On Chasing Rainbows - Dreams vs Fantasies

I've met a number of rainbow chasers over the last number of weeks. I'm sure you have too. They're all around us. Their head is in the sand, in the clouds...it's anywhere other than where it matters most. 

I know the type. I used to be one.

I used to chase rainbows, those fantasies we're all taught to chase. But fantasies aren't our dreams. They're ideas we know deep down aren't real but we kid ourselves into thinking they'll solve our problems...forever.

Conversely, dreams are desired future states that are *gasp* plausible. In what you can picture, you're still you, only better and more fulfilled. It's not perfect, but it's the good life you aspire to. It's a potential future state of what's real.

Here's a short list to help illustrate the contrast:


  1. A future state that is perfect. Nothing is messy or out of place. 
  2. We lust after what we can picture. It's surreal. It's our life, super hero-style. 
  3. We want to achieve it because of how others will perceive us.
  4. The fantasy often focuses on aesthetics, the unreal, the empty pursuits.
  5. Our fantasies are extrinsically-driven. It's more about what we could capture or acquire than what we feel we can create.
  6. We chase fiction.


  1. A future state that's more in line with who we are and what we care about.
  2. We see ourselves achieve a goal that will make us see ourselves differently.
  3. We want the personal satisfaction that will come with achieving this dream.
  4. Our dream focuses on what we care about most, the feeling of being "complete", purposeful.
  5. It's intrinsically-driven. It's more about what we create than what we acquire. It's a state that's true to our selves.
  6. We focus on a potential future reality.

We Know The Difference 

From a young age, we know the difference between make believe and the real world. We use our imagination to entertain ourselves and to play with others. Fantasy is a fun form of escape. We get to be and do whatever our imagination can conjure up, knowing that we'll get back to more practical everyday matters once the fun is over. Fantasy is, well, fantastic as an escape from the everyday.

We also start to dream about our lives at a young age too. We think about what we want to be "when we grow up". We dream of being an athlete, a fire fighter, a ballerina, a painter, a builder, a parent. The list is as varied as what we experience as children. Dreams tend to be an extension of ourselves and of what we think could be possible in our lives. 

Right or wrong, dreams have boundaries. Fantasies don't. But despite the built-in limitations, dreams are realizable...even big ones. Fantasies can only be chased. They'll never materialize.

Fantasies are about shortcuts to nowhere. Dreams are just as much about the journey as they are about the destination. Tweet This!

We Easily Forget the Difference

Don’t go chasin’ waterfalls
Please stick to the rivers and the lakes that you’re used to
I know that you’re gonna have it your way or nothing at all
But I think you’re moving too fast

Ah c’mon
I seen a rainbow yesterday,
But too many storms have come and joined
Leavin’ a trace of not one God-given ray
Is it because my life is ten shades of gray
I pray, all ten fade away seldom praise Him for the sunny days
And like His promise is true only my faith can undo
The many chances I blew to bring my life to anew
Clear and blue and unconditional
Skies have dried the tears from my eyes, no more lonely cries
My only bleedin’ hope is for the folk who can’t cope
With such an endurin’ pain that it keeps them in the pourin’ rain
— TLC "Waterfalls" (1994)

In today's world, we can easily forget the difference between the two. As TLC's 1994 song titled "Waterfall" suggests, we live in a time where we can become convinced that what we have in life and the dreams we aspire to aren't enough.

We start to believe that we have to chase some fictitious version of ourselves:

  • Perfect looks
  • Perfect stuff
  • Perfect partner/kids
  • Perfect lifestyle
  • Perfect...everything

Advertisers play a big part in blurring the lines between our dreams and our fantasies. They relabel fantasies as dreams. They convince us that we'll achieve nirvana by buying their product or service. 

When we capture the rainbow by buying what they're selling, we don't get what we thought we'd get: a happier version of ourselves. So what do we do? We chase the next big promise, the next rainbow. This cycle fits the definition of insanity to a T.

Advertisers need to play that shell game with us because a lot of what's involved in actually achieving our dreams don't involve their products. Our dreams are more real than any fantasy they can peddle. 

We get to have a taste of a dream every time we move towards it with some action, some step that gets us just a little bit closer. Best of all, we get to feel the satisfaction of working towards it because fulfilling a dream is just as much about the journey—the work it takes to get there—as it is the finish line.

Working on our dreams feels good. It feels real. It feels like joyful. It feels like we're working on a better, truer version of ourselves. And fulfilling a dream makes us believe we can keep dreaming and achieving them, one by one. Dreams are the true stuff of life because: 

You can't live your fantasies but you can, and should, live your dreams.

Image credit/copyright: Rosemary Ratcliff / freedigitalphotos.net