Dream deferred: What do we do when life isn't all we thought it would be?

Two cups of tea and a conversation with a friend at Boots Bakery this week turned my thoughts to life’s disappointments, drudgeries and deferred dreams. My realization of camaraderie in the struggle was not the “misery loves company” sort. No, I actually began thinking that there must be a solution for the other 30-40-50-somethings in this area who are not exactly stoked about how their professional and personal lives have materialized in God’s country. 

You see, I was an award-winning artist at the break-point in my career when I moved to … Idaho. As you might guess, gravity didn’t carry me up from there. A failed marriage and subsequent custody order decided that this is where I would live for the next 15 years. Sure, I’ve made what I could of a secondary career and might be what some would call a success, but I still feel the sadness resurface when I think of lost momentum and the years I’ve struggled back at square one to re-launch into something amazing.

For all of us who were headed to the top of our career fields with visions of changing the world, an ordinary life of paying bills and rolling out the recycle bin on garbage day is such a let-down that we often distract ourselves by any means necessary, sedating the pang of disappointment and failure. Craft beer, Netflix, Mary Jane, Crossfit, making jam and Seahawks football are on the seasonal escape menu. Our routine eventually becomes a seamless rhythm between duties and diversions, played out through the years as we forget to remember what it was we were supposed to be and who we have meanwhile become.

I can’t help but think of the poem "A Dream Deferred," written by Langston Hughes, that gives shape to this feeling of being stuck in a holding pattern in life: 

What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up 
Like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore –
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over –
Like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
Like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?

For some, acceptance of what has been and what is can be a soothing balm to assuage the potential terror that comes with knowing the nearness of the end of our life script. For others, the “thinking positive” thing works, or outright denial of the situation, religion, or maybe participating in that Facebook gratitude challenge. After trying all of the above and tiring from the strain of spotting the silver lining, these are the three things that stay with me:

1) Never get tired of making a plan. Whether you planned your work but your work didn’t go as planned, your plan was eliminated by another person, or circumstances downright derailed Plan A, B and C, it is never too late to forge Plan X, Y, and Z. Planning forces solutions to emerge and often leads to the type of creativity that eliminates a forever-stuck scenario. At the worst, it is an illusion of going somewhere, and that — at least for a moment — can seem like forward motion.

2) Remember what matters most to you. Whatever inspired you to set your big dreams of adulthood as a child must still be somewhere inside of you. Reconnect with that unique inspiration of your inner superhero and be honest about what drives you and what doesn’t. Sometimes we stop caring about life because we forget what people, causes and experiences move us past coping and make it exciting to be here. We have built our lives around things that really don’t matter to us, so we find ourselves no longer being interested in living.

3) Fall in love. Whether it’s a deep love for your child, yourself, a partner, or all three, a deep level of human connection is one of those things that feeds us. You can’t get it with an EBT card or buy it with an entire bank, but it is available to us all. Believing that we are completely lovable and capable of loving is one of the most freeing experiences of the human story.

Whether your dreams are crusted and sugared over with sweet distractions or sagging like a heavy load, I hope that as individuals and a community we can reconnect with our inspiration, find the love and support we need, and make solid plans for our dreams to be revived and explode into reality!