When your dream dies
and you're not sure what to do next
This post was originally posted on Tiny Buddha as a guest post. “You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ~C. S. Lewis
My wake-up call came at a friend’s wedding about seven years ago. Somebody asked me what I did for a living, and I answered truthfully: I’m a singer in a rock band. She thought it was cool, but I went into a rant about why it wasn’t.
“Creative work is definitely more perspiration than inspiration. The constant travelling and playing late night gigs is exhausting. The ‘business’ side of ‘music business’ is a joke,” I fumed.
On and on I went. As you’d expect, she was pretty shocked. But it was her words to me that made me stop in my tracks: “Wow, so much anger!”
What had happened to me? My dream of living off my music had come true. It was a childhood dream of mine, and I was one of the lucky few who was actually living that dream.
Yet, I was angry and bitter. I felt like I wasn’t in control of my own life and my own decisions because I didn’t own my time, my location, or my money. I felt like my band owned me because the band always had to come first.
I realized that my dream wasn’t my dream anymore. Something that once filled me with excitement and passion had become a burden. It was time to find a new dream.
These changes are inevitable in life. You might have experienced the same when you’ve had to let go of a big and important dream.
Maybe a relationship proved to be more painful than fulfilling and you had to scrap your big dream of starting a family.
Or maybe starting a family suddenly made your dream job feel meaningless, and spending twelve hours a day at work felt like missing out on something far more important.
Maybe you were a serious athlete and an injury forced you to quit your sport.
These were things that you worked hard for, and making the decision to leave them behind can feel like cutting off the most important thing in your life. Now what?
Finding that next thing to fill the void of the Big Dream proved to be a lot harder than I expected. I experienced grief, emptiness, and a total lack of direction. I felt I was wasting my life.
Suddenly I had all this time in my hands that I could have used for other things, but I didn’t know what those other things were. Everything felt a bit pointless. The big picture was missing.
The dream used to be my goalpost, something that always showed me the direction. Without the dream, I lacked motivation and the reason to do anything.
So how do you dig yourself out of that hole? How do you find that spark again? This is what I did.
Give yourself time
Give yourself enough time to let the old dream die first. Allow yourself the emotions of grief, anger, depression, and loss. It can be tempting to dismiss those feelings and jump headfirst into a new project but process the death of the old dream first.
Allow yourself to just be. Take walks, write a journal, spend more time with friends. Empty yourself from your old routine and just live one day at a time.
This can be hard if you are driven and goal-oriented, but sometimes it’s good to give yourself room to clear the table. Allow yourself enough time and space so that your new dream has the space to appear.
Try new things
Your new direction and purpose might be radically different to your old one. Give yourself an opportunity to explore completely new things. Mingle with different people, travel to new places, read books you would have never touched before.
You may find a whole new world that you never had time to discover before because you were so immersed in your old dream. This is the time to give yourself a chance to experience something new.
Don’t force yourself to the next thing. Instead, keep an open mind. What else does this wonderful world have to offer us?
Be honest with yourself
Spend time in learning more about the person that you truly are. What is it that you really want in life? Have you changed as a person?
It’s so easy to go with what other people say or make decisions based on other people’s expectations. Maybe things broke down for a very good reason. Your old dream didn’t serve the person you are now.
Re-define the dream
Ask yourself brutally honest questions. What does real success look like for you? What is it that truly makes you happy?
Maybe you want more time, not more money. Maybe you crave more freedom, not a more demanding job. When you become really clear about what is important to you in life, you will find the first clues about what your new dream will look like.
For me, it was incredibly important to let go of the old dream that didn’t serve me anymore. Feeling angry and bitter is far worse than feeling lost and empty for a while. Change is difficult, but enduring a period of pain is the path to turning things around.
Sometimes the new dream and the new direction can be found in the most unexpected of places, but that’s what starting over is all about.
It took me a while to find my mojo again, but once I did I felt like anything was possible again. Life changes, we change as people; it only makes sense that our dreams change too.
I found a new balance and a new direction when I started to diversify my ideas of success. Achieving the dream shouldn’t be about sacrifice and pain. Instead, it should be about daily joy.
What you do every day is what your life becomes about. The dream is just your idea of the future. Focusing on enjoying the every day will lead you to that next Big Dream that is right for you.