We begin with a dream. It might be a pipe dream to some, a lofty one to others, but to us it is a vision and we create it from desire.
That desire is often seated in purpose. Our vision might be to entertain, to enlighten, to aid or to release. It might be to shed light on a social issue or challenge. It might be to work through an issue or challenge. Whatever fuels our dream is unique to us, and typically is very personal and private, meaning that our specific dream wouldn’t fuel the passion and discipline necessary to make that dream a reality in others. But it does inspire those things in us. The desire to see that dream fulfilled makes us determined. It takes us to places we didn’t even realize we could or would go. We forfeit other things, make sacrifices and dare to dream when those without that purpose fueling their actions would have given up and moved on.
So what happens to us when our dreams die? We who are dedicated and devoted and have made those sacrifices and forfeited for them?
Some of us get stuck right there. We get frustrated and angry. We give up and stew in the fact that we gave all and still our dreams were denied. We stew over the unfairness of it all, and sometimes, sadly, we despair.
Our total focus has been on making the dream a reality, and when we accept that it isn’t going to happen, then despair sets in. Some slide into that pit of despair and move no further. They elect to replay the events leading up to the death of the dream over and over and over. And that becomes their new reality. They’re stuck, unable to progress further and blame anything and everything remotely possible that can be blamed for their loss. But not once do they move ahead, and it doesn’t occur to them to continue to dream, to find a new vision. To invest elsewhere.
So some of us get stuck on this hamster wheel and some of us despair, and both of those reactions, while human for a time, become our undoing. Both cause us to still in the water and prevent us from reaching our potential and fulfilling our purpose.
The death of a dream is never easy. It can be vicious and merciless, taking a toll on us physically, emotionally and spiritually, and the greater the impact on us, the more challenging it becomes. Simply put, the death of a dream can for some be a horrendous obstacle to overcome. Yet we know the alternative to doing the work required to overcome it. We can do that work or we can settle in for a long stay on the hamster wheel—spinning and spinning and getting nowhere—or be stuck in despair, which no one else needs to bother to describe to us. We’ve all endured it on something and know how difficult it is to reside there.
Spinning and despair—who of sound mind could desire more of either? Comparatively speaking, the work looks like a picnic. It isn’t, of course. The work makes demands on us—some welcome, some not—but we work with the cards we’re dealt. And so we accept that this dream is dead and we decide spinning and despair isn’t for us. We opt to mourn its passing and move on. But move on to what?
And here is where many of us encounter and unfortunately where many of us endure the second place of getting stuck. We flounder and seek and get mired in the muck. We just can’t see what’s next in our lives.
Often, the process in the death of a dream thus far is a variation of:
Confusion → Denial → Disappointment → Frustration → Anger → Grief → Acceptance
And all that leads us right back to . . .
This is a different confusion. It isn’t about where you’ve been. It’s about where to go next. What to do next. What is our new dream? Typically, we’ve been so invested in the old one that we resist letting go, and until we do let go, moving on is impossible. We’re so busy looking back that any forward movement we make has us stumbling into potholes, tromping through mud puddles, veering into ditches and bouncing off brick walls.
We’re running into more obstacles because we’re so busy looking back that we’re not looking forward, ahead to what could be right in front of us.
Once we grasp that—for clarity of vision we must look ahead not behind—we have the first major opportunity for growth and new dreams.
So when a dream dies, we work through it until we reach a point where we accept that what we dreamed is in the past and now we must look ahead and create new dreams.
This requires faith. In our judgment, our abilities and our purpose. And faith can be scarce because we believed we were doing what we were meant to do last time, and that didn’t work out. This is where character comes in.
Character and an unshakable faith that our perspective and view is limited and if we were able to back off and get a broader view we would see that a greater purpose lies ahead. Maybe our dream was too limited. Maybe our growth expanded our opportunities and our abilities exceeded our original dream. Maybe the original dream was a stepping-stone preparation for more. We had to gain experience and insights that now can aid us in achieving our true purpose. Wait a second, you say. If our original dream, the one that died, was a steppingstone, then it wasn’t a failure but a path.
That is correct. And it means that the purpose in our first dream was fulfilled. Perhaps fulfilled in a way far different than our vision of it, but fulfilled in the broader sense of God’s vision of our life’s purpose. Were we not told that Jesus would prepare a table? That he would straighten the crooked places? That he would make a way where none existed?
Perhaps we would better serve both God and ourselves to view this “death of a dream” as a pitstop to His dream for us. Or as a visit to “a door” versus “the door” of our purpose. Perhaps this door was the path to our door. An interim door.
Our challenge is that we don’t have perfect perception or understanding—not of God’s plans or even of our own. So faith that we’re taking steps toward our divine destiny and doing our part to envision dreams and manifest them in reality has to be factored into the process. We dream what we believe are huge dreams. Perhaps about little things but ones that make huge differences, if not to the masses, then to specific individuals. And the importance of those dreams should never be underestimated.
Yet too often we are mired and stay mired in confusion about what to do next. We flutter and fret and we don’t do the one thing we should do:
We don’t stop and look at what’s left.
The key to the next step is in knowing what’s left after the death of the dream and in being grateful for the good in those things. We don’t look for what we’ve gained in the attempt. Being mired in mourning a loss, we focus on the losses and not the gains. That doesn’t make way for gratitude of what is still there. What we now have that we lacked before the attempt at the original dream. Gratitude and appreciation are essential to balance and harmony. We all know of this direct connection, this immutable link, and yet we often fail to exercise discipline to seek our gains and we still wallow in the mire.
When we look at what’s left, we see that which has endured—the gains. And when we’re grateful for the gains, we’re grateful for the good that has endured. When we acknowledge its value to us and others, then that is our new direction. To create more that will endure and be good—blessings to us and others—and that is the foundation upon which we create our new dreams. It’s solid and firm. It’s endured. It’s good and worthy of our investment. Worthy of our next leap of faith.
With all of the changes in the world around us, I receive a lot of questions that ask what offers the safest harbors right now. These are natural questions. Human questions. But ones that separate you from the reason that you are you. The truth is there are few safe harbors for people of faith. But that shouldn’t bring distress. There never have been any save one: faith itself.
We all are who we are for a purpose. As a writer, I know this in the way only one with a lifetime of experience can know and prove it. A writer’s purpose is to share insights on the human condition. Some are tasked to experience and write stories of their trials and challenges and how they overcame them constructively. To light a path for others lost on their journeys to follow. Some are tasked to shine light on our collective monsters in the closet so that we better understand and overcome those challenges. Some writers find their purpose is to write to entertain, offering others a reprieve and respite from the challenges in their lives. Some are to comfort, inform, enlighten; to prove there’s light at the end of specific dark and seemingly endless tunnels, or to offer perspectives that shift thinking and open minds that were closed.
The reasons and purposes are as unique as the writers themselves and defined more specifically by them.
So does the death of a dream mean the writer stops writing?
Maybe. Maybe not.
Did the desire and purpose for writing endure? Is it good?
If so, then perhaps the death of this dream isn’t a death at all but merely the completion of it. Perhaps death is a redefining of the dream. Honing it. Going from the interim door to “the” door. Making way for the old dream to expand into a new dream.
The answer to whether or not you continue to write, or to continue writing what you have been writing (or doing whatever you’ve been doing in your life)—your original dream or your next dream—lies in those enduring gains. What is good and worthy of your purpose—your time and life.
The seeds for “what’s next” spring from there. With focus and attention, looking ahead with an open mind and a dedicated, disciplined heart, those seeds sprout and you get a clearer, sharper view of the path ahead.
You’ll dare to dream again and to embrace this new direction. Walk down this new road with a spring in your step, believing on faith that what is ahead is better for all that you’ve learned on the journey through the first dream. You’re wiser, more adept, looking at the bigger picture and broader view. Your abilities are expanded, you have experience and expertise now you lacked then, and you’re more flexible. Your perspective has changed. All these things and more are the natural outgrowths—your rewards, if you will—for pulling yourself out of the mired muck and daring to invest again.
For daring to observe the view and, in faith, seek your next dream.