what to do when your dreams are failing

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were at a local coffee shop doing our weekly review. We were discouraged. We weren’t seeing the progress we wanted and were starting to question if we had made a horrible mistake — with our businesses, our creative pursuits, everything. Things like owning a house, being successful, finally breaking cycles of mindsets or behaviors from our early 20s — it all felt so far way. We were experiencing disappointment — in ourselves, in God, in the place of our greatest dreams.

Whether it’s business, creativity, or anything else, the experience of disappointment is the same. 

It can feel devastating and confusing. It can cause you to question if you’re even on the right path. Yet, as we sat there with our coffee, sitting side by side questioning our choices and future, something rose defiantly within me. 

Something was off about this picture. 

We were facing a wall of disappointment that was hindering our ability to see accurately. I could point to 1,000 ways our circumstances were indicating that we had made a mistake or were destined to be poor. It’s entirely reasonable to admit defeat and change course, isn't it? But that wasn’t the whole picture. 

What’s true is we are intelligent, thoughtful, capable people. We believed God had given us a vision and we were trying to pursue it. We had the support of our leaders and our parents. God is good, and he wasn’t going to abandon us anytime soon. I saw the bigger picture, and I understood that despite disappointment, we still mattered; our dreams mattered. All of our dreams were worth fighting for. 

In that place of vulnerable connection, as we voiced our fears and reckoned with the evidence over cups of coffee, truth rose. As we spoke honestly about what we faced, our circumstances became just that: something temporary that was happening to us, not a definition of our identity. 

My husband and I aren't the exception. If any of us have something worth fighting for, chances are we’ll go through seasons of disappointment. Seasons that can weaken our influence by convincing us to jump ship. We can’t jump ship on the dreams God gave us. We must engage with the process of disappointment because it will result in maturity. It will equip us with what we need to be successful and produce what we most desire. 

It’s perseverance, not punishment.

Before you make any judgments about the validity of your dream or whether it’s time to change course, consider this: 

Disappointment attacks identity and connection. Once those two things are compromised, we’re on a dangerous road. We’re less like ourselves, more apt to listen to fear than truth. Whether the disappointment is in relationships, finances, or business — the antidote is always truth and connection. 

When disappointment comes in the place of your dreams, ask yourself this: “How can I get reconnected?” 

How can I get connected with God, myself, and with supportive relationships? Before you make any judgments, rash decisions, or even evaluate what “went wrong,” get connected. Positive relational connection grounds us when we are afraid or scared. Good decisions can only be made from a place of peace and compassion. Bad decisions are made from a place of fear, anxiety, and self-doubt. 

Get connected to the people who know you and love you. Process out loud. Let those you trust reflect back to you what they see. Let them remind you who you are and what God has promised you. 

Get connected to yourself. Do deep breathing, go for a walk, or journal for 20 minutes. 

Get connected to God, through prayer, worship, or reading the Bible. Don’t move on until you remember you are loved and taken care of. Look to his word — what does scripture say? Let his perspective change yours. Let his truth help you to have compassion for yourself. Whether it’s your fault or not that things didn’t work, you still deserve compassion.

Maybe it’s time to redirect or re-strategize. Maybe it's a delay. Maybe it’s time to push forward. You can’t perceive this accurately, however, from a self-focused, anxious place. Get out of it. Let God pick you up out of this chaos and get a better view on it before you say goodbye to your dreams or issue a verdict of its worthiness. 

We’re all our own harshest critics. My husband and I are great at dishing out intense verdicts on ourselves. But when we talk about our disappointment together, we always stumble upon moments of clarity. We discover God-truths we didn’t see beneath our anger or sadness. We connect to each other and show acceptance and love. It’s only when we’re restored to that place of tenderness — where I don’t judge my husband or me, and I believe God is for me — that I see the truth. That’s where I discover Hope, the only truth that matters. 

All of us are meant to live a life of purpose. If you didn’t, if God himself hadn’t chosen and ordained your life for a specific, wonderful purpose, you wouldn’t feel the pain of delay or failure.

You wouldn’t feel disappointment, fear, or anxiety. We feel these things because we were created for purpose — to bring into the world a specific gift that will positively impact others. Pain is not a sign of death; it is a sign of being very much alive and aware. 

If we have anything worth fighting for (which we all do), we’ll experience seasons of disappointment. Our dreams may die, be delayed, or take on a different form. If we’re not careful, disappointment will rob us of the process our dreams need to survive: the journey where we fight for our dream, resulting in maturity. It will persuade us to give up on the equipping God has for us. We will see punishment, not perseverance. But connection will restore perspective. Connection brings purpose to the pain we’re experiencing and puts it in a right view. 

Without letting our perspective change and become informed by God’s compassion, my husband and I wouldn’t make it out of this season alive. Without discussing our process and protecting our marriage, we wouldn’t survive it. When disappointment comes in the place of our dreams: connection is the only way. 

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