We all have dreams about what we want in life, particularly pertaining to our career, family, relationships, lifestyle, health or finances. There’s certainly no shortage of experts to turn to for advice on how to achieve those dreams. Adopt a proverbial quote– “never give up”, “follow your dreams”, “do what you love and the money will come” – and you’ve got a daily dose of motivation.
But what happens if you do and say all the right things and your dreams still don’t come true? Years ago, when I was working in the corporate market, I quickly catapulted from sales to management to the highest executive positions. Before I was thirty, I had achieved more than I ever expected in my career. So naturally, when I switched gears and started writing books, I assumed I would have a similar path to success which included a big publishing deal, a NYT bestselling book and a spot on The Oprah Show. None of those happened. After years of trying, I learned some big lessons about what to do when your dreams don’t come true.
Celebrate every accomplishment
Sometimes we’re so focused on the ultimate goal that we gloss over all the other successful moments. I may not have gotten on the NYT best seller list, but I wrote and published three books, had an Amazon best seller and sold tens of thousands of books. Most importantly, hundreds of readers thanked me for helping them, which was the reason I wrote the books in the first place. It’s fine to have a big dream as your ultimate goal but celebrating accomplishments along the journey is equally as important. Some call that being in the moment. I call it being happy.
What society considers the pinnacle of success may not be the success that your spirit is calling for you. When I first got the idea to write books, my only motivation was to make a difference and help people be happier, healthier and more loving. Then book industry experts told me I needed a global platform. Audiences told me I needed to be on Oprah. Others told me I should be on TV. Very quickly, the outside noise eclipsed my original motives, which resulted in disappointment at every turn. Had I held on to others expectations of my dreams, I might have stopped writing completely. I listened to my heart instead of my head because my head was chasing someone else’s version of my dream.
If you’re attached to winning the lottery to be happy or becoming a ballet star when you have the body of a sumo wrestler, then it’s time to have a reality check with yourself. It’s okay to fantasize about that one in a million chance dream but only if you treat it as a fantasy. A realistic dream is something you have control over such as getting a degree or going on an African safari or moving to another state. Granted, some realistic dreams are a bit more challenging because you do not have complete control over them, particularly if you’re in a creative arts field. For every famous actor, there are thousands of others with the same drive, talent and belief in their success who didn’t become famous. That’s why it’s so important to acknowledge your accomplishments and continue doing what you love just because you love it. Yes, you might have to find other means of income, but that’s all part of your unique journey. Don’t compare it to anyone else’s.
Stop rowing upstream
When you try too hard and you’re not making progress, it could feel like you’re rowing a boat upstream. Instead of fighting the big fight day after day, stop pushing so hard and let the river of life choose the course for you. Yes, you may get stuck in the mud on the bank sometimes, but if you’re patient, a strong wind may eventually direct you to a new route. The easiest dreams in my life seemed to manifest without much thinking or pushing on my part. My first career took off organically even though my first job was not the job I wanted. Later on, in that same career that I didn’t want, an unsolicited opportunity brought me from NY to CA (where I always wanted to live). When I was getting loads of rejections from book agents and publishers, new self-publishing platforms that weren’t even available when I first started writing allowed me to easily get my books out into the world.
Change your mind
Just because you have a dream one day, doesn’t mean you have to keep it forever. It’s okay to change your mind or change your dream without a reason, no matter what others might think or say. Sometimes, however, life does gives you a reason. Stuff happens (good and bad) that change priorities – falling in love, a death in the family, a promotion, divorce, loss of a job, a move, marriage, kids, illness. As most young women, I naturally expected I would have children, but then in my early 20’s, my parenting duties forcefully kicked in as my own parents suffered years of debilitating illnesses. By the time I was thirty, my husband and I knew we didn’t want the responsibility of raising kids. The news of our chosen childlessness caused a lot of flak from friends and family, but we listened to our hearts with no regrets.
In just about every “how to” article I’ve ever written, I end up landing on gratitude. Not for a lack of new ideas, but rather because gratitude is the lynchpin for happiness at every level. Being thankful keeps your attention on the good, the positive and the present with the absence of lament for the past or worry about the future. The cause of most suffering and unhappiness is wanting something to be different than what it is. During the course of an average day, I make mental (and sometimes verbal) notes of gratitude. These are typically about small things like an amazing sunset, clean drinking water or time with a friend. I also give thanks to all those dreams that have come true in my life like having a loving marriage, traveling to fun places and living in California. It helps put any dreams that haven’t manifested into perspective.
This is more about “falling” than “failing”. Failing is a series of beginnings and endings just like a person falling in love or a leaf falling off a tree. It’s a necessary part of growth and success and shouldn’t be considered a bad thing. When you do fall (and you will), pick up the pieces, learn the lessons and don’t worry about what others think. They’re all chasing their own dreams and yours are none of their business. Failure (or falling) makes you stronger, more determined, more focused. Sometimes it leads you on a different path. Other times it gives you a necessary dose of reality. There are several goals I haven’t reached in my publishing career, but each time I fell, I got back up and continued to follow my heart by doing what made me happy – writing. Failing gracefully is being okay with falling, but not letting it keep you down.
Take a break
Sometimes you need to walk away from a dream for a while. That means to stop trying, stop wanting and start living life in the present. By taking a break, you open up a space for other opportunities to come forth. You might also gain an entirely new perspective on how to achieve your dream. Over the years, I’ve taken long breaks from writing and during those times, I’ve had exciting and lucrative jobs which actually fulfilled some of my other dreams. I realized it doesn’t have to be all or nothing and that I am more than the sum of my dreams. You should have big dreams – lots of them – but never let them define who you are or your happiness.
Unfollow your dream
It’s important to recognize if your dream has run its course, and if it has, you might want to unfollow it for good. No experience is ever wasted, no matter how much time you’ve given it. Marriages are a great example. Sometimes couples have a loving relationship for many years and then decide to split up. That doesn’t negate all the great times they shared and all the lessons the relationship provided. If your dream is only causing you pain and suffering, it may be time to let it go. In the grand scheme of life and the vastness of the universe, one lifetime takes place in the blink of an eye – too short for us to spend being unhappy. If you were told that you only had a year to live, would part, if any, of that dream would you still pursue?
Let’s not forget the elephant in the room. Many people have big dreams but aren’t organized or motivated enough to take the steps and make it happen. If you want to be a professional musician, you need to learn how to read music, play an instrument and then practice every day. If you want to go on an African safari there is a list of tasks you need to do to make it happen like saving money, booking travel arrangements, packing. If you want to get a degree, you need to research colleges, evaluate finances, apply, pass classes. If your dreams are not coming true, be sure you are taking some action steps to make them happen.
Believe in divine timing
As the saying goes, “Timing is everything”. That’s because moment by moment, things change – society, technology, environment, people, you. It only takes a moment for your life to change and your dream to go from fantasy to reality. Anything is possible…or not. You might not know if and when “your” moment will ever come but believing in a higher power and a divine plan helps. You still have to take some responsibility by nurturing your dream, but if you believe in divine timing, you can let go of any attachment and timeframe. Ultimately what your ego thinks you want may not be aligned with your spirit’s highest good in this lifetime. Or, maybe there’s another plan destined for you that is even more spectacular. We don’t know what we don’t know. That’s both the mystery and fun of life!
Inspiring personal growth, professional success and positive change. Author of The Goddess of Happiness, Vita’s Will and Note to Self: Love (Book & Screenplay). Lover of food, fashion, fitness, funky music, dogs, dancing, cooking, laughter and anything Italian.