mental health & wellness, spiritual

When Fears = Dreams

Since 2011, the non-profit organization To Write Love On Her Arms has been encouraging individuals to identify our fears and dreams. “All of us have fears and dreams,” says a video put out by the organization, “and perhaps the two are not so far apart. Perhaps they’re at the center of who we are.”

Perhaps the two are not so far apart.

Sometimes, I’ve been thinking recently, the two are even the same. The campaign is called Fears vs. Dreams, as if the two are distinct entities playing a tug-of-war with one another. But what happens when fears = dreams?

Fear: leaving home. Dream: leaving home.

Fear: publishing a book. Dream: publishing a book.

Fear: getting married. Dream: getting married.

And on and on.

Why would we be afraid of a dream? Maybe because of the work involved to obtain the dream. Maybe because of the change involved to obtain the dream — quitting a job, finding a job, packing, unpacking, saying those last tearful goodbyes, saying those first awkward hellos. Maybe because of the risk of pursuing the dream, only to fail and embarrass ourselves. Maybe because of some kind of impostor syndrome, wherein we don’t think we deserve our dreams. (How many times have we heard or said things like “he’s too good for me” or “I’ll never get in to that school”? Impostor syndrome in action.)

What do we do when fears = dreams? How do we push past the fears to get to the dreams? I’m preaching to the choir here, dreaming up things that could maybe possibly help me push past some of my fears to get to my dreams.

Acknowledge the fear. Because maybe — probably — the dream will take work, change, and risk. Maybe you don’t exactly deserve your dreams. That doesn’t make you an impostor. That makes you a character in the story of your life, complete with fears and dreams as all good characters are. As author Donald Miller describes in Storyline, a good story is about “a character who wants something and overcomes conflict to get it.” There’s desire. And there’s conflict. Sit with those realities; know that they’re real and you’re not alone in experiencing them.

Acknowledge the dream. Sit with the dream too, more often even than you sit with the fear; know that it’s real too. So real that you can picture it. In fact, go ahead and picture it. Picture yourself walking across a stage to receive a diploma, walking down an aisle to get married, seeing your work in bookstores or galleries or malls. Having some long nights and disagreements and discouragements along the way but, ultimately, not really minding because, ultimately, this is your dream and you know it. Picture, as poet e.e. cummings once wrote, “five hopes for any fear.”

Start living into the dream in manageable ways. Interview people further along on your dream path than you are, visit a dream place, discuss a dream plan with loved ones, practice doing work that you dream of even if it’s a hobby or internship or volunteer gig. Such steps remind me of the psychology professor who once explained exposure therapy to my Psych 101 class by showing us a video of a woman who feared spiders so much that she couldn’t bring herself to go camping with her son. The impending campout was both a fear and a dream. To get from fear to dream, in the video, the woman was incrementally presented with a cartoonish picture of a spider, then a realistic picture of a spider, then a rubber toy spider, then eventually a real live (hopefully harmless) spider — all while practicing deep breathing and picturing her sweet little son. With practice, the physically steadying breaths and mentally steadying images got her through.

Finally? Go. Face your spider. Your fear. Your dream.

Your story. It may be a story of fears that won’t leave you alone and dreams that won’t leave you alone. So how about this? Don’t leave them alone either.

Acknowledge the fear. Acknowledge the dream. And live. Live right into your dreaded dream until it’s so close you can taste it, and you can sense the bitter fears giving way to sweet dreams.

2 thoughts on “When Fears = Dreams”

  1. I saw your article at Fare Forward, which was linked at First Things. I was gratified to see the W&M connection. I had originally intended to go to this year’s reunion, which is my 40th, and would have taken the train down from Boston tomorrow. Nostalgia. But I decided not to and will do household things instead with the two extra days I took off.

    I liked the article and linked it at my own site, Assistant Village Idiot. I will say that it still strikes this child of the 60’s and 70’s Jesus Freak as odd when younger Christians find it needful to mention that the countercultural folks should not be summarily rejected by the church. It seems trite and unnecessary. Accepting longhairs and dress-downs was an overdone sermon in my era. But my impression is now false, and the evangelical church has long since moved on to dangerous respectability. My own children (I have five sons – you are halfway between my fourth and fifth in age) assure me that the old disdain has risen again.

    Still, be cautious. These things change beneath our feet. Also, we self-select by culture, and it is not always obvious who is rejecting whom.

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