The road not taken: The dilemma between dreams and practicality

Originally published in The HERALDO FILIPINO Volume 36 Issue 1

The idea of chasing our dreams always sounds good on paper, but harder to accomplish in reality. While following one’s dreams is almost always considered as the ideal path, most would argue that reality begs us to be practical – if not by force. This brings us into the long-debated dilemma between passion and practicality: where the prospects for graduating college and securing a job begins, and where dreams come to an end.

Finding trails of practicality and passion

To choose one over the other has never been an easy feat to survive. When you think of your monthly bills to pay, allowances to provide for your older siblings, and a stack of debts just to make ends meet – all while the economy is in a slump, you get stuck on the railroads of pursuing what you love and what you need in life as it happens. Add the culture of “utang na loob” in most Filipino households to the list, and the weight of choosing between passion and practicality hits harder than it should be.

This reality is never new for many Filipino breadwinners who are often forced to make the tough calls in setting aside their passions to put food on the table, help their siblings finish college, let their parents get daily doses of maintenance medicines, and more. All these that you carry under your back lead the most desired dreams to be put on halt – from dreaming to be an in-demand artist to settling for more financially demanding jobs or being a writer to choosing office works that are way more stable. As sustaining all our finances as breadwinners is not a walk in the park, we tend to settle for what pays well than what fulfills us more.

But with the pandemic’s unprecedented shift from traditional to digital grounds, it allowed some of us to try ventures that mix passion and practicality — from turning art forms to businesses, monetizing video game streaming, to pursuing vlogging as a career path while benefiting from them at once. These newly found hobbies turned into a much bigger calling for some but there’s this catch: more often than not, our families would tell us to try other socially-recognized paths – something that qualifies more to the society’s standards of jobs we can take pride in. Apparently, passion should not just pay you well: it should also meet their standards of some sort.

Against the current and under pressure

Realistically speaking, pursuing our passion seems daunting when our families — the supposed source of our support — becomes our harshest critic. This happens when our families have a specific path they want us to take – say, wanting us to go to a certain university or college, or pursuing a specific profession no matter what. We are taught from a young age that our families know what’s best for us, but this causes some serious conflicts for those who have their own path to take, and pressure to conform for those who don’t. Being family-oriented, we Filipinos are more likely to succumb to family pressure and give in to what they find acceptable, or burn ourselves out in an attempt to prove a point. This pressure is amplified as our educational system has also faced many adjustments and changes through the years, leading us to consider the expenses more, and be more aware of how much money is being put out to fund our studies.

Moreover, the pressure doesn’t end with family – as society also plays a huge part in directing our career paths. From current job demands, more socially lauded jobs and professions, to high-income jobs – the pressure to keep up with everyone else, especially our peers, all add to the burden of choosing. This hits harder especially when we see tales of success and failure all over social media, sometimes causing unrealistic expectations due to gaps in resources and privilege.

Furthermore, pursuing our passions also comes with the pressure of performing exceedingly well and delivering promising results just because we are doing the things we “love” – as if passion somehow immediately translates to skill. In the same vein, those who chose the more practical path are perceived to be more rational and rather detached to their jobs – as if doing it for money already means you can never love your job. Whether we choose to go after what we want or do what we have to do in the name of practicality, both choices mean going against the currents of the world.

What it really means to be courageous

All things considered, there is still passion in choosing practicality and practical reasons in pursuing our passions. To choose practicality over the other to help your siblings get through college does not make you in any way less courageous; in fact it’s the other way around. This goes the same for those who braved the norms and live through life as it happens – proving that there is a bountiful future that lies ahead with being unconventional.

When living in a society filled with expectations, it is a huge leap of courage and risk to follow your dreams and choose practicality. However, as the pandemic brings worse situations to many of us, not everyone rides in the same boat in these trying times to choose a desired career path: some might float so well, but some are closely sinking to survive.

To be courageous does not always need to be surmounting the currents of the world or putting something else on a standstill. There’s always this belief that for one to develop courage, it should always be choosing the hardest or the best. It’s like one has to go through curves, humps, and the highest obstacles to prove their courage. But here’s the untold truth: to simply choose can sometimes be the most courageous thing to do – whether it’s passion that braves the conventional or practicality that puts dreams on the sidelines for unconventional reasons.


In taking risks as part of our life, it takes more courage to push through this rather than regretting what we could have done. Choosing both passion and practicality requires courage, and choosing one over the other does not make our choices any less courageous. As long as we know where to look, we can find passion in choosing to be practical as much as practicality in choosing what we are passionate about. After all, courage is not just about walking the road not yet taken, but rather, having the courage to walk your own path.

Art by Juliana Octavo.

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