This seems counterintuitive, because everybody always says, “To achieve true happiness you have to make your dreams come true!” And this is by all means 100% true. But what happens when sometimes we examine those dreams and realize that they no longer fit in with the life we are creating or the person we have evolved to be up to this point? In those cases, if we want to make the choice to be truly happy, we may need to let old dreams go so there’s room for new ones to take root and blossom.
Here’s an example: When I was in my early twenties one of my dreams was to become an ASL interpreter. I had always had a certain affinity for sign language and had picked up a fair amount of it along with way. I loved the beauty of it and how it allowed Deaf people to communicate so effectively with each other and with the world around them. When I first moved to Seattle shortly after college I was thrilled to find one of the most renowned ASL interpreting schools there and I signed up for the interpreting certification class, to which I drove an hour each way to and from, 2 nights per week after my full-time job. I LOVED it. I learned vocabulary, I learned about Deaf culture, I learned things like word order placement and idiomatic phrases and I felt like I really had what it took to become an interpreter either as a career, or at least for part-time employment.
After completing 2 years of the 4 year program, we moved to Boston. I started a brand-new job, and after about 6 months there I got pregnant with my first child. At that point I decided to put the ASL interpreting on hold, knowing that I could return to it at any time to get my certification. Sixteen months after having my first child I had my second, and my life became happily consumed with full-time motherhood, and part-time teaching/music performing career.
I always assumed that at some point I would return to ASL or interpreting in some capacity. I kept up with signing a bit throughout the years and when we moved to Colorado I was ecstatic to find out that the nearby community college had one of the best interpreting programs in the country.
I didn’t sign up right away as I was immersed in parenting, a new job, a new house, and then some minor health issues. A few years later I learned that a local church was looking for interpreters to sign during services.
(As an aside, I need to say here that I am well aware that to interpret for official speeches and sermons the interpreter needs to be certified, which I am not. However, for signing things likes songs and poetry, which can be more artistic and interpretive, someone who is not certified is usually deemed acceptable by the Deaf community. I was only considering the song aspects, not anything spoken.)
I contacted the point person, I explained how this had always been a dream of mine, and she invited me to try interpreting for an upcoming service.
I was elated! Finally my dream was going to come true! The person in charge sent me the music ahead of time, I spent a lot of time working on the signs and making them flow together so it would work with the music, and when it came time for the rehearsal the night before, I felt excited, charged up, and ready.
When it came time for me, I stepped up to the tiny stage to the side of the big stage, the music began, and I started signing to the music. I felt like I was doing a great job - I was emotive, my signs were clear, I moved my hands and my body the way I had seen other interpreters move, and for the 7 minutes or so that I was up there I felt confident and sure of myself and my abilities, even in this limited way.
I came down, pleased with what I had done, and met up with the woman I had met with before, expecting to hear praise and accolades for my beautiful and well constructed interpreting. Instead I was met with one of the most critical experiences of my life. She started off with a positive, that I had a lovely interpreting style, but then she proceeded to slam me for almost every single sign/word choice I had made, and told me that in no uncertain terms was I ready for signing for a real Deaf community. She essentially said that she would be embarrassed to have me on the interpreting team and that if I wanted to try the actual service later that night I could…but she would be the one signing the songs for the bigger service that was being videotaped the next morning.
I was crushed. I felt like the dream that had just come true for me was nothing but a sham, that I thought I had had a propensity for this skill and language but it was all fake, and it took everything within me not to completely burst into tears and run out of the room.
I reminded myself that this was something I had always wanted to do and that I owed it to myself to at least give it try for real, and while I couldn’t change every word that she suggested I change, i consoled myself with the fact that signing for songs doesn’t have to be 100% exact because it is considered more artistic overall.
I gathered up every bit of courage I could, and when the time came, I repeated my emotive, flowing, artistic rendition of the worship songs to the best of my ability. I came down off the stage, sat there for the service, and when it was over, a few people came up to me to tell me what a beautiful job I had done and how much they enjoyed watching me sign.
I found my husband afterwards, (he came to see me) and when we got to the car I fell into his arms sobbing. Literally sobbing. I told him about everything the woman had said, about how terrible I was, about how clearly I was worthless at this, and how it hurt me so much to have to give up on my dream from so many years ago.
He listened to me go on and on, and when i was finished he said, “Well, I don’t know ASL, but I do know that you looked beautiful up there and everything you did conveyed joy and spirit and you were wonderful to watch.”
That made me feel a little bit better, but all I could focus on what a failure I was at something I had wanted to do for so long. I remained upset about this for a long time. I remained angry at the woman for what I viewed as spitting on my dream and taking my joy away from me. (Which, just as an aside, no one can do for you, you can only do that yourself.)
After a while of thinking about this a lot and harboring a lot of bitterness and anger, something occurred to me. I had been living here for six years and I still hadn’t enrolled in the interpreting program. My kids were occupied with school and extra curricular activities, and while I was working part-time and being a hands-on mom my free time was taken up by other things, things that I was actually passionate about. So maybe this woman’s criticism and meanness weren’t just about her wanting to remain the queen of her little domain, maybe it was also a strong sign that it was time for me to let this dream go.
This can be very difficult to do, especially if we’ve had a dream or a goal since childhood or for a very long time. But what I realized through this whole situation is that when we let go of our old dreams, we make room for the new ones.
Now I am by no means saying that just because you haven’t found commercial or financial success with something that you love to do that you should give it up. Absolutely not. But if you find that a dream you used to have is no longer feeding your soul or making you fulfilled then it might be time to let it go.
PS - it also important to let go of former friends and other people in your life who no longer support you in the place in your journey where you are NOW, but that’s another blog…)
So while we’re choosing happiness, if we’re feeling unfulfilled in an area of our life, I think it’s worthwhile to take the time to stop and examine why that is. If it’s because we’re holding onto some old ideal or dream or goal that we used to have, it’s okay to let it go. When we allow ourselves to do that, we open a door for a brand new aspiration to come in that we may be excited or passionate about at this moment in time.
It’s important to keep our existences dynamic and to always make sure to explore new things. I believe staying curious and open is something that truly contributes to an overall happy life. So while I’m all for saying, “Don’t give up on your dreams,” and I honestly DO believe that; if the dream is not longer right for you, then give yourself permission to leave it behind you and say, “What’s next?”