Is your unrealized dream of being a rock star making your life a nightmare?
As you read the title of this post I am sure you are thinking something like, “No kidding, Tracey! I would have been much happier if that dream I had work out as I imagined, it would have been super awesome to be a rock star”---but that isn’t what I mean. No, what I am talking about is how not grieving the dream of being on the cover of Rolling Stone (or whatever your dream was) may be impacting your happiness. Now maybe you didn’t want to be on tour with Aerosmith but you definitely wanted something that didn’t pan out. Not relating? Okay, let’s take a quick quiz. (Hold on, these are not questions that are going to be dreamy or happy…but they are worth asking and, more importantly, worth answering)
- Did you not get into the college of your dreams?
- Are you doing for work what you thought you would do as a kid?
- Have you ever applied for something and not got it?
- Have you ever lost a job? Fired, laid off or downsized?
- Did you have jobs you really wanted and never got?
- Did you not get the raise, promotion or six-figure income by the time you were 30 that you thought you would have?
- Have you started a business that didn’t get off the ground?
- Have you ever filed Chapter 11 or Chapter 13?
- The major you chose at 18 isn’t the major you need at 35?
- Never wrote the great American novel?
- Always thought by this age you would be a ________?
- American dream not so dreamy?
- Have you ever been broken up with? Divorced? Widowed?
- Not in the kind of relationship that you dreamed of having?
- Have you had infertility or miscarriages?
- Are your children having the dream childhood you imagined for them?
- Is your body no longer allows you to compete competitively in a sport you love?
- Is there a creative project that you have been unable to accomplish?
If you answered yes to any of these questions you have lost a dream, and for many of us there are multiple dreams that have been lost. And it may be, like for many folks, you may feel like you don’t deserve to grieve these dreams and that it is better to just move on and not look at these losses. You aren’t alone in this, the truth is that people don’t like to talk about what they didn’t achieve and how they feel that they have failed, such topics activates our shame and guilt and all kinds of other emotions we would rather not bring to the fore, thank you very much. Actually, we would prefer to talk about anything, money, sex and politics than our perceived ‘failures’. However, by not really acknowledging these losses we end up carrying them around as a kind of internal Scarlett letter of failure. We may feel like quitters, losers and flibbertigibbet when we look at goals unmet, which is simply not the truth of it. We aren’t those things, we worked hard and tried hard and did lots of stuff to try and make it happen and the truth is that very few people make it as rock stars, or even in more mundane pursuits like getting into the college of our dreams or making marriage work is not as easy as it appears on TV.
Part of the problem is that we live in a culture that tells us that the time to give up on a dream is never and so we can feel ashamed and lazy and like a big-ol’ quitter (the voice of a parent or a coach or the books in the self-help section may be echoing in your head) and so maybe you don’t really want to look at this loss and that is where the repression begins. We do all kinds of mental machinations and gymnastics to try to push the shame and guilt down and out of consciousness, where we mistakenly believe that such feeling can’t hurt us. Ha! Not true, repression is not the same thing as making something disappear (the rabbit is there under the magician’s coat and your grief is there buried not so deep in your psyche). Repression means it is still there and we just can’t see it anymore. Sometimes we repress how much we wanted the dream to begin with and how very much it meant to us with a kind of sour grapes psychology “I didn’t really want it anyway.” We might minimize its importance. Or, we can try to intellectualize it away, “I understand that only 1% of the people who want to be professional athletes get to and so I have no right to be upset about it” and, “of course, 50% of marriages fail”---those kinds of stats do nothing to touch the sadness and sorrow about a relationship that fell apart of career aspirations unmet.
Sometimes we create schemas and worldviews based on not getting the dream, such as “everything happens for a reason” at the seemingly more positive end of things and “I never get what I want” at the more negative, nihilistic and self-destructive end. However, both ideas, even though one seems more self-evolved than the other, take away the truth of how important those things were for us in the first place and prevent us from really working though the grief. It is my belief that by repressing the importance of the dream and the resulting grief that we tend to takes fewer risks and we are more afraid to dream again.
Some dreams and losses can be easier to identify hence a little bit more socially acceptable to mourn, however ALL of us humans have had lost dreams, all of us. There are no support groups for “I wanted to be an astronaut and I didn’t make it into the program” but there should be---it is a thing. All of us have had experienced having something we worked long and hard for not work out. Let me clarify, if we are over 21-years of age it is likely that we have already had to give up on at least one dream or another (yes, of course, there are those of you who are reading this who got into Harvard and were the captain of the football team and dated the prom queen and who have gone on to invent Google and cure dandruff, my book isn’t for you).
However, for the rest of us mere mortals, every single one of us have known dreams that we haven’t achieved. Living in a culture that tells us to “Never, ever, ever give up on our dreams” and that there is nothing worse than quitting, we may be beating ourselves up unnecessarily up for our unaccomplished dreams, goals and aspirations instead of accepting them as part of the human condition. You see, the truth is that to be a human being, beyond being a featherless biped (Plato’s definition of what it is to be human) is to be a creature that has aspirations and dreams that we don’t realize, and the reality is that EVERYONE alive has known this kind of loss---EVERYONE.
Okay, now that we know it is something that all of us have we get to stop calling ourselves those names and thinking we are singularly unique in having something we weren’t able to finagle in this lifetime. You, dear sweet you, are not unique in this. When we really get this we can stop with the guilt, the shame, the name-calling, the repressing and the sour-grape psychology, and get back in the game and take risks and try things---allowing yourself the joy of exploring, risking, and living.
Ready for more?
Read part 2 of Tracey's Unrealized Dreams You Buried blog where she'll challenge you to get to the heart of what you truly wanted from your dream.
About the Author
Tracey Cleantis, LMFT, is a speaker, writer and a practicing psychotherapist. She is the “Dr. Kevorkian of Dreams” and is a personal and professional authority on how to let go of what isn’t working and to grieve, move on, and get to the to the other side where happiness is waiting for you.
Her blog was named one of the top ten blogs for Francophiles by Blogs.com and is rated one of the top 10 psychology and memoir blogs. In addition, Tracey has written “Freudian Sip,” a column atPsychology Today, and contributes to the Huffington Post. She has been featured on Fox News and in Redbook, Yahoo News and Salon.com. Her writing on finding happiness after infertility was featured in Jamie Cat Callan’s Bonjour, Happiness! (Citadel Press, 2011).
Tracey is a passionate writer who combines wit, wisdom, humor, theory made accessible, and a whole lot of heart. She speaks on grief, infertility, letting go of dreams, finding unexpected happiness after loss.