One thing in the spiritual community that makes me nuts is this…
Don’t ever let go of your dreams! Always follow your dreams no matter where they take you!
…and other such platitudes.
One of the reasons this makes me nuts is that telling people that they should always hold on to their dreams, no matter what can actually do more harm than good. Because let’s be honest, not every “dream” we have is realistic or even attainable.
A little real talk that is going to be a little harsh…
Not every dream that you have is meant for you. They aren’t all good ideas. Many of them will just NEVER happen, at least not the way that you are hoping, or dare I say, dreaming.
But here’s the saving grace of your dreams. Most of the time the dream that you have, that one that you probably already know isn’t possible, will lead you something else along the way. The trick is to know when you found what you either really needed or really wanted and then let that initial dream go.
Or it may just be that you need to shift your dream a little.
The problem with “don’t ever let go of your dream” is it creates a boundary or expectation that says “This is what you said you wanted, this is what you’ve been wishing for and working toward, so you have to keep going otherwise you’re a failure!” You know that’s what you think is on the other side of the “don’t let your dream go” coin.
This is why goal setting and goals based on dreams are bullshit.
When we create a goal, we create a win/lose scenario. Either we win, and we’re happy and feel awesome if we achieve our goal. If we don’t, or we reach a point where we have to let it go or even just change it, we end up feeling like we lost or failed and we end up feeling shitty.
This is what happens when your dreams and your goals become one, and you find yourself getting nowhere with them. Sometimes the dream is dead…or was stillborn from the start…and we just refuse to let it go. That leads to months, years, or even a lifetime of trying to reach goals that we either never achieve or that really don’t leave us feeling fulfilled.
So I want you to know that it is OK and PERFECTLY FINE to let a dream go.
It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been working toward it or how long you’ve said you wanted it. Just because you decided 10 years ago that you were going to be a rock star and so far that hasn’t panned out, that doesn’t mean you still have to be a rock star! You don’t have to keep going after that dream if you’re feeling miserable in the process.
Maybe our would-be rock star gets a job at a guitar shop teaching kids how to play the acoustic guitar part-time to pay the rent. She LOVES going to work! She gets such a high from watching a 12-year-old master their first song. At the end of a day at work, she goes home with a smile on her face.
And then she has to go play a gig at a bar. She jets home, eats a quick dinner, gets changed, grabs her gear, and heads off to meet her bandmates for a quick soundcheck before their set. When she gets there she’s happy to see her friends, but when she goes inside to start setting up and sees the stage is small, the bar is a shithole, and there are five people inside and nobody waiting to get in, she’s miserable. That high from before is gone, and she’s looking around asking herself “What the fuck am I doing…when is this ever going to get better?!?”
It may not be that her dream is really to be a rock star. It may be that her real dream is to earn a living doing something with music that she loves. And she LOVES doing her lessons at the guitar shop. So maybe it’s time to shift her dream and realize it’s right in front of her and she’s already doing it!
How do you know it’s time to let a dream go?
It makes you fucking miserable!
Doing the stuff you have to do to reach your dreams and goals is like pulling teeth. You get up in the morning feeling horrible about having to do the work, and you do everything in your power to avoid it, even if it isn’t intentional.
The fantasy is better than the reality.
When you think about it, journal about it, and fantasize about your dream it all FEELS great. When you actually start to look at what you need to do to make it happen you feel overwhelmed. When you face the facts around how long it might take to get there, you start to feel really small in comparison to the massive mountain in front of you that you have to climb. Some dreams are naturally going to take longer than others, but if you look at yours and you feel like it should have happened by now, chances are the signs have been in front of you the whole time that you need to change direction, but you’ve been ignoring it.
Your dream isn’t even your dream.
Sometimes the dream we’re working so damn hard to achieve isn’t even our own dream. It may be something we’re doing to make someone else happy or because we feel we have to do out of obligation. Its like when you go to school to be a doctor because your family is full of doctors, and you’re expected to do the same thing, but really you want to be a chef. You spent many years and hundreds of thousands of dollars working toward being a doctor, but the thought of doing that for the rest of your life is emotionally draining. When you spend all day Sunday in the kitchen cooking for the week ahead (because, you know, too busy trying to be a doctor to cook for yourself), you’re completely in heaven.
You basically have stopped caring.
If you start to notice that your interest has pretty much disappeared and your level of care around how much effort you put into your dream is close to zero, it’s time to let it go.
After you go through mourning the death of your dream, how do you actually let it go?
Revisit your initial “why.”
If you go back to the initial point in your life when you decided that this dream was what you wanted, do you still feel the same way about it…or better? If you don’t then you need to actually double check your “why.” Has that changed for you? It’s possible that your initial “why” was askew and when you look at it now with some distance you see things more clearly, and you realize that you never really were on the right path to begin with. When you reconnect or shift your “why” it’s easy to let that dream go.
Remember that you are not your achievements.
Some people refuse to let go of a dream because if they don’t achieve this goal that they have been so invested in, especially if they’ve been public about it, they will look like a failure. The simple fact is that your achievements do not define who you are. There will be many, many people in your lifetime who will love you and care for you regardless of your accomplishments. People who only like you because of your professional accomplishments probably don’t actually value you as a person. I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re only hanging around in hopes that you’ll be able to help them with their dreams and goals somehow one day.
Redefine what success means to YOU.
Again, you’re probably following someone else’s definition of success just like you may be following someone else’s dream. If you’ve been chasing success, and that has always been defined by the number of degrees you have, but you honestly don’t feel a real sense of success in life when you look at all your academic achievements, then you need to ask yourself who planted that definition of success in your head. It could be something from your upbringing, from your family or because of the line of work you’re in. But if you feel deeply in your heart that success would be doing something every day to make another person’s life better, then maybe your degree chasing isn’t helping (unless, of course, making another person’s life better involves being a teacher, and you need those degrees for that purpose).
Realize that letting go is a way to receive.
Sacrifice doesn’t mean giving something up. It’s a way to make room for something better. Letting go of your dream that isn’t working, that doesn’t feel good, that maybe isn’t even yours is actually an act of self-love and a signal to the Universe that you are ready to make room for something better that will actually be in alignment with what you want.
And it’s OK to be “dreamless” for a while.
If you’ve always had a dream or goal that you’re chasing or identifying through when you realize that you need to let a dream go it’s perfectly fine to go without for a while. Sometimes just not having a dream to chase is the best way to find the dream that’s been chasing you!
I don’t want you to think that I’m saying you should ALWAYS give up on your dreams. I just know from personal experience with my own dead and dying dreams, and working with clients dealing with the same issue, that hanging on to the “never let go of your dreams” mentality can do more harm than good and can keep you from doing things that could actually make you feel happy and fulfilled.
There are times when you’ll know that a dream is worth working toward. Just because it’s hard doesn’t mean it’s impossible…but sometimes it does. And you’ll know in your heart which is which when you take the time to really sit with yourself and notice the difference. The problem is that we tend to hide behind those dreams as a way to insulate ourselves from the truth of where we’re headed.
Letting go of a dream that isn’t working only means you can make room for something better!