A woman with an outstretched hand

I used to dream of being an actor. From the time I was a child, I studied life on stage like it was a religion and recited the lines from every classic Hollywood movie until I knew them verbatim. I channeled all my energy into scene study classes, and I frequently mailed headshots to every agency in New York.

With a bit of luck, a talent agent finally added me to their roster. From there, I attended countless auditions and callbacks, a few of which led to commercials and minor parts. I was finally gaining momentum, and the pieces were falling together. One day, I suddenly stopped.

Acting was a beautiful rollercoaster ride, and it taught me how to be patient and professional. However, with some time, I realized it didn’t fill me to the core the way I’d anticipated. As I discovered, some dreams don’t last a lifetime. They can be precursors to a different purpose in life.

As I discovered, some dreams don’t last a lifetime. They can be precursors to a different purpose in life.

When I told my actor friends that I was moving on to new pursuits, they were surprised and some even suggested it could be a mistake. Yet, something deep inside me knew this was the right choice. Something more aligned to my life purpose was waiting in the wings. Although at the time, I didn’t know what that could be.

In order to be considered a success in Western culture, we’re often encouraged to stick with our dreams, no matter what happens along the way. We’re also expected to know at a young (and developmental) age what it is we’re destined for. Sometimes, without embracing and pursuing these things for a season of life, it’s hard to know if we’ll actually desire them in the long run. 

We’re often told to never give up, but if we stubbornly grasp a goal that we have outgrown, we develop a blind spot to our true calling. This could be a purpose we weren’t ready for in the past. If we spend all of our energy on goals that no longer incite joy, we could be missing a growth opportunity.

If we stubbornly grasp a goal that we have outgrown, a blind spot to our true calling develops.

Of course, there are those who are born with a fire in their bellies for one vocation that can last a lifetime. Those dreams are aligned to them as soon as they come out of the womb. For most, however, finding that elusive purpose is about first engaging in the journey of self-discovery.

Nothing worth having comes without a fight.

Figuring out the sacrifices we’re prepared to make and the ones we’re not requires inner work. Life is a lot of trial and error. Whichever road we choose to pursue will come with its own form  of discomfort at some point. We can’t truly discover what that means unless we knock on a few doors and even step inside for a bit.

Some people get their answer on the first knock. The vast majority of us need to try out a few doors first.

Nothing we choose will be uplifting all the time, but if the downsides of a goal outweigh the joys, it might be time to get brutally honest, even if it feels a little uncomfortable. Make it your mission to get to know all the facets of yourself and be truthful about what makes you come alive.

Make it your mission to get to know all the facets of yourself and be truthful about what makes you come alive.

 Don’t live someone else’s life.

At times, our human need to please others can stifle our growth. Life doesn’t come with an instruction manual, so you can hardly blame us for referring to others to measure personal success at times. However, time isn’t infinite. We can’t waste it trying to appease others or sticking to life plans just because they’re expected of us.

Steve Jobs once said, “Don’t let the noise of others’ opinions drown out your own inner voice. Have the courage to follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.” Don’t allow your life to be the result of others’ hopes or projections.

One goal can be a pit stop on the way to your purpose.

Life can work in chain reactions where one dream mysteriously leads to another. After a few years of pursuing acting, I realized I’d lost that spark and wanted to explore other types of creative expression. When I fell into writing, it felt like an extension of that. It didn’t seem obvious at first, but I took so many things from acting that helped me on my new literary journey.

These weren’t just creative lessons either. On a practical level, I learned how to negotiate rates, how to market myself to an audience and how to manage time wisely. The decision to stop acting never felt like a failure because I’d absorbed so many skills to apply to my future goal.

When I decided to let go of performing, I didn’t give up my work ethic or my drive to succeed. Though at first, there was a sense of melancholy in watching an old dream float into the horizon, my new pursuit of writing has led to so much fulfillment I wouldn’t have experienced if I hadn’t turned that page.

I’ve learned that I’m not letting myself down by moving on from a childhood dream. Goals change in life. I feel lucky to have found a new dream, and I don’t look back.

Have you ever had to let go of a dream? Was there any good that come out of that process?

Image via Alexa Tonn Photography

4 comments

  1. Perfect advice. I began my career as a lawyer, but realized quickly that I didn’t have a passion for it. I eventually transitioned to lobbying, corporate philanthropy, then corporate public relations. Now I run a large private foundation. Each role has built on the next and I have loved the journey but it would never have happened if I hadn’t acknowledged that I hated being a lawyer despite the time and money I’d invested in that high school dream.

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