Sometimes dreams are ultimately set aside, believed to be illusions. They remain elusive.
The stories of unfinished books, rejected manuscripts, businesses that couldn’t take off, and PhDs that could never be written are in abundance.
Thirty-four-year-old Dubai-based Celine Torres always wanted to be an author. Soon after graduating from a college in London, she decided to take time off and work on her book. She revelled in the joys of crafting new fantastical worlds, tinged with history. “My parents were not entirely supportive; they obviously wanted me to find a full-time job. But I was sure that I would publish this book,” she says. She completed writing it, and then got “smacked in the face” by reality.
Publishers wanted changes that she didn’t agree with. They liked her work, but there was criticism. “I don’t do well with feedback; I thought that it would never find an audience. The publishers told me to take some more time over it. It had already been five years and my confidence felt crushed. I didn’t have the energy to work on it anymore. I tried, but I lost faith in myself and the book,” she explains.
And so, she “abandoned” her book, which now lies on her bookshelf. She never went back to it. “I don’t have the courage to start it again. I was a different person when I started it then, and my style of writing was different. It has been eight years since I stopped writing, which means I would have to rewrite parts of it, if not the whole thing again. So it’s best to leave it, completely,” she says. The dream of being an author now itself feels too far-fetched; she is now busy with a full-time job and two children.
Sometimes, the stress of working towards a goal becomes too much. Sumedha Sarkar, an Abu Dhabi-based Indian expat, wistfully recalls how she applied for her PhD to colleges in London, got the required scholarship, but couldn’t go through with it. “I tried writing my PhD twice, and gave up just before the end, because that isolated life of just research in libraries and stress. I always do feel guilty that I gave up and couldn’t achieve what I set out to do,” she says.
Why do people give up just before their dreams are realised?
It’s a paradox of human nature, the closer we get to our dreams, and the more likely we are to start doubting ourselves, says Mercedes Sheen, a Dubai-based psychology professor. “People are actually poor at predicting what they can achieve and set unrealistic goals that demand too much time, effort, and hard work. So even when we are close to the end, the weight of success can become overwhelming, and the fear of the unknown can paralyse even the most determined of people,” she says.
One of the most common reasons is the desire for quick results. “There is a lack of persistence and patience, as people expect quick results and are discouraged when the progress is slow,” says Natalie Hore, a Dubai-based wellness expert and mindset coach. They want to see the end result immediately, and don’t make time for adjustments and feedback, no matter how close they are towards the end.
There is an intricate interplay of factors explaining why people give up, just as they’re on the cusp of achieving a dream. Aida Suhaimi, Clinical Psychologist at Camali Clinic, Medcare Medical Centre Jumeirah, explains in terms of setting SMART goals (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant and Time-Bound).
Sometimes, the foundation itself, is shaky. A person has a dream in mind, but they don’t know why or what it exactly entails. They don’t really vocalise and express what they want. So, they are not even sure of what it actually is. While going through the process, they realise it entails more exhaustion than they signed up for, or what they thought it would be. Instead of walking on the path of understanding themselves, they give up completely. Secondly, people do not quantify their goals that helps them track and measure their progress. For instance, if you want to lose weight, you go to the gym four times a week, you also need to observe how much you’ve lost in a week. Unless you keep track of how much progress you’ve made, you will continuously feel overwhelmed, as if you’re on a hamster wheel. You’ll think nothing is enough.
Thirdly, as Suhaimi explains, the goal needs to be achievable and practical too. “People set highly unrealistic expectations for themselves within impractical time-frames, and feel let down when they’re not able to achieve it,” she says. For instance, trying to get a new business to take off in two years, while already in a full-time job. However, they would have forgotten to take into account the time constraints, their other responsibilities and their own mental energy, which leads to them being unable to fulfil their dream in the required time limit.
People set highly unrealistic expectations for themselves within impractical time-frames, and feel let down when they’re not able to achieve it
Finally, is the dream really relevant to you? People lose interest in trying to achieve their dream, because it doesn’t align with them anymore, or they find other interests. Suhaimi also cites distraction as a reason why people choose to give up on a goal. There are too many things happening in the background, which prevents them from focusing. Last, they don’t give themselves a practical deadline to accomplish their goal. “For example, you give yourself a year to lose 20 kilos, which might not be enough. You lose only 15 and think that you failed, so you give up altogether,” says Suhaimi. This also implies lack of flexibility, as people have such rigid ideas about their own goals. Instead of looking at it as some sort of victory, they instantly view it as a failure.
‘The fear of judgement and failure’
People fear the word failure. The term stings. This sense of failure is rooted in others’ perceptions of them, which could possibly involve rejection or judgement. They also lack faith in themselves, which makes it easier for them to give up.
During the process of trying to accomplish a goal, there will be much exhaustion and trying times. However, people fear being termed as a failure if they do not achieve their dream, explains Suhaimi. Ironically, this fear clouds them and to prevent themselves from failing entirely, they step back. They worry about what others would say if they failed to achieve their dream. We always seek validation from others, rather than ourselves and want them to give us a sense of guarantee.
Madhavi Menon, an Abu Dhabi based British-Indian expat, has a curious story of an old friend, who was never able to sit for his college exams. “I saw him, filling out the forms for college every year. And then, he wouldn’t sit for it, finally. He had already failed an exam in school, and that failure somehow stayed with him, and his family would keep reminding him of it. So he never wrote his college exams, because in his words, he had a ‘mental block’. He was sure that he would fail. As a result, that just became the pattern of his life since then, flitting from one job to another, because he could never rise to the occasion,” she says. His fears always held him back.
How does one get back on track to achieve their dream again?
In order to deal with this, you need to cultivate resilience, explains Hore. “Break down the big goals into smaller manageable steps. Surround yourself with a supportive network and seek professional guidance on mentorship that can provide the motivation and guidance to stay on track,” she advises. Rather than seeing failure as something that holds you back, view the setbacks as opportunities for learning and improvement. And of course, you need discipline to keep on the path you’re on, and stay focussed. "Silence the inner voice. Whenever self-doubt creeps in, reflect on the tough path you've already travelled to get to where you are. Why let go just as you are about to conquer it," advises Mariam Azmy, a Dubai-based speaker, enterprenur and advocate for Woman in Leadership. "
Sometimes, the grand picture can be overwhelming. Instead, focus on the present day, the current hour, or even your next breath. Taking one step at a time is the most effective approach to reach your ultimate destination," adds Azmy.
Break down the big goals into smaller manageable steps. Surround yourself with a supportive network and seek professional guidance on mentorship that can provide the motivation and guidance to stay on track
However, she adds that it isn’t always necessarily bad or wrong to let go of a dream, if it’s no longer serving you. “Ensuring that what you are working towards still aligns with your passions and values is important, and knowing when to let go of a dream can be incredibly beneficial to make space for bigger dreams,” she says.