must consider the possibility that his novels are manufactured, calculated and engineered products to assure Orwell’s place in history. Somehow, I don’t believe that to be the case.

    I was fortunate enough to meet a lovely young Singaporean lady, Tay, a couple of years ago in Bogota. She and her partner, Val, embarked upon a global journey to collect – and promote – dreams. They are a truly inspirational couple whose belief that “If you can be whoever you want to be, if you can do whatever you want to do, if there are no limits – imagine what we all can achieve.” Dream On!

  4. Laura

    Is it weird to say this is the most inspirational article I’ve ever read? I’m Colombian and my constant torment is wondering when my dreams will come true and how am I going to make it. It’s quite ironic that my dream since I was a little girl is to study in England and live there, in the outskirts of London and here you are, in my country. I found your blog a month ago and thank you for loving my country I liked to think our hospitality was huge, but knowing what foreigners make me feel proud of being Colombian. If I saw you in the streets I would probably hug you and ask you if we could grab smoothing at Juan Valdez. I really love your articles, please make sure you never stop writing because it is evident how this is your true passion.

  5. cafealeman3690

    If one has not found that certain something that gets you up in the morning, that gives you a reason to love and break through barriers then that is a sin and a waste of a life. Success usually comes with sustained passion and focus on the thing you really love. Do not let any one get in the way of your dreams. The inner joy that comes with following your dreams is irreplaceable. You seem to be following your dreams and living life as it was supposed to be lived. You are an inspiration to others. Keep it going.

  6. Ceri

    “Really? The majority of people just give up their dreams and resign themselves to a life of drudgery at the age of 30?” – Unfortunately it’s true. 😦 I’d like to think I’m never going to give up on my dreams. I’m in my late twenties and only just getting started with my passions but my youthful idealism that existed when I was in my late teens/early twenties has definitely died down a bit in favour of realism. I think that’s where most people go wrong. Realism kicks in and so does cynicism, and generally people are just happy to get stuck in their ways and never look to change (especially in our homeland). I see my newfound sense of realism as the booster to make me achieve my dreams though. I know that just sitting around, waiting for things to happen to you is never the solution. 🙂

  7. colombiadiaries

    Dreams might change over the years, but they never expire. While most grown-up lives have some ‘drudgery’ in them, that doesn’t mean you have to give up your dreams. Embrace new challenges that life throws at you – ‘fight, fail, fight’ – but nurture your dreams and allow them to evolve, become real and grow new ones.

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