chapter1( The Phantom Dream )
The Role of Ambition in Web Development

January 18, 2016

Dreams are the greatest fuel to keep us going through the inevitable rough patches in our lives, but some dreams are false. Some dreams are fear in disguise. Some dreams don’t belong to us at all, but to the people we dread to disappoint.

Somewhere in our minds, our true dreams are waiting to be found, but they can often be veiled by these false dreams—these Phantom Dreams.

“Phantom Dreams? What is this nonsense?”

Web development was nowhere on my radar for the first 18 years of my life. When I was younger, I wanted to be an architect. I wanted to give life to skyscrapers and deliver modern marvels to the world. I wanted to…wait, no, I didn’t want any of that. I just wanted to play video games.

One of those video games was called Roller Coaster Tycoon. The premise was simple: Build an amusement park and make a bunch of money. I played this game so frequently that my father, always forward-thinking, suggested that I turn it into a career. I, still Little Mike, didn’t know what I wanted and certainly didn’t care about the future, so I went along with it.

“You didn’t answer my question. What is a Phantom Dream?”

You see, my father inadvertently created a Phantom Dream in my head. Over the years, I became convinced that I wanted to make a lot of money designing and building stuff for a living. Perhaps not coincidentally, that’s what I do now as a web developer (minus the money part), but that isn’t my dream, and never was.

My dream is to create things that change the world. Any dreams that exists outside of that area of my brain are Phantoms.

“Sounds like semantics to me. Why should I care about what kind of dreams I have?”

Let’s assume you’re a web developer. Maybe you’re successful, maybe you’re not. Regardless, you consider yourself component and you enjoy doing what you’re doing. That’s great, but what happens when you hit a wall?

What keeps you going when you can’t find your next client, or when you see your peers doing significantly better than you, or when you’re drowning in student debt?

“Dreams? Do dreams keep us going?”

No! Well, kind of. Phantom Dreams keep us going. At least, they do at first.

My first few years of college were tough, but I never complained. I was going to be a computer engineer! I was going to make so much money! My parents would be so proud! Whenever I would start to be crushed by the weight of hours and hours of work and studying, I just kept my eyes on the prize: The big bucks! The endless family vacations! The pride and the happiness!

“So…Phantom Dreams aren’t bad?”

Phantom Dreams are inevitable. They’re neither good nor bad—they’re just part of the human condition. However, they become a problem when they’re all you’ve got. When you don’t have real dreams to take the place of Phantoms when they dissipate, that’s bad.

Web development is always changing. There’s always new technology, new trends, new opportunities. It’s exciting, but it’s also unpredictable. At any time, your Phantoms may become insufficient. When that happens, you’ll either be left with genuine dreams…or nothing.

“W-what happens when you’re left with nothing?”

Fortunately, I don’t know what happens when you hit that valley; it hasn’t happened to me. It almost did, though.

About a year ago, I started taking the hardest classes I’ve ever had the misfortune of being forced into. That wouldn’t have been so bad if I’d been learning about stuff I gave a single damn about. That’s when I realized, 4 years too late, I absolutely did NOT want to be an engineer.

I almost gave up. I almost dropped out. My Phantom had disappeared and attempted to leave me alone to face the sudden emptiness. Fortunately, I had a dream that filled the empty spaces. That’s when I began to explore what I could accomplish long-term as a web developer, with or without a degree. Could a web developer change the world for the better?

“Sounds like a stretch. Change the world? Get real.”

The best dreams are the most ambitious ones. They’re the dreams that we won’t accomplish unless we work our butts off. They’re the dreams that yank us up by our collar when we fall. They’re the dreams that will flood the empty spaces of our mind when our Phantoms disappear.

My life is currently in flux. I’m hoping to finish my education online and get a degree I actually want for a much lower cost than my previous college. I’m also timidly looking for work, reluctant to take on anything that may interfere with school.

Through it all, though, I’m clutching to my dream. I will create things that change the world. That’s why I wake up earlier every day. That’s why I’m networking more and more. That’s why I created this blog.

Be ambitious. Find your dreams—your real dreams. Most importantly, don’t let the Phantoms catch you by surprise.