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Lisa Manterfield

Letting go of the dream

How to know when it's time to cut your losses and move on

We live in a goal-driven society, where "Be all that you can be" and "Quitters never win and winners never quit" are mantras that drive us to achieve. We're taught to dream big, set goals, and never, never give up hope. So we plan and strive, but sometimes our dreams remain elusive. The business venture that everyone thought was a great idea won't draw customers; our creative talents are admired, but we can't get a break; the perfect relationship is fraying at the edges and we still try to patch the holes.

Goals and dreams are critical to keep us growing and improving. They prevent us from becoming stagnant and open doors to our full potential. But what if letting go of the dream is the best thing you could do for yourself? Here's how to tell when it's time to fold 'em and set your sights on something else.

1. You've lost that loving feeling
You're making plans, writing lists, and going through the motions every day, striving to reach your goals. You talk the talk--you even walk the walk--but in your heart, you know you don't have the passion you once had. While enthusiasm for anything can fizzle due to sheer exhaustion from the constant struggle to succeed, if it would take a bolt of lightning to reignite the spark for your dream, maybe it's time to reevaluate your goal.

2. You can't remember why you started in the first place
In a recent show, Dr. Phil McGraw gave this advice to a struggling actor. "Do you really want to be a star, or is what you really want the feelings that you think go with achieving that goal? Is it possible that what you really want is to be appreciated, to feel valued and to know that you're making a contribution? There might be 100 ways you could achieve that." What propelled you to pursue your dream in the first place? Take a step back and examine the feelings and desires that sparked your dream. Ask yourself if you could get that same fulfillment (and maybe more) from another endeavor.

3. Other areas of your life are suffering

couple arguing

Are other areas of your life suffering?

Is your dream the only thing that matters to you? How important is your health-both physical and mental? What about your relationships, your partner, your family? How about your financial stability? There's the old saying that no one on his deathbed ever looked back at his life and said, "I wished I'd worked longer hours." If you were to look back at your life, how important would your goal be in the grand scheme of things? More important, how would it stack up in relation to other aspects of your life? Is your drive to succeed worth risking a relationship or damaging your health? Weigh the costs and consider your priorities.

couple arguing

Are other areas of your life suffering?

4. Opportunities are passing you by
When we are passionate about our dreams and goals, we often develop tunnel vision. Keeping your eye on the ball is critical to success, but being oblivious of everything else around you means that opportunities can pass you by. Martha Stewart was a successful stockbroker when she and her husband bought a Connecticut "fixer-upper" and decided to undertake the restoration themselves. Had Stewart remained focused on her career in finance, she might never have created the home-based company that catered the book launch party that impressed the publisher who proposed the book deal that launched the career that grew into the Martha Stewart empire. If you've been driving blindly towards your goal, lift your head from the grindstone once in a while to make sure that other opportunities aren't passing you by.

5. You're chasing someone else's dream

Charles Darwin
's father wanted him to become a doctor. When Darwin neglected his medical studies, his father prodded him towards the priesthood instead. But Darwin's love was natural history, so when he was offered a two-year assistant position on the HMS Beagle, bound for places unknown, he accepted, despite his father's adamant disapproval. Had Darwin been afraid of letting his father down, he may have gone on to become a solid, if reluctant, doctor. Instead he made history and changed the way we understand evolution. Many of us are afraid of letting down our loved ones, but make sure your goal is really something you want, and not something you feel is expected of you. It's hard to excel at something you don't really care about.

Proud mom

Is this your dream or what's expected of you?

Goals, passion, and drive are what keep us moving forward and developing as people, but there's no shame in changing direction in your life. As we grow, our values change, as does our perception of success. It makes sense that our dreams and goals need to be adjusted from time to time, too. Only you know if your goal still makes sense to you. If it doesn't, don't be afraid to walk away and figure out what you really want instead.



About the Author

Lisa Manterfield is the creator of and the author of I'm Taking My Eggs and Going Home: How One Woman Dared to Say No to Motherhood.