How To Cope When Your Dream Dies

Yes, you read the title right. It says ‘dream,’ not ‘dog.’ However, I was born a dreamer. At three years old, I already knew that when I grew up, I wanted to be a mermaid with a beautiful voice. When I didn’t grow a tail during my first swimming lesson, I went home with a broken dream and a broken heart. My childhood was spent dreaming about being a lawyer, a vet, and the CEO of a huge company. When I was sixteen, I dreamed of many things – new clothes, prom, and the guy in my history class. However, I also dreamed of going off to a great college far away from home. There was a school I had my sights set on since 8th grade, and I was determined to attend. After an eight-hour drive and a campus visit, I couldn’t imagine my future without that school in it.

Lofty dreams became five-year plans, and my heart became more invested in that school than what’s-his-face from 3rd period. My parents watched nervously as I obsessively checked the mail for an acceptance letter. I finally got in – but even with a few good scholarships, I knew deep down that I wouldn’t be able to go. I was now 18 and I had to decide whether $156,000 of debt was worth four years of fulfilling a dream. Part of me wished that I hadn’t been accepted in the first place as I struggled to let go of something that felt so close. I tried to tell myself that it could be worse, but I was inconsolable. Over the next year, I stumbled my way through my freshman year of college and the five stages of grief you go through when your dream dies.

1. Denial

Prior to making the decision not to go to my dream school, I tried to assure myself that the colossal price tag would be worth it. I didn’t understand the magnitude of the debt I could put myself in, nor did I want to. I thought that this school was the only one I would be truly happy at, and I convinced myself that there was no other option. I had my mom in one ear and my dad in another – both telling me to make the smart decision. So naturally, I stuck my head in the sand, even though instinct was telling me that it wouldn’t be worth it in the end.

2. Anger

It seemed like every one of my friends would be leaving our hometown in the fall to go to a school that they loved. I had been forced to enroll in the local university because I had already declined the offers of the other schools I applied to. The prospect of leaving home to attend a prestigious university in a famous city had excited me for years. Now, I just felt trapped and resentful. Jealousy all but turned my skin green when I listened to my friends talk about college with the same excitement I once did. I spent that entire summer angry with them, angry with my new school, and angry with myself.

3. Bargaining

My freshman year of college started and I spent nearly all of my free time searching for a way to escape. As soon as the Common Application opened, I started applying to other schools that I felt would make me seem less like a failure. I kept telling myself, “If I just transfer after this year, I can still have cool experiences like everyone else. If I transfer, I won’t look like I settled for the easy safety school.” I spent the entire first semester working hard and telling myself that it would pay off when I left this godforsaken place in a year.

4. Depression

To my family and friends, it seemed that I had “gotten over” being upset and I was now happy to accept my new life as a college student. However, I knew that this wasn’t the case. I had a strong first semester of college, but lost my energy and drive by second semester. I found myself studying less, doing less, and caring less. The thought of potentially having another crushed dream exhausted me. The extracurricular activities that I participated in now seemed more like a chore than something fun. Constant Tweets, Snapchats, and Instagram posts reminded me that all of my friends were off having exciting new experiences and I was stuck at home. I was reluctant to get my hopes up about anything to minimize the risk of getting hurt again. “What’s the point?” became my new mantra.

5. Acceptance

It wasn’t until the start of my sophomore year that I was truly able to find acceptance. I spent time filling my schedule with dance classes, social events, and all of the activities that make me happy. Once I took the time to focus on myself, the inspiration I needed to start dreaming again returned. I took pride in the fact that I even got into my dream school – I tried my best, and that’s all I could have ever done.

So, to all of you other born dreamers that envision future life as a mermaid, astronaut, or CEO – You are not a failure because you reached for the stars, but fell short. There are times where you will give it your all, but the universe will knock you down. You have suffered injury to your heart and imagination, yet you stand back up with resiliency and a brighter dream each time. Your strength is creating a bright future for yourself and the world around you. Dream on.
“Let us dream, for today and for tomorrow, let us dare to dream.” – Maya Angelou Thought Catalog Logo Mark


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