Delayed or Derailed: When to Give Up on Your Dream

“Giving up is not a symbol of being weak, at times it can show that you are smart enough to have the courage to move on.”

Self-help hype says the answer is “Never.” Never give up! If you believe you will achieve! This rosy and optimistic idealism can be misleading. After all, everyone writing those books achieved their dreams. But there are millions of us that do not. Is it because we didn’t believe enough?

In reality, we all know that if we spend all our time on a goal or dream that’s a dead end, then we’re not spending time on a dream or goal that might work. Thanks to the Sunk Cost Fallacy, it’s hard to trust your own judgement about those big dreams you’ve been working towards. We humans have an intense desire to justify our time. We just don’t want to admit that we’ve been working toward a dead end.

On the other side of the coin, those self help experts warn about self doubt and sabotage, so how are you supposed to tease apart these conflicting cognitive biases to reach some kind of honest assessment of your capabilities and your dreams’ potential reality?

Of course, anytime one questions their dreams, it requires deep soul searching. No article online can simply make your difficult decision easy. But we can offer a few good and probing questions to ask yourself:

Question 1: Who was I when I set this goal? Why did I want to pursue it and have I changed as a person?

We often go buy guitars and dream of art galleries in our 20s for reasons or values that shift by our late 30s. Taking time to evaluate who you were and what you valued when you first played a dream’s highlight reel in your mind is an essential step in the analysis of a dream’s ongoing validity.   

Question 2: How do I feel when you talk about my goal with a trusted friend or loved one?

Are you filled with dread and embarrassment or joy and excitement? If you think about daily experience, in regards to pursuing a goal, it really should feel net positive. Life is short, which is why you’re struggling with this question in the first place. Every dream runs across adversity, which can be triumphed over, but if you’re exhausted, depressed or self loathing about your life’s work, it may be a sign to re-evaluate.   

Question 3: What will life be like after I give up this dream?

We spend a lot of time visualizing the accomplishment of our dreams. We imagine our lives after the goal is won. Sometimes we envision the positive daily experience of living into our goals. But when we focus too much on the ends, or the means are less positive than we expected, it can be valuable to visualize alternative realities. What does a changed course look like in an ideal scenario? Does daily life become more joyful or does it feel hollow and sad?   

Question 4: What would I tell a friend in my exact situation?

People say this a lot, but really try and do it. Imagine your friend. Imagine they’ve got your goal, are having your daily life, and are experiencing your level of success. You’re sitting over drinks and they ask, “Should I give this up?  I feel like it might be time to move on, but I just don’t know.  What do you think?”  Now . . . ask them relevant questions and then give them your honest opinion.

Question 5: Did I want the end result of the dream or did I want the ongoing experience of achieving the dream?

This is key. The real trick to making dreams realities is prioritizing the right kind of accomplishments so that no dream pursued is a waste of your time. If you value the experience of trying and the process of striving, then no goal is ever a dead end regardless of result.  Value “writing better each day” vs. “being published” and you’ll realize that the dream to be a writer is a dream realized daily.

No matter how the questions are answered, no matter if the dream is carried forward or set aside . . . Remember that you and your dream or two different things.  A failed or derailed goal is not a failed or derailed life.

Being pridefully chained to a project that’s not working is no more brave than it is wise. Being brave often means being vulnerable and admitting uncertainty. Sometimes being brave means trying an alternative experience that promises new and different growth.  

Human Unlimited
Human Unlimited