The time I gave up on my dreams, and why that was really good.

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It was an odd thing to do. I sat at on a bench that was near my work and I finally admitted to myself that my dreams, the very things I had wanted for nearly half my life, had to go. I had to give up on them. It was a rather hot day but I remained on the bench in that heat for some time. My life literally just changed its trajectory.

From the time I was 16 until that day at 34 years old I had wanted one thing: to work in ministry. It took on different forms over the years. I had wanted to be a pastor, a missionary, a Christian educator, or on staff at a parachurch organization. I automatically rejected other possibilities that came up along the way. Become a teacher? NOPE. Look at jobs in banking, government, technology, etc? NOPE, NOPE, and…NOPE. I was singular in my focus.

All of that fell apart, of course.

Pursuing your dreams is all the rage these days. It’s been that way for a while. In fact, it’s one of the default things we’re told to do when we’re in college or have otherwise found life to be uninteresting. I took that advice to heart and ran with it as far as I could. Now, you might think that this is a heart-wrenching story with a sad ending, but it isn’t. Giving up on my dreams was probably one of the best things I’ve ever done.

Now I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t hard. I essentially took something that I viewed as my purpose in life and dropped it. I felt that I had thrown away my identity. I quite literally didn’t know who I was or what purpose my life even had. It was initially very depressing and I’d say I felt fairly numb for a while. Along the way I started growing my hair out, took an extended break from church and tried to figure out what the hell happened.

So why was this good? Well, I learned a lot about myself and also about my dreams and how to properly pursue dreams.

Dreams need to be tested

The first thing I noticed as I looked back on my past is that my dream of a career in ministry wasn’t really tested to see if I would be good fit. My dream preceded any real experience. It might sound funny but I didn’t really know myself. I hadn’t given myself room to learn about what resonates with me.

Listening to the stories of successful people has taught me that many of them find their success after they realize what they excel in. One recurring theme is that other people recognized this skill in them and sought them out for help. Those successful people then took the hint and started going that direction with their lives. I didn’t have that moment that said I was really a good fit for what I wanted to do.

I learned that a key principle is that you need to be doing things that interest you and to pay attention to whatever really resonates with you. Pay attention to what others say you do really well. There are clues there to what you should do.

Dreams require lots of hard work

The second thing I saw in myself is that I was full of ‘want’ and very little ‘do.’ I spent countless hours thinking about working in ministry. I read books; I read blogs; and I listened to podcasts about pursuing that career. I wrote pages upon pages in my journal about this yearning to get out of my job and shift to that work. I also wrote endlessly about all the obstacles that were in the way. But I did very little about any of it. I wanted the results, but wasn’t willing to do the work.

I learned that people who achieve their goals in life almost always have to work really, really hard. The work tends to be harder than they ever expected and lasts longer than they thought it would. In the end, though, that’s how you achieve big things in life. If you want the results then you’ll need to patiently put in the work.

Why this was good

If I hadn’t reached the point of giving up on my dreams, then I would still be stuck chasing the wrong goal. I’ve learned more about what I actually want in life. I’m happier. And I am confident the direction I’m going now will actually result in what I had originally set out to do: help people. It’ll be different than I imagined years ago, but it will be much better than it would have been.

Have you had a similar experience? How did you know you needed to change?