“Throw your dreams into space like a kite. You do not know what it will bring back: a new life, a new friend, a new love, a new country,” French-American novelist Anaïs Nin once wrote. Dreams. A charming notion if you’re 23 and poised to make some 30 Under 30 list. But what if you’re inbetween dreams? Or just too heartbroken to summon hope? How about if you’ve hit your goals and are now wondering if this is as good as it gets? Yet, what’s life without something to desire and strive for.
Dreams have long been romanticised as the reserve of the young but reality tells us that success—however that looks and feels to you—has no age limit. Throughout history we see countless second acts. We find inspiration in fashion designer Vera Wang who started her label at 40. Make-up maven Bobbi Brown was 34 when she launched her eponymous beauty brand, building it for 22 years before carving a new path that led her to Jones Road Beauty. Closer to home, Skin Inc founder Sabrina Tan spent 11 years in the information technology industry before realising that her true calling lay in creating customisable, one-size-fits-one skincare solutions. In short, every day is a fresh chance to venture forth.
What to do when dreams disappoint
Whether you’re burnt out from chipping at your goals or disillusioned for not having hit your dreams fast enough, Dr Chin Zhen Hui, a senior clinical psychologist at National University Hospital, says it’s important to listen to our emotions. In taking time to process our hurt or disenchantment, we can use emotions as a divining rod to help us identify “what is important and what we need. Emotions can also motivate and prepare us to take action.”
Being mindful and being kind to our emotions is a start. The goal isn’t to suppress or dismiss your feelings of grief, aimlessness or potentially anger, “but to provide comfort to yourself. Allow yourself time and space to grieve your losses, and consider talking to a professional if needed.”
Undoing feelings of inertia and malaise is easier said than done, but Chin says that understanding yourself and your values is helpful when recalibrating your dreams. “Living a values-congruent life brings about a sense of fulfilment, richness and meaning, and can motivate one into actions.”
Taking the time to reflect and align your values is even more important if you’ve been hit with a tidal wave of unexpected circumstances. “When life knocks us down, we can despair, get angry or choose to look for opportunities and possibilities,” Yan Yi Chee, founder and Integral Development coach at Matter Inc, shares. June Wee-Grant, a certified life coach with a focus on relationships, parenting and self-empowerment, agrees with this. She says: “When something catastrophic happens, take some time to process it and heal before moving forward to reimagine a new life. Giving yourself the gift of time and space to heal is the kind thing to do before moving on. Whenever I experienced a failed IVF cycle, I would take some time to process my feelings and comfort myself. After a good cry, comfort food, journaling and other self-soothing rituals, I’d get back on the horse and try again.”
How to dream again
If your dreams feel insurmountable, know that there’s never going to be a good time to begin afresh. So, start anyway. No amount of motivation or waiting for inspiration can beat taking action, however imperfect. If you’re waiting for a booming voice from the heavens to dictate your next step, you could be here awhile.
“No one is coming to save you. No one is coming to push you. It’s all up to you. Creating the life you’ve always dreamt about is on you,” says lawyer and motivational speaker, Mel Robbins
“You’ve got to parent yourself. And by parent yourself, I mean it’s your job to make yourself do the crap you don’t want to do, so you can be everything that you’re supposed to be. You can do it… you just have to stop waiting to feel like it. It is your responsibility to push yourself,” says Robbins.
If the idea of setting goals feels overwhelming, Chin recommends breaking down your actions into “small manageable steps. Take breaks when necessary. Reward and celebrate the little victories you take towards your goals.” Still feeling hopeless or unmotivated? “Shift your mental space,” says Chin. Start seeing this season as a mere chapter in the book of your life: there is indeed time left for many more exciting plot twists ahead. “Accept your experiences and view them as a part of your journey. See them as opportunities for growth and spend time learning from them. Be willing to try out new things to give yourself the opportunity to discover what matters to you. Redirect your focus on things that add meaning to your life.”
How to channel your envy
“If you feel jaded when you see others achieving their dreams, accept the feeling because suppression is unhealthy,” says Wee-Grant. “Express the feelings and emotions and do what you can to soothe yourself first. When back in neutral mode, check in with yourself to find out if you want to continue pursuing your dreams. It’s important to check in with yourself regularly and be aware of your feelings because they act as messengers to tell us what’s going on inside us.”
Permission to dream
While it’s easy to wish for a tried-and-true formula to get you from hopeless to hope-filled where dream-crushing is concerned, there is no sure-win solution. But it could be as simple as allowing yourself to dream anew. “Sometimes achieving your dreams is possible, sometimes it’s not. And sometimes you get there only to realise it’s not where you want to be. But that’s okay,” Chee reassures. “You start again.”
“Give yourself the permission to dream again,” says Wee-Grant. Ask yourself: “What is my idea of a perfect life?” “It could be in the form of a chat with an old friend or doing it alone at home with a cup of tea, a blank piece of paper and a pen. Visualise your answer down to its finest detail, using all your senses to guide you to paint the full picture.”
Permission to play
Dreaming should be pleasurable. Allowing yourself space to dream requires you to wander out of your comfort zone, developing practices “that take you to unpredictable spaces to see what sparks fly for you”, says Chee. She encourages clients to cultivate imaginative thinking and indulge in creative practices that open them up—from making art, to telling collaborative stories, trying improv, playing with kids, doodling, and “hoarding little things that you like to trigger inspiration and connections”.
“As life and responsibilities take over, most of us are less able to have a creative child-like imagination,” says Chee. “Cultivating it is key to being able to see possibilities so that we can be hopeful about our own future and the value we bring to our world.”
Permission to pivot
Know that it’s okay to U-turn as you journey towards your dreams; nothing is ever wasted. If you’re stuck in a dead-end job or simply want to change course in life, Chee advises working from the inside out. “When we understand ourselves better than anyone else, we will know what we need for ourselves.” Next, examine “what’s within our control or not and begin to take steps towards our ideal. Take some bold moves to make things happen for yourself. When you have hopes and dreams, and you build your self-esteem and confidence, you can make things happen,” says Chee.
And if you’ve been too intimidated to put yourself in the running for your dream job, relationship or life, it’s important not to write yourself off even before you’ve even begun. While you’re bound to hear a few noes on your journey, your self-rejection won’t serve anyone, according to author Marianne Williamson. Instead of being intimidated by your dreams, be inspired that you’re daring to take that leap once again.
As Williamson’s oft-quoted sound bite goes: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine… And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”
The best is yet to come.