The song "When You Wish Upon a Star" promises so much providing hope and comfort. No wonder it is one of the most popular songs in the world. But what happens when what you wished for does not come true?
Following is a personal example. Several years ago, I received a phone call from Oprah's executive producer asking me to fly to Chicago to be on the show the following day. I declined explaining that I was chairing the final exam for one of my doctoral advisees and therefore would have to make it another time. That decision was a good one for my academic career but not for my career as an author. I naively assumed I would get another chance. So when my next book was published, the publicist contacted the producer of Oprah. I told my doctoral students if asked I would get on the next plane, no matter what. And by now you figured out the answer-I was never asked again. Do I regret turning down my one opportunity? Yes.
For a time, I tried to make it happen. I imaged myself on Oprah, I kept singing the song "When you wish upon a star...Anything your heart desires will come true." Finally I realized that I am one of those who will never be on Oprah. And that got me thinking.
Life is full of unmet dreams, of expectations gone astray. What happens when our plans are derailed? When our jobs are eliminated? When we find ourselves caregivers for spouses, children, parents? In other words, what do we do when life does not follow the script?
These unmet dreams are particularly difficult because there are no rituals for them. For example, you have a book party for the published book but not one for the book that never saw the light of day. You do not talk about feeling cheated because you were never promoted, never had children, never had a fulfilling relationship, or were never on Oprah. In other words, you share your events with others but only you are aware of what has not happened. You grieve silently; sometimes not even aware of what is causing your distress.
AND EVEN MORE IMPORTANT, how do we turn our lives around and create new paths-paths we never imagined were possible? I have learned from hundreds of those I interviewed the creative ways they turn lemons into lemonade. Here are some tips:
1. Talk about your disappointment-don't keep it undercover;
2. Go to Plan B. Snoopy, the fictional dog in the comic strip Peanuts, is depressed because the expected promotion did not occur. Snoopy has many choices-to stay depressed forever, to obtain more training to so that there will be another chance to get the award, or to move on to another area in life that provides satisfaction.
3. Reframe. Focus on what you have, not what you do not have. My dream of being on Oprah will never happen, but I will try to follow Helen Keller's advice "When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us."