There's a sense of pride in challenging yourself, in working for the impossible. This quest helps people out of their comfort zone, providing them with a sense of satisfaction of achieving something difficult. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dreams can ignite a passion within us. But what happens when the odds of achieving that dream feel more like a discordant note? Do you still try to turn the tune into a reality?

Some might call this relentless pursuit foolhardy. Others might see it as being filled with determination. Experienced Dubai-based entrepreneurs as well as those who have just launched their business, have varying opinions. “I think, pursuing a dream despite low chances of success reflects determination, rather than stubbornness. It’s about having a clear vision and unwavering belief,” says Della Pass, who started her own coaching, mentoring centre in Dubai. Meanwhile, Natasha Rudasenko, the founder of Dubai-based Health Nag, believes that we create our own luck. “When there is a dream, we find the way. It is not even about a skill or talent, it is about resourcefulness, perseverance, and focus,” she maintains.

On the other hand, Anisha Oberoi, the CEO and Founder of Secret Skin, Dubai  believes that only a “dogged, stubborn” pursuit of your calling, can help you see parts of yourself that you wouldn’t meet without encountering adversity and defeat. “We put so much at risk to pursue a dream, even if the chances of success are low. If we don’t pursue what we believe to be our calling, what is the point of it all?”

Chances of success may be low, but in the dogged, stubborn pursuit of the seemingly-impossible, we find parts of ourselves we would never meet without encountering adversity and defeat....

- Anisha Oberoi, CEO and Founder of Secret Skin

The key word, being here risk. As psychologists explain, this chase for the impossible can affect several parts of your life, including your well-being. When do you keep pursuing, and when do you learn to let go, finally?

'Why do we dream of impossible things?'

Woman looking out of the window
Sometimes, hearing other people's success stories pushes you to achieve the same for yourself. Image Credit: Shutterstock

For starters, pursuing a dream is a deeply personal journey.

It’s different for each one of us, explains Nusrat Khan, a Dubai-based clinical psychologist at Human Relations Institute & Clinics Dubai. “It reflects our values, beliefs about ourselves and the world around us,” she says. Keeping a dream, a vision in mind is what gives our lives a meaning and purpose, even if it seems rather distant.

As she explains, it is a mix of perseverance and optimism. This optimism is mingled with a sense of excitement: A desire to translate a vision into a reality, adds Tanya Unni,who founded her own skincare company in Dubai. It’s what pushes them forward, as well. “The excitement stems from manifesting a vision into reality, defining success not solely by monetary gain but by the actualisation of their dreams. For them, this realisation serves as the ultimate purpose, leading to a deep-seated satisfaction,” she says.

The very act of striving for something difficult can be deeply rewarding, for people. Overcoming obstacles and making progress brings a sense of accomplishment and satisfaction that can't be replicated by taking the easy route, explains Miriam Mayer, a Dubai-based business psychologist. It pushes you out of your comfort zone, forcing you to take on new challenges, helping you see different parts of yourself that you didn’t know before. There’s a sense of empowerment, every time you take one step ahead.

This determination, belief in chasing a dream, is usually the sign of a healthy individual, adds Khan. “It speaks about their resilience, and determination to expand their capabilities,” she says. The stories of this determination are plenty. For instance, Dubai-based Zahy Hachem, managed to launch a full business called Kun: Design Your Journey, while juggling a job as a strategic advisor. With the aim of spreading wellness and spiritual calmness in the UAE, he says, "I've always been deeply fascinated by human behavior, the psyche, and the interplay between mind, body, and spirit. This fascination led me to explore various modalities to enhance mental and emotional well-being," says Hachem, who sticks by the mantra, 'If you can dream it, you can do it...'

A dream is often seen as impossible when the odds are stacked against it and success seems unlikely. However, whether to keep pursuing it or let it go depends on a few things, explains Christian Kiefer, CEO and Founder of Spa Wellness Project Management. "If the dream is deeply important to you, aligns with your values, and you're willing to put in the work despite challenges, then I believe it's worth pursuing," he says. 

What inspires these seemingly difficult dreams? Well, the reasons could be many, including role models, who have created an impact on you, says Khan. “You hear so many stories when you are growing up, about people achieving the impossible.” This belief begins to seep into a person: If they can do it, why can’t you too?

Sometimes, fear plays a role, too. While passion and excitement are powerful motivators, fear can also be a surprisingly effective driver.

How fear can push you forward

Stressed out person
Most people have a fear of failure, of not trying enough. They worry about letting others down. This spurs them into action. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Chasing a dream isn’t as romantic as it always sounds. It offers gruelling challenges, hard work, and disappointments. That’s where fear steps in, as Khan points out. Rather letting your fear control it, you can channel it productively.

It can also be fuel for a vision: “People have a fear of not trying enough. They worry about letting others down. The fear of regret, and not pursuing a dream. And many a times, this outweighs the fear of failure. It spurs people into action. They work towards avoiding a negative outcome,” she notes. It sharpens our focus and kicks up our energy a notch, and this heightened state gives us the push to fight through obstacles. The more we overcome a fear, the more empowered we feel. Ironically, it creates a cycle, becoming a stepping stone to achievement.

While these factors act as powerful motivators for one to push forward for their dream, it’s not enough. The psychologists provide some caveats to chasing difficult dreams.

‘You cannot keep relying on hope’

Bored woman
Having a dream is a great thing---yet, your optimism and hope also need to be grounded in reality. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Misha Srivastava (name changed on request), a Dubai-based entrepreneur, recalls how her former partner gave up a high-paying accounting job to become a “theatre connoisseur” as he claimed. Everyone praised him for his “reckless” streak. Srivastava also gave up her job of public relations at the time. He had several plans: Writing, producing plays, starting a theatre company, without really knowing what it all entailed. “I didn’t know either, and I was just so enamoured with the thought of doing something with theatre. Yet, just having ‘something’ in your mind isn’t enough; you need to have some amount of clarity. You cannot afford to be reckless in such decisions, and I learnt that the hard way. I lost a good job, for nothing — and for not doing my own research, and listening to someone else,” she recalls.

You need to approach your visions with a sense of realism, without giving up the optimism, says Khan. “Such dreams require balance, and being grounded in practicality, acknowledging the positives. You cannot keep relying on hope. You need to accept the constraints of situations. The limitations might be external. Sometimes, things are just not logistically possible or financially viable, and this will guide you on the right path of decision-making,” she says.

You need to approach your visions with a sense of realism, without giving up the optimism. Such dreams require balance, and being grounded in practicality, acknowledging the positives. You cannot keep relying on hope. You need to accept the constraints of situations. The limitations might be external.

- Nusrat Khan, psychologist, Human Relations Institute & Clinics Dubai

You need that clarity of reality; a sharp reality check, so you can navigate the complexities of your path. Don’t keep determinedly walking down a difficult path, compromising your finances, well-being, especially when the external factors are not in your favour. As Kiefer explains,  you have to weigh the costs and benefits, you can’t put your future and or your family’s financial safety and security at risk. If despite your efforts, the dream remains out of reach then it might be time to let go. It's about finding a balance between persistence and knowing when to move on, he says. 

“The journey to success is often romanticised and misunderstood. It’s not stubbornness or recklessness that is required when pursuing a dream. It’s being practical and realistic. Taking feedback, listening to people — assessing what works for you, and what doesn’t. You cannot gamble the important things of your life away, mindlessly. If you are putting finances, your well-being, as well others time and effort into it, you need to take full stock and accountability of the situation,” explains Miriam Mayer, a Dubai-based business psychologist.

A community effort, sometimes

Sometimes, along with a sense of realism, it's also the love, support  and honest feedback of people that can keep you grounded in your vision. Often, it does help to keep the fears and doubts in check. Shatha Almutawa, the director of the Dubai-based Kutubna Cultural Center, navigated different difficult dreams throughout her life. After becoming a respected professor and scholar abroad---a job that many would aspire for---she changed the course of her life after returning to the UAE to raise her children. And so, she found a new world for herself, creating Kutubna, an independent bookstore and cultural center.

It wasn't an easy journey to start something new entirely, but as Almutawa mentions, it was also the support of the people around her that kept her pursuing her dream, along with her own grit and resilence. Needless to say, there is a joy in celebrating each milestone, success with those around you, and it gives you the strength to keep working on a vision, despite the bumps.

Shatha Almutawa, the director of the Dubai-based Kutubna Cultural Center, reveals that she received much love and support from the people around her, which helped bring her vision to life. Image Credit: Oxana Berezovskaya

When do you let go of a difficult dream?

This is a tricky, debatable question as the entrepreneurs and psychologists, all agree. Dreams evolve over time as personal and professional priorities change, explains Lama Bechara, CEO of Babilou Family Middle East. The journey will always include twists and turns. "The best dreams are based on fulfilment as much as achievement," she says. 

As Mayer says, while it’s subjective, a person needs to take several factors into account: Their well-being, their drive, what they consider their success rate, and of course, finances, if need be. “You need to ask yourself several questions: Do you still see yourself going forward? Have you come far from where you started?”

If that initial fire has died, and the challenges seem insurmountable, ask yourself, if continuing is bringing you joy or progress.

Mayer lays down some points to consider:

Stagnation and lack of progress: If you've been consistently putting in effort but haven't seen any meaningful progress for a significant amount of time, it's worth re-evaluating. Sometimes external factors can make a dream truly impossible. Are there new roadblocks or limitations that weren't there before?

Impact on well-being: If the stress and pressure of pursuing your dream are negatively impacting your life, it might be time to re-prioritise.

Not aligned with values: Sometimes, upon closer examination, we realise the dream we're chasing doesn't truly align with our core values or who we want to be. This can be a difficult truth to face, but acknowledging it allows you to pursue something more authentic.

She also adds that letting go doesn’t have to be a complete ending. There are just different ways to approach it:

Shift focus: Redirect your energy towards a different aspect of the original dream.

A break: Sometimes a temporary break can reignite your passion or give you a new perspective.

And finally, sometimes it’s best to find closure. “Acknowledge the effort you put in and allow yourself to grieve the loss of the dream. Be honest with yourself, about your motivations, progress, and well-being,” she adds.