Most people have dreams. Their importance can’t be overstated. Dreams are essential to our well-being. They motivate and inspire. They generate energy and create momentum. Without them, life lacks purpose and direction.
Sometimes our dreams shatter. We look at the broken pieces and wonder what went wrong. It can feel like we have been treated unfairly, that we have been denied what was rightfully ours.
Dr Larry Crabb, author of the book Shattered Dreams argues that our growth as a person is dependent on experiencing the range of outcomes, some good, some bad. He says,
“Healthy normal people feel wonderful when good things happen. They should… But when things go badly… We can understand that the mix of fulfilled dreams and shattered dreams in our lives is necessary if we are to grow.”
Let me invite you to take a pencil and paper and make two columns. In the first column list all your dreams that have come to fulfilment. Here are some examples: education; career; marriage; home ownership; travel; fitness/wellness; recognition etc. In the second column list all your dreams that have failed or been abandoned. For some of you, the examples given above may fit in this column. Perhaps you never achieved the level of education you had hoped for or your career choice was not where you really wanted to be.
We all have broken dreams, dreams that have never come true. It is important to reflect on ‘the why’. Here are twelve statements that help us explore our broken dreams.
1. Broken dreams can be the result of factors beyond our control.
The Invictus Games is an international adaptive multi-sport competition for serving and former serving military personnel who’ve been wounded, injured or become ill during their military service. The Games were held in Sydney recently and attracted competitors from eighteen nations. Many of the competitors had their dreams shattered. Horrific physical injuries and episodic depression and anxiety resulting from exposure to trauma altered their lives.
When they enlisted for service they knew the risks but hoped they would survive, unharmed. Their stories of service, resilience and determination are inspiring.
2. Broken dreams can challenge our identity but they don’t change it.
Educational psychologists Zanden and Pace (1984) define identity as “… an individual’s sense of placement within the world – the meaning one attaches to oneself as reflected in the answers one provides to the questions, ‘Who am I’ and, ‘Who am I to be?’”
Our identity is influenced by many factors. We use them to describe ourselves. These include age, gender, spirituality, ethnicity, language, socio-economic status, interests, and traditions. While dreams shape our identity they don’t define it.
3. Broken dreams can cause us to question our capabilities.
There are many roadblocks to realising your dreams. Sometimes we lack the commitment to pursue our dreams and are not prepared to spend the effort required. Sometimes we’re not willing to embrace change, fearing it will expose our vulnerabilities. Broken dreams highlight weaknesses, raising doubts about our ability to succeed.
4. Broken dreams can become an excuse not to try again.
Fear of failure has killed so many dreams before they have had the chance to take off. A negative outlook always delivers uncertainty, undermining our best efforts.
Fear robs us of our self-confidence and allows us to come up with reasons we can’t do things or make them happen. If left unchecked fear increases our levels of stress and anxiety. We respond by avoiding or minimising the risk of failure.
5. Broken dreams can cause us to be afraid of pursuing new dreams.
It takes courage to try again, to take the risks necessary to fulfil your dreams. Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for twenty-seven years for his opposition to racial segregation in South Africa. He was a political prisoner. He had every reason to think apartheid could never be defeated. He learnt how to transform his fears. He says,
“I learnt that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”
Courage opens the door to new possibilities. It is what’s needed to pursue new dreams.
6. Broken dreams don’t negate the possibility of having other dreams come true.
In his book Make the Impossible Possible Bill Strickland says,
“We’re told how complicated life is, told we can’t do this and we’re not smart enough or fast enough or talented enough to pursue that. And in hearing that – in responding to these words whose effect is to close doors and narrow our thinking – we make ourselves poor… in our imagination and leading a meaningful life.”
There is a danger of internalising all the negativity that swirls around us. We can feel incompetent and ill-equipped to realise our dreams. When we dream we need to avoid stressing out on how our dreams will become a reality. The way will make itself known.
7. Broken dreams can be instructive, shining a light on where we could have done better.
No one wants to be considered a failure. It’s a label that eats away at our self-worth. But failure is a great teacher. Many of life’s important lessons are learned through failure and setback. Failure has a way of showing what our strengths and weaknesses are. Failure builds character.
8. Broken dreams can become a stimulus for growth and hopeful belief.
Former president of the United States, Abraham Lincoln says,
“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.”
When we experience failure, it’s easy to just roll over and give up. But failure is a great motivator and is often the driving force behind realising our hopes for the future.
9. Broken dreams feel like a death and need to be grieved.
Hopes and dreams get snatched away from people due to things like death, age, infertility, injury, poverty and chronic illness. The loss of hopes and dreams are true losses that need to be grieved.
Psychologist Bill Crawford says,
“When we lose something or someone important to us, we aren’t just grieving the loss, we are grieving the shattered dream.”
We grieve the hopes and dreams of what we thought was possible, but will now never come to pass.
10. Broken dreams can lead us to quarantine our emotions to avoid pain.
Fear causes us to conceal our emotional fragility from others. By shutting down any discussion of our broken dreams we are hoping to avoid negative reactions and to maintain our self-image. It is particularly difficult for men to divulge their feelings and to own their failures. When we block our emotions we miss out on opportunities to stay connected and put our mental and physical health at risk.
11. Broken dreams can shatter our hope in the future.
Broken dreams present us with a dilemma. They can be incredibly hard to accept and cope with. Experiencing a broken dream in your life can make you feel as if your hope has died along with your dream. But broken dreams are more than just endings; they’re also opportunities for new beginnings. When we start to pursue new dreams hope is resurrected.
Hope-filled dreams are empowering because they are based upon who we are and what we can create.
12. Broken dreams can lead to tragic outcomes.
Todd Reid looked to have the tennis world at his feet when he won the Wimbledon boys’ singles title in 2002 as an 18-year-old.
He reached a career-high world ranking of 105 in 2004, the same year he advanced to the third round of the Australian Open — his best result at a major.
In a recent interview with tennis reporter Dennis Walton, Reid appeared full of hope, excited about getting his life back together after a troubled few years and a touch-and-go battle with pancreatitis. He was reported as saying,
“I never got over what happened to me when I was 19.”
Just as his senior career got legs, Reid was derailed by a debilitating bout of glandular fever.
“I was on a nice trajectory then,” he recalled. “If I hadn’t got sick, I think I could have started pushing towards the second week at the slams and then who knows.”
Todd Reid took his life Tuesday 23rd October. He was 34. It seems reasonable to suggest that one of the factors that contributed to this tragedy was Reid’s inability to realise his full potential as a professional tennis player due to health issues.
Broken dreams, broken heart, broken mind, broken body.
Here’s a final thought, a strategy to use when formulating your dreams.
“The dreams we create throughout life are not set in stone. We need to write our dreams in pencil, not ink because they change and need to be erased.”