J.D. Moyer

sci-fi writer, beat maker, self-experimenter

“Follow Your Dream” Is Making Bankers Rich

Andy Allo stars in the new Wells Fargo commercial.

Andy Allo stars in the new Wells Fargo commercial.

The “follow your dream” mantra has a lot of power. Cal Newport over at Study Hacks spends a lot of time deconstructing the “follow your dream/follow your passion” narrative vs. a more realistic narrative of intensive practice and disciplined study leading to rewards. The two paths aren’t necessarily incompatible, but too much “follow your passion” and not enough “work hard and work smart for a very long time until you get really good” can lead to unrealistic expectations for young people.

In this ad (which I saw recently while watching the new Cosmos on Hulu) the “follow your dream” narrative is used to persuade young people to take out personal loans in lieu of employment or otherwise creating reliable income streams. The euphemism “manage her debts” is used, but the implication is that the young artist is going to borrow money (and pay interest to Wells Fargo). “Sydney” isn’t going to sell her gear or her car, and she’s touring instead of taking a 9-5. So where’s the money coming from? I wonder what kind of interest rate Wells Fargo typically offers young music artists?

I’m making a broad and loose connection here, but when a cultural mantra goes 100% mainstream (“follow your dream” is definitely in this category), you have to start asking who is really served by the philosophy? Maybe the mantra for young artists should instead be “demand government funding for the arts” or “50% minimum royalty rate by law”. Neither of those serves Wells Fargo.

Incidentally, the star of the commercial is the talented and charming Prince protege Andy Allo. She’s got a good financial plan: advertising residuals!


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  1. Osisho

    First, I’m a big fan of your blog, a long-time reader and first-time poster.

    Thank you so much for writing this. I’ve seen this for many years, in many different circumstances, and thought I was the only one seeing it. I’ve seen this “follow your dreams/passions” ideal most often directed at women and teens and I’ve seen many people become convinced to throw caution to the wind and engage in some very risky behavior, financial, sexual or otherwise.

    It’s a lot like the “if it feel’s good, do it” mentality that I still hear people quote from time to time. There is nothing wrong with pursuing one’s dreams (or doing something that feels good) but they can become quite destructive ideals when they are used as the actual criteria for making decisions.

    • Thanks for your comment Osisho. If you aren’t already familiar with Cal Newport’s blog (linked above) you’ll find some great content along similar lines.

  2. boo

    I would imagine that these loans are co-signed by mommy and daddy, so these ads probably are made with the idea that the spoiled offspring need this extra push to beg their parents to go deeper into debt for them.

    • My guess is that personally secured student loans and credit card debt make up the vast majority of Gen Y debt. They have it rough economically and large corporations are trying to squeeze them for the money they don’t have.

  3. As they say – the only place success comes before work is in the dictionary. The “borrow money and follow your dream” scenario simply encourages taking the easy way out – and bumping back into reality later – when you still have to go to work and now you’re in debt, too (and even further away from realizing your dream than when you started). With so many taking that easy path, it appears that these days the road less traveled by is also less far-fetched and dreamy than the road everyone else seems to be choosing.

  4. gibson

    When I saw that ad, it made me uneasy. As a musician, I also had a 30+ year career in accounting to back it up.

  5. I recently finished reading The Rebel Sell and your post reminded me of it. In the author’s own words: “Ultimately, this is a book about countercultural rebellion and why it has failed to deliver the type of progressive social change that it promised.”

    Their argument is essentially that the kinds of the ideals of being different, following your dreams, avoiding conformity, etc that came out of the 60s counter-cultural movement have ended up being co-opted by the “system” that they were meant to counter. That said, they argue that there is no such thing as a monolithic System. Fascinating read and if you wanted to see a blow-by-blow of how ideas like follow your dream end up serving bankers and the like, I highly recommend it!

    It was released as Nation of Rebels in the States.

    PS Sorry about commenting on an old post!

  6. such a great message! while I wouldn’t fall prey to it, I thanks you on behalf of all those who need to hear this. I put it in the category as people trying to hook others into pyramid selling schemes such as Amway, etc

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