When Your Dream Dies and You’re Not Sure What to Do Next

Woman with Guitar

“You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream.” ~C. S. Lewis

My wake-up call came at a friend’s wedding about seven years ago. Somebody asked me what I did for a living, and I answered truthfully: I’m a singer in a rock band. She thought it was cool, but I went into a rant about why it wasn’t.

“Creative work is definitely more perspiration than inspiration. The constant travelling and playing late night gigs is exhausting. The ‘business’ side of ‘music business’ is a joke,” I fumed.

On and on I went. As you’d expect, she was pretty shocked. But it was her words to me that made me stop in my tracks: “Wow, so much anger!”

What had happened to me? My dream of living off my music had come true. It was a childhood dream of mine, and I was one of the lucky few who were actually living that dream.

Yet, I was angry and bitter. I felt like I wasn’t in control of my own life and my own decisions, because I didn’t own my time, my location, or my money. I felt like my band owned me, because the band always had to come first.

I realized that my dream wasn’t my dream anymore. Something that once filled me with excitement and passion had become a burden. It was time to find a new dream.

These changes are inevitable in life. You might have experienced the same when you’ve had to let go of a big and important dream.

Maybe a relationship proved to be more painful than fulfilling and you had to scrap your big dream of starting a family.

Or maybe starting a family suddenly made your dream job feel meaningless, and spending twelve hours a day at work felt like missing out on something far more important.

Maybe you were a serious athlete and an injury forced you to quit your sport.

These were things that you worked hard for, and making the decision to leave them behind can feel like cutting off the most important thing in your life. Now what?

Finding that next thing to fill the void of the Big Dream proved to be a lot harder than I expected. I experienced grief, emptiness, and a total lack of direction. I felt I was wasting my life.

Suddenly I had all this time in my hands that I could have used for other things, but I didn’t know what those other things were. Everything felt a bit pointless. The big picture was missing.

The dream used to be my goalpost, something that always showed me the direction. Without the dream, I lacked motivation and the reason to do anything.

So how do you dig yourself out of that hole? How do you find that spark again? This is what I did.

Give yourself time.

Give yourself enough time to let the old dream die first. Allow yourself the emotions of grief, anger, depression, and loss. It can be tempting to dismiss those feelings and jump headfirst into a new project, but process the death of the old dream first.

Allow yourself to just be. Take walks, write a journal, spend more time with friends. Empty yourself from your old routine and just live one day at a time.

This can be hard if you are driven and goal-oriented, but sometimes it’s good to give yourself room to clear the table. Allow yourself enough time and space so that your new dream has the space to appear.

Try new things.

Your new direction and purpose might be radically different to your old one. Give yourself an opportunity to explore completely new things. Mingle with different people, travel to new places, read books you would have never touched before.

You may find a whole new world that you never had time to discover before because you were so immersed in your old dream. This is the time to give yourself a chance to experience something new.

Don’t force yourself to the next thing. Instead, keep an open mind. What else does this wonderful world have to offer us?

Be honest with yourself.

Spend time in learning more about the person that you truly are. What is it that you really want in life? Have you changed as a person?

It’s so easy to go with what other people say or make decisions based on other people’s expectations. Maybe things broke down for a very good reason. Your old dream didn’t serve the person you are now.

Re-define the dream.

Ask yourself brutally honest questions. What does real success look like for you? What is it that truly makes you happy?

Maybe you want more time, not more money. Maybe you crave more freedom, not a more demanding job. When you become really clear about what is important to you in life, you will find the first clues about what your new dream will look like.

For me, it was incredibly important to let go of the old dream that didn’t serve me anymore. Feeling angry and bitter is far worse than feeling lost and empty for a while. Change is difficult, but enduring a period of pain is the path to turning things around.

Sometimes the new dream and the new direction can be found in the most unexpected of places, but that’s what starting over is all about.

It took me a while to find my mojo again, but once I did I felt like anything was possible again. Life changes, we change as people; it only makes sense that our dreams change too.

I found a new balance and a new direction when I started to diversify my ideas of success. Achieving the dream shouldn’t be about sacrifice and pain. Instead, it should be about daily joy.

What you do every day is what your life becomes about. The dream is just your idea of the future. Focusing on enjoying the every day will lead you to that next Big Dream that is right for you.

Woman with guitar image via Shutterstock

About Jessi Frey

Jessi is a former rock musician, who blogs at The Great Gutsy. You can download her free e-book Finding The Right Idea For Your Online Business, which provides over 30-pages of ideas and exercises, so that you can discover your next Big Dream.

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  • Laura Volpacchio

    Jessi, I LOVE this! I am in the process of doing this right now! Thanks for writing and sharing 🙂

  • Great article! I was there a half year ago. Very inspirational article for all of us who feel like losers who can’t find their way. Such a relief knowing that I am not the only one who felt “out of place.” Changing paths shouldn’t be a bad thing. I think we are afraid of what people say about our chooses. The most important part is to be truthful to yourself, no matter what and no matter when.

  • jaz

    Great post! I am actually in the process of letting go of the dream of singing! (The drawbacks are definitely outweighing the benefits!). Did you struggle with your decision to leave it behind? (I’ve actually tried more than once but I think this time it’s for real….)

  • Chris

    This is exactly what I’m going through right now. Thank you. I’ve spent the last 11 years in a cubicle. I want more freedom and meaning in my job. This article is just what I needed to know I’m not alone!

  • Frank Willis

    Jessi, I have been rapping since I was 8 years old. I recorded my first album in 2004. I stayed consistent yearly with music. Dropped out of college, moved to a new state, went on tours, produced music, opened for major acts and invested into myself for 10 years. After my mom died and my last “critically acclaimed” project failed, I was bitter and depressed. I was tired of doing everything right and not benefiting from it. “faking it til I make it” and never arriving. Shady business dealings and losing money. Having the best songs and performances, yet clocking in to my 9 to 5 the next day. I come to realize I loved the music but hated the music “business”. I will return to music at some point but will be on my own terms with a positive message for the youth. I’m now on hiatus ,healing from the losses, taking care of myself, going back to college, training to be a life coach and reconnecting with family and friends. Out of my comfort zone and loving it! Thanks Jessi, Good luck!

  • Loraine Lawson

    Thanks for sharing this. I think this is a common feeling when your art becomes your job. Now I wish I’d found a simple job and pursued my art seaparately. That seems to have worked for many of my friends.

  • maggiemay

    My dream was fundamentally personal rather than to do with career or artistic pursuits. I am genuinely at a loss to what my future holds now that I am unable to have a much-wanted family, no career can ever fill that vacuum.

  • Nice post Jessi. Would love to know about your “new direction”.

    It is important to be true to our desires and you illustrated beautifully why it is so. Thanx 🙂

  • All the best dear. 🙂

  • Agree with you Lolita. Great point. 🙂

  • Hi Ankit! The biggest thing for me was to realise that I didn’t want to make music anymore. Took a while to admit it. I then was able to let go of all those plans. I moved abroad, started a family and found new creative energy from blogging. All things, that I didn’t really have space and time to do until I let go of music.

  • I’m sorry to hear that. Even though nothing can replace your dream of a family I hope you’ll be able to find other things in life that can bring you joy and fulfilment.

  • Is it too late to change that?

  • I so hear you, Frank. Your art and music is so much more than work, it’s your heart and soul, and it can really wear you out as well. Let yourself heal and find new ways to channel that creativity. It will always be a part of you, and there are so many ways to express it without grinding yourself down in “music business”. I’m sure there are many things that you can carry over to your life coach business, and the experience of being an artist and a performer is something that will definitely be useful to you going forward! (It was for me). All the best to your new direction!

  • I’m glad to hear that, Chris!

  • Yes I did, it was such a big part of my life, and a childhood dream. For most of us artists this is more than a job or a dream, it’s an identity and a lifestyle, which you need to replace completely with something else. And it’s hard to suddenly find something that can replace such passion. It took me at least 3 years to fully decide and realise that I probably wasn’t ever going to make another album, or play another gig with my band. I’d say that’s how long the healing takes.

  • Absolutely! What seems to the outside like a success can be soul-destroying on the inside. That’s why it’s so important to have the courage to realise it when the old dreams no longer serve us and re-define those dreams to something that can bring us to life again.

  • Thanks Laura! I’m glad if it has helped!

  • chirag kapoor

    That was a beautiful article. Perhaps something i really needed right now. Its really hard to let go of our dreams, however much pain or misery they are causing. Its funny how we give more importance to what someone else will think about us rather than on what we need to do to be happy. Jessi you’re amazing. Big love.

  • I think I have been through this several times being a creative person I constantly look to re invent myself. The biggest key is not to get down on yourself. We can become who we want to be over and over and over again without seeking permission, not even from ourselves.

  • Thank you Chirag!

  • So true Kyle! Even if you’re not a creative person I think we all go through life phases when we need to reinvent ourselves. Maybe as a creative person you just need to do it a bit more often.

  • Summer

    This post could not be more timely. For over a decade, I wanted to be a long haul, OTR truck driver. I got my CDL, learned how to drive the things, and I worked for a little while for a national carrier. I got to drive across the country countless times in this beast, and it was fun…until it wasn’t (for too many reasons to list here), and that’s when I realized that the dream was dead and it was time to move on. I wanted it as an escape from a life I wasn’t happy with, and though escaping is not always the best way to handle a situation, it seemed like a good idea at the time. Now, my life is so different that I don’t need to escape anymore, and living on the road for such a long period of time is actually detrimental to my life. I quit driving a truck, and now I’m unemployed again looking for the right fit. I know that it will be a hard road for a while, but driving a truck was harder by far. This post made me feel so satisfied with my decision. I was unsure about quitting driving, but now I know it was the right thing to do. I was never going to be truly happy driving a truck, although I am grateful, so grateful, for having had the experience. Thank you for writing this!!!

  • Thanks for sharing your story, Summer! I’m so glad that my story helped you. I wish all the best for your new direction. I’m sure it will soon come clear now that you’ve made room for it!

  • R_Meuk

    Great article, thank you! I’ve just gone through a year of grieving over my childhood dream too. Man it hurts. To me it has felt like a very bad break up, but it took me much longer to get over it. At least in a relationship there’s another person to be clear-headed when you aren’t, while with a creative career there’s only you doing all the deciding. Like if you would only decide to work harder and sacrifice more, you could make it (whatever ‘it’ is). Over the last year I’ve had many moments where I made the resolution to get back to it ‘but do it properly this time’, only to get completely stressed out. You’re so right that living day to day has amazing healing powers! I found that when I stopped worrying about the future and felt my body being happy with enough rest and health, that’s when I started wanting this new life.

  • You’re right, it does feel like a break-up and yes, mine took much longer than any relationship break-up ever did as well! I’m glad that it sounds like you’ve turned a corner and have started to find other joys and interests beyond that first dream.

  • Debra Ciorciari

    I come from a trucking family. I loved going over the road,, but it’s not as easy as being home . I love it for the reason , I get clostrophobia being in 4 walls. If you like just the part of driving you can get in driving local and be home every day. There are companies you make good money. Unifi pays 19.50 an hour.

  • Heather Ferreira

    Gah. This article resonates. Hollywood movie director finally fed up to death with selfish horrible actors who didn’t even call and check on me when I was being stalked… I’ve realized I hate these people and am ready to pull the plug on the production. What narcissistic pigs…

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  • Sabina

    Hi, great article, it reminds me of one of my old dream, i really wanted to be a performer. I pursued it, and discovered I didn’t like it at all 🙂 Right now I have my dream job which is entrepreneurship. Funny how things go

  • Alana Silk

    Fab article, has really made me rethink now and given me some pointers to move on. It’s nice to know I am not alone! Really appreciate the tips thanks!

  • lisette

    Thank you so much for this post, it makes me feel good that what I am feeling right now other people have felt too. I am in a rut right now, my dream when younger was to be a veterinarian but because of some personal issues I dropped out of high school. In 2012 I finally got my life on track and got my high school diploma, I went to school for vet tech instead. I had to drop out again because of health issues I had the time. Then 2014 came I decided to go back and finish, I finished all the classes but then I had externship. I just felt like it wasn’t for me, I just didnt fit in with all the people there and felt uncomfortable. My dream just wasn’t what I wanted anymore. Now I’m home taking care of my kids, but I feel empty like I have nothing to keep me going in a sense. That’s what I wanted to be when “I grew up” now I have nothing, but I want to feel better. I hope to crawl out of that hole just like you did. Again thank you.

  • Nancy Biehl

    I loved the article. So truthful, grounded, inspiring, and REAL.. Thank you, this was so helpful

  • Kolchanski

    Thanks for this post. I’ve worked since I was 8 to become a Magician and Illusionist, and have made it but can’t handle the stress and constant work. I’m in that lost period right now and pretty sad. Thanks for sharing that that is okay.

  • wez

    yeah and if it’s meant to be the dream comes back, I gave up on art at end of high school and flashforward I got back into art half a decade later and fell in love with it again. Just a different side of it(used to be comics), now I work and make a living as a concept artist for video games and film professionally.

    My love of comics is still there but now that I have freedom to persue it without need to make money from it, it feels unburdening.