By Heather Glidden
What were your dreams when you were a child? Did you dream of being a teacher or an astronaut or a veterinarian?
My dream was to be a dancer. I imagined myself in layers of tulle performing perfect pirouettes and being asked for my autograph after the show. But for many reasons, my dream didn’t make it to adulthood with me.
The truth is, I don’t know very many people who do live out their childhood dreams as adults. I never really noticed this until I worked with an Olympic athlete who had been diligently bringing her childhood dream to fruition for decades, starting when she was quite small. Watching her was inspiring, but it also caused me to revisit and wonder about my own dreams.
For most of us, our childhood dreams fall by the wayside when they prove too impractical, when we run into obstacles we don’t know how to overcome, or when we realize we simply no longer want to do those things.
We are repeatedly encouraged by the media and inspirational speakers to follow our dreams, but I wonder how many of us really know what our dreams are as adults. When discussion of dreams arises, I often see people (including myself) flashback to childhood dreams, even though those dreams are no longer fresh or vital for us.
After I graduated from college, I had the opportunity to revisit my dream of becoming a professional dancer, but I realized that it no longer called to me. It wasn’t my dream anymore, but it wasn’t replaced by a new dream. Instead, there was a sort of empty space where a dream used to live. On some level I was always, always searching for that same connection to meaning and purpose that I had with dance. I looked for it in jobs and relationships and hobbies, but I never found it again…until I changed my definition of what it means to have a dream.
This started to happen as I watched my Olympic athlete client win the medals she had been dreaming about since she was a small child. Watching her made me wonder: what is there in my life that could give me that level of motivation and inspiration? What could pull me through all of the self-doubts and setbacks that are a natural part of life to truly achieve my potential, and also leave the world a richer place? In other words, it re-ignited the question for me about what my dream is for my life as an adult.
I noticed that when we are children, we are taught to speak about dreams in terms of professions or concrete goals. My dream was to be a dancer. Maybe your dream was to be a professional athlete or a famous author. These are all jobs.
But if you think back, you’ll probably notice that what made your dream special was less about the profession and more about the feeling or qualities of the dream. For me, dancing made me feel free and connected to beauty. It allowed me to express what I couldn’t say with words. I wanted to always feel like that, but no one taught me to dream of feelings and qualities, they taught me to dream of a profession. So instead of identifying my dream as “freedom, beauty, and self-expression,” I identified it as “being a dancer.” Then later, when a career as a dancer didn’t work out for me, I was left stranded without a dream.
If we redefine dreams as feelings or states of being, then they don’t need to fall by the wayside. We can actually continually refresh our dreams using those qualities and feelings as the compass needle to guide us as our needs and interests change.
So today I invite you to spend a little time with your dreams. What dreams have you lost along the way? What brings a feeling of richness into your life now? And what nudges might be trying to get your attention if you were to slow down and listen?
If it’s been awhile since you felt connected to your dreams, then it may take a bit of excavation to find them again. A few ways to reconnect with your dreams include journaling, making a vision board, meditation, daydreaming, and playing. Notice what draws you in and what you can easily got lost in doing for hours. What energizes you? What fills you with inspiration?
Dreams often don’t make any sense at the beginning. I talked to one person who just noticed that she enjoyed drawing people on the subway. She didn’t have any idea where that dream would lead her, but she felt connected to the pleasure of it in her heart, and so she just kept doing it. Eventually it did lead to a profession, but only after years of drawing simply for the fun of it.
Joseph Campbell said “Follow your bliss,” and I take this quite literally. Notice what brings you the serenity of bliss and allow yourself to do that. When we try to make dreams into jobs, we ask them to follow a linear path; but dreams don’t work that way. If we try to force a dream into being a job before it is ready, we can squelch the bliss of it.
Following a dream that is alive for you feels fresh, exhilarating. It may also feel a little scary or impractical, but if you look closer then you will usually realize that this feeling of impracticality comes from past conditioning. Following dreams often requires a process of unlearning what we have been taught about how we are expected to spend our time and live our lives.
When you are following a dream, there is a sense of being led somewhere, of following a brand new path that no one else has walked. When you feel like you are lost, then you know you’re really getting somewhere!
If you haven’t felt connected to your dreams for a while, be assured that they aren’t gone. There are still dreams for you. Don’t start with trying to name the dream or understand it. Simply start by making a little space to notice what your heart wants. Does it want to see more beauty, spend time in nature, or make art? None of these activities is necessarily the dream—but any of them might be stepping stones to helping you move in the direction of your dream. What brought you pleasure in the past that has fallen away? There might be a clue there.
Just notice what helps you to feel a little more alive and start with that, a little bit at a time. Do something—just one thing—this week, and then another next week, and keep going. Let me know how it goes. I would love to hear about what dreams you excavate for yourself!
Heather Glidden is the co-owner of JOY, a mind-body movement studio in downtown Ann Arbor. With 15 years as a healing movement specialist, bodyworker, and integrative life coach, she helps her clients recover from pain and injuries and experience radiant health. The mission of her studio is to bring more joy to the world by helping people to feel great in their bodies. She is also the best-selling author of Thrive In Your Healing Business: Do the Work You Love Without Sacrificing Yourself.