Every day, we’re bombarded by messages that say: “Never give up on your dreams!” and “Follow your passion!” and “Refuse to give up!”
This advice suggests that if you work hard enough, and want something badly enough, and focus on it diligently enough… then you can make any dream a reality.
But sometimes, your heart isn’t into it anymore or things simply don’t work out the way you expected. That’s okay — and here are five signs you might want to move on from a long-held dream, and why it can be the best decision you’ll ever make.
1. You’ve lost that loving feeling.
Remember that passion you had for a dream at the very beginning? Does it still exist? Asking yourself that question is important, because when you can’t quite muster up the enthusiasm anymore, maybe it’s time to move in a different direction.
Case in point: growing up, I thought I wanted to be a lawyer. I majored in political science and interned for a U.S. Attorney’s Office. You guys, I didn’t even drink on my 21st birthday because the LSAT was the next day. And then one day I realized I had literally no desire to explore law in any form, so I switched gears to writing.
When you can’t quite muster up the enthusiasm for a dream anymore, maybe it’s time to move in a different direction.
Not all dreams are life-long, even if you’ve already invested time and energy. You may explore one goal only to realize it’s not what you want or need. Similarly, you should feel inspired more often than drained. With any job, dream, or commitment, you’ll experience hard days and mundane moments — but with the right objective, you want to embrace difficult challenges rather than face debilitating dread.
2. You keep thinking about what you “should” do.
My friend Emily always tells people to stop “should-ing” on themselves, which is both funny and true. Why do we do this?! Maybe because we’re wired to justify our actions, and we also constantly seek approval.
When I broke off an engagement, I stressed about what other people would think of me. Would they hate me? Think I was dumb? Wonder what was wrong with me? Then I eventually realized I basically had one choice: decide to marry the wrong person to, um, make everybody else happy, or listen to my own heart. It certainly wasn’t easy. It hurt. I disappointed people I loved. And even though I had a dream of getting married and sharing my life with someone, it wasn’t meant to be at that point in my life.
Listen, freeing yourself from the expectations of others (or the ones you place on yourself!) is one of the most gratifying things you’ll ever do. It doesn’t mean you won’t make mistakes; it just means you’ll continue to follow your own path. Besides, following other people’s dreams never gets you to where you truly need to be.
Freeing yourself from the expectations of others (or the ones you place on yourself!) is one of the most gratifying things you’ll ever do.
3. Your vision or plan changed.
A couple years ago, my husband had a potential opportunity to relocate to San Francisco for his job. I grew up in the Midwest, so the idea of living someplace warm with a creative, hip vibe sounded amazing. We visited, had an awesome time, discussed it approximately one million times, and eventually realized… moving to the West Coast didn’t fit the reality of our lives.
I wanted to be the type of person who lived in California, but I also wanted to live in an approachable, mid-sized city within driving distance of family, and with enough money to travel as much as possible. So we didn’t move, much to our own surprise — and now, I’m thrilled to feel like I’m exactly where I should be.
Now, it’s a totally different story when your vision or plan changes without your approval, and not to your liking. That sucks. But try to be open to adapting along the way, and consider if you’ve outgrown a certain dream for good reason.
4. You want to walk away.
This one is really simple and straightforward: if you want to walk away, do it. For some reason, society often tells us the act of letting go is a weakness rather than a strength, which isn’t true. Make sure you’re not running and hiding, of course — but if your decisions feel right deep down, it’s okay to accept what’s not meant to be and find your happiness elsewhere in another dream.
5. You start thinking “what if” about something else.
Letting go pretty much always makes way for something new, which can be bigger and better than your original dream. Every opportunity is a chance to learn and get more perspective to carry you forward. When it feels like you’re itching to change directions or throw in the towel, remember no experience is ever wasted.