The process of discovering and circumnavigating the layers of resistance that hold us back from success is multifaceted and complex. One of the most common beliefs about how people achieve is that success takes effort. You have to set goals, then exert a huge amount of effort to meet those goals. Sometimes, however, it’s effort itself that stops us from getting where we want to go. Sometimes the way you have decided to achieve your dream is the very thing that blocks you from succeeding at your dream.
I have been fascinated of late with the idea that “knowing” can be a trap. When you “know” how life should be, “know” what your ideal mate should be like, “know” what goals you should have achieved by a certain point in your life, you’ve already written the future. Your knowing, your certainty of the way things should be, becomes a blinder. This blinder lays a film over your vision causing you to see only what you already “know” about life; you don’t see what actually is. Your certainty begins to dictate what life/progress/your dream should be, thereby ignoring what life is, denying what progress exists, and missing out on chance events that can influence what can be.
It’s one of life’s funny little (big) contradictions that to get anywhere, you have to know where you’re going. You have to set a goal, fix your intentions and work hard until you get where you’re trying to go. At the same time, having a fixed destination can close your mind and predetermine your future. That fixed destination (or fixed approach to a destination) means there’s only one path to fulfill one dream. So what happens when that one dream does not get fulfilled? Langston Hughes talked about the dream deferred; the dreamer who cannot achieve their dream is forever unfulfilled… and lack of fulfillment is a soul killer.
A dulled, disappointed, aggrieved soul ceases to dream, is sluggish, can neither grasp opportunities nor come up with new plans or ideas. So the idea of life, as I see it, is to keep the soul fulfilled. And how is it possible to stay fulfilled while we’re hacking our way toward our dreams? By understanding that the way a dream is conceived or framed is just as important of having the dream in and of itself; by framing our dreams in such a way that they are inspirations full of possibility rather than spirit-dulling dead ends.
The “knowing” I carried around for all of my young adult life—the fact that I was going to be a famous and Very Important Writer—propelled me for quite a some time. I wrote as often as possible, relished in my publications, and looked for signs of bigger success. As long as I was progressing in the ways that my “knowing” prescribed, I was fine. However when I could no longer follow that prescription, everything fell apart. When, after many years of trying, I realized that I was not going to reach my goal of writing a novel, I was overcome with a deep and profound discontent. In a flurry of dark and confusing months that flowed into years, I questioned my entire self.
Untested by life, I had equated my dream with my future. If I could not reach my dream (as I saw it, writing a novel was an unavoidably critical step in becoming the famous, critically acclaimed literary giant I was certain I was supposed to be), what was my future worth? My existence no longer made sense. How could I be born with these talents, yet be unable to use them? How cruel was life to give me a dream and then thwart me from achieving it?
Blessed with a practical nature and a compulsion for problem solving, I realized after a number of unhappy years, that it was pointless for me to torture myself. It simply was not sustainable to be miserable for the rest of my life. I made peace with my failures and tried to convince those around me that the writer in me had died. (Note the either/or thinking: Either my dream happens the way I dictate it or I am a failure and can no longer use my talents.)
In my the-writer-is-dead years, my brain was still problem solving. In some liminal corner of my mind, I was quietly looking for an answer to conundrum: how can one go on when they can’t meet their dream?
As I continued to go see art, I started to notice that when I saw masters at work, it wasn’t the adoration or fame that inspired me. I had tagged my aspirations on “being one of the most important writers of the 21st century,” as I wrote on my bio, without realizing that “the most important” label was not central to my gratification. It began to dawn on me, what I most envied in master artists was 1. their mastery over their crafts and 2. the complete and total freedom they had to commit all of their waking hours to making art.
I began to look at my commitment to writing a novel as a trap. My very concept of my path to my dream had caged me in and rendered me inert. I realized that being an Important Writer isn’t an intrinsic requirement of fulfilling my dream life. Whether I’m writing novels or columns or self help books, I simply want to create. The novel was not actually my dream; it was simply an “in order to,” a goal I committed to as a means to arriving at my dream life.
You know you’re in a trap when you need something to be one particular way. Life is, by nature, multifaceted. There’s always more than one approach, more than one means to an end. When you’re doggedly sinking your teeth into a pursuit that’s not bearing fruit, it may be time to look around. Redefine your goals in a less limiting fashion. When I finally came up for air, and recommitted to simply living a creative life, I recognized whole realms of creativity I had been ignoring. I was so focused on writing a novel—achieving literary success by one particular path—that I was unable to recognize the value of my other talents.
To get to the heart of you, sometimes you need to peel back even your own assumptions about yourself. My reward for pushing past the novel mania into a new dream realm is enhanced creativity and productivity. I’ve tapped into energy, ingenuity, and stamina that I didn’t know I had. What could you achieve if you are willing to let your authentic dreams and desires run the show? What would it take to let go of the way you always assumed it would or should be, and start to carve out the real, true path for you.
As life rolls on, goals need to be reexamined and dreams need to be reframed. If you’re not getting juice from your dreams, you may be forcing yourself down a path that isn’t right for you. When we dare pull back the surface on our presumed dreams, we can discover the dream behind the dream. That dream—the one that’s hanging out beneath your assumed dream—is potent and powerful, rather than limit or exhaust you, it energizes you. You feel connected with life. If you’re at a dead end, it doesn’t mean your dream won’t work; it may mean your dream needs to be refreshed. Approach it from a different perspective, redesign it until you can see a number of paths stretching out before you. Break down the walls of your dream cage and you can once again begin walking a life full of promise and tomorrow.
Be well. Be love(d).
Kiini Ibura Salaam
NOTE #1: Everyone in the New York area is invited to join me for my first book event for my book The Single Woman’s Manifesto.
Free In-Store Workshop: Embracing Your Single Self
409 Lewis Ave.
A or C train to Utica Avenue
Thursday, Dec. 10, 2009
7:00 p.m. – 8:00 p.m.
NOTE #2: SELF PROMOTION LOG
The Single Woman’s Manifesto:I went to one more bookstore this month. I was told to email the consignment manager and set up an appointment with him to discuss the book. A beauty (hair and body products) store and salon took five copies. The bookstore that accepted a second set of five books sold out of the 10-book stock and accepted five more books on consignment.
Bookstore/retail store rejections: 1
Only accept books from distributors, not authors: 1
No response: 2