Here I am, about to post a blog about handling disappointment, when people I know have had to leave their homes due to the wildfires in Texas. In this case it’s appropriate, because they are finding resilience and leaning on others near their area to get through. I dedicate this post with great honor to those who still struggle not knowing if their homes and businesses will survive this tragedy. My thoughts and prayers are with you during this devastating, painful time. I think that for today I will skip posting Switzerland photos. I’ll offer more tomorrow…but for today, out of respect to those caught in the fire, I will have a photo-free post. Please, if you’re reading this, take a moment of silence for those who are suffering. If you pray, please pray for them. Thank you!
Last week I wrote about the many ways that our dreams can turn into nightmares. We find ourselves struggling to get started or have unexpected obstacles block us. In some cases, we lose our dreams altogether. I am well aware, for example, that many people are unable to travel in the way that I can, either due to physical problems or financial losses. Many of our fellow American brothers an sisters are dealing with long-term unemployment and a disappearing job market. It may feel too painful even to dream at this point. So what do we do when that happens? How do we keep the faith in ourselves and in our personal callings? And who am I to think I might have a solution to offer? After all, I have a pretty cushy life.
Here, in brief, is the reality of my life: I have been married three times. My first marriage was brief and, at times, abusive. My second marriage, though much more pleasant, fell apart in large degree after we lost two babies and were unable to have more children. In the midst of all that, I had a long-term, chronic illness, and our finances went south. While in the worst of my illness, I lost my ability to concentrate, let alone write. I wondered if I had squandered my talent and if I would never be able to write again.
In the midst of this long, deep, dark night of the soul, I had a revelation. I realized that I could still be happy, no matter what had been given to me. I didn’t know what that meant at the time, but I undertook to find out.
Discouragement can hurt. We may be willing and able to go for our dreams, but we struggle to start or get stuck somewhere in the process. Either we don’t know enough about our craft, or we get scared. Here are some tips that may help:
- Know that Self-Doubt and Discouragement are Normal – I used to think that if something was hard, it meant that I was doing the wrong thing. Now I know that’s not the case. Yes, we can learn to let go of struggle, but if you haven’t (I sure haven’t!), just know that your feelings are normal and natural. Some days fear and self-loathing just flat get in the way!
- Let Your Efforts Be Lousy – Often we can’t get started because we want to be great right off the bat. Allow yourself time to experiment, to fail, to experience efforts that make you cringe. Do you get angry with a baby learning to walk because he falls down? Of course not. We understand that babies won’t get it right the first time. See yourself as a little baby just starting to learn, and treat yourself with the same kindness and love.
- Find an Expert – Take a class or two or three. If you can’t afford that, buy a book on the subject. If you can’t afford that, go to your lending library. Become a student. Look for people who do well what you want to do, and soak up any information you can find.
- Give Yourself Time – It sounds trite, but it’s true that the journey is the destination. Let yourself know the joy of learning and blossoming. Let go of self-judgment about how you’re too old, too ugly, or too broke. Let the process unfold, and savor every moment.
- Learn to Listen to Your Heart – This may sound contradictory to #3, but it’s not. Sometimes even your teachers will say things that don’t ring true. Allow your own personal truth to emerge, and make your stand. There is power in having conviction about what you’re doing.
- Find Friends Along the Way – This has been a tougher quest for me. I’ve tried and discarded several writers’ groups because they didn’t feel right. However, I have found a good mix of supportive women on She Writes, and it makes a huge difference! When I have a difficult day, I have people who understand and who will help me keep going.
- Feel the Pain – Too often we think we have to be stoic and strong. If we give ourselves even a few minutes to feel and release our pain, we can get back to our dreams quickly.
- Ask for Help – It’s okay to reach out and tell people what you need. Often if we are going through major difficulties, people are standing by not knowing what to do or say. Let people show their goodness. They will often surprise you with how generous they can be. When your crisis has ended, you can pay it forward by doing the same for someone else.
What if a dream has ended for good? Well, the first question is, is that absolutely true? I wanted to be a mother but couldn’t have children, and yet I ended up with two stepchildren that are two of the joys of my life. Had I children of my own, I may never have met them. Sometimes, as they say, “God’s delays are not God’s denials.” Of course, some days this can also come under the heading of, “Be careful what you wish for — you just might get it!” (Kidding, kiddos)
If it is true, is there some way you could have the essence of your dream? I always had the itchy feet to travel but never much money to do so. Back in those days, I learned to travel internally through meditation, breathwork, and writing. I learned to be fascinated with the world within. When I could, I traveled locally, making day trips to small towns accessible by car. I read books — again, the library is a great resource — and traveled to other worlds that authors made for me.
Health matters are tough, too. One night my doctor told my support group: “Part of your healing may be to accept that you may never be well.” That sentence shocked me at first. I had to think about it. She wasn’t saying that I would stop trying to heal my body. She was saying I could have a good life in spite of my health. She was right.
One of the symptoms of my illness was an inability to concentrate. I learned that if I drew a picture of what I was reading, it would stay in my head better. I discovered that I could do certain activities in 15-minute increments. It wasn’t much, but each little nugget of success cheered me. I worked hard on my health, filling my body with nutrition and self-care. I slowed my life down, and in the process I learned to listen better to what I needed for myself. That’s when I began to heal. Even now, years later, I have to be careful. I overdid it one day with a personal trainer and got knocked out with a “crash” for nearly two weeks. Most of the time, though, I judge well when I need to rest.
When you are struggling and have physical limits, it may be hard to look around at what you do have — but if you look hard enough, there’s real beauty all around you. Springtime flowers, summer warmth, a home that provides shelter, loved ones — even the beauty of your very breath. If you can find a way, even in the darkest moments, to find or create beauty, then your discouragement will lessen.
May you find the path through your discouragement! I hope all of you find some way to live your dreams.