Letting go of old dreams

Published by Nela Dunato on in ADHD, Mindset, Personal, Thoughts

Letting go of old dreams

Writing about topics like these always invokes a lot of fear and self-worth issues in me, so I’ve refrained from publishing this post for a good long while. What if “giving up on old dreams” translates as “being flaky, lazy and not able to finish anything”?

After all, this is a pattern I’ve had for a long time. I’m not “over it”, I’m still swimming in it and hope that I’ll be able to raise my head above the surface for long enough to see what the best thing for me to do is.

(I’m not saying this is necessarily the best thing for you.)

But usually when I get cold feet about publishing something, it turns out there is a bunch of people who feel exactly the same and are so glad to see someone else writing about it, because they too are a bit embarrassed to admit it.

So I’ll pretend for a minute I’m doing this for all those confused, lost people, and not only for the confused and lost me who wants to get things off her chest. Maybe it will be easier.

Giving up on projects before you’re done with them is one of the symptoms of being a multi-passionate person. For us, it’s very difficult to keep a focus on one thing for long enough to see it through. We basically have to use ninja mind tricks just to get around this and. Finally. Ship. Something.

But sometimes it’s not just about getting distracted. Sometimes the thing you’re pursuing is not the right thing for a variety of reasons. Maybe…

  • it’s not the right time
  • it’s someone else’s dream you internalized
  • you’ve already gotten what you needed from it
  • the old project evolved into something else

And I’ve spent a crap ton of time wallowing in those wrong projects for all those reasons, and then some more.

In September 2010 I’ve decided that after 5 years spent in the University program I didn’t enjoy one bit, I was ready to break off with it. I didn’t pay the tuition. I didn’t tell anyone at the school what my decision was (I didn’t want to face them). I simply never went back. Not even to pick up my papers.

After more than 4 years since then, I still haven’t gone back to pick up my papers. Why didn’t I? Was I afraid of doing that last step that would make my return there impossible? Probably.

I guess there’s still that voice in my head that is asking “What if I graduated?”, but I know well enough that it’s not my voice. It’s the internalized voice of dozens of adults in my life who expected me to do well according to their ideas of what constitutes “well”.

And even though I am an adult now, taking care of myself and owning my own business, at times these voices do bother me.

But I didn’t want to write about University, which was never really my dream (point 2 from the list).

I wanted to write about things that were at one point my dreams, and they were big, and they were important.

The Art Show That Never Was

In September I wrote a really happy post about the opening of my solo art show. Everything about the event itself was great, but there was a shadow lingering all this time above this exhibition and my art in general, that I avoided thinking about, let alone talking about.

But the time has come to face this shadow, and in the end I admitted some things to myself, and then I admitted them to my best friends, and I felt so relieved that I didn’t have to bear it any longer.

One of the weirder things about my art is that many of my paintings were created years after I’ve first conceived them.

I postponed the creation of these artworks because I either felt I had to become better at painting before I could do it, or I simply wasn’t feeling “inspired” to do this very piece of art at this very moment. (I didn’t understand the concept of resistance back then, and I wasn’t yet “sitting with my emotions” to learn what I needed. I like to think that I would have handled it better today.)

“Layers” was the first painting I completed within a few months of first getting the idea, and I feel this work is more true to me at this moment than some of the other works.

With some of the other paintings it felt more like “cleaning the backlog”.

I’m not saying they didn’t mean to me. Oh, they did. They still mean the world to me (which may be why I’m reluctant to putting them up for sale).

But the act of creating them sometimes felt more like I was pushing against something, rather than going with the flow.

And this magical state of flow is why we’re doing art, right? That’s why we got into this in the first place. Because the act of creating art rewarded us with happy hormones running through our brains, and evolutionary speaking, humans love doing things that make us feel good, so that’s how we got addicted to art.

It’s because not doing art meant not experiencing what for some of us may have been the only times we felt alive and happy.

(And as you may know, I’m a huge advocate for creating art that makes you happy, not your teachers, your family, your friends or art critics.)

But I digress. What I wanted to say was that I wasn’t actually living what I’m preaching. I was listening to what my mind was telling me I should be doing, instead of what I was feeling.

I wanted to complete the Katharsis series of paintings so I could close the chapter I started way back in 2006 with my first, rather crude macabre drawings.

I needed closure so I could move on.

But after years and years of neglecting those works, I didn’t feel like doing them. Those ideas now feel stale. I can’t connect to them anymore. Evidently, I’ve worked through those issues in some other way, and doing it though art felt redundant.

After I completed “Crucify” (that was back in 2013) I felt drained, not energized as I usually do after I spend a few frantic days painting. I was just glad to be over with it. I’m not sure I even liked it, really.

That was when I first realized something was off, but I kept pushing through until recently.

As the art show date was getting closer, I found myself procrastinating so much on a few paintings I wanted to finish before the show. I was frustrated and didn’t know how to make myself paint.

Then it occurred to me I could meditate on it.

I invited the essence of my “dream” (the art show) to join me and let me know what I can do to make this easier.

(If you want to learn how to do that, Andrea Schroeder has a really neat free class that explains the process.)

So here I was, asking for my dream to meet me.

And it appeared in the form of a dry, brown rose flower.

Rose drawing
Something like this, only more brown and more dead

Not quite what I was hoping to see.

After the initial shock at the very unambiguous message (“the dream is dead”), I asked for the next step in regards to this dream, and a fresh new green plant appeared — but not in place of the dead rose. The rose was still there.

Clearly, the new dream was a new thing entirely.

I was grieving for the old dream because I wanted it for so damn long.

It felt strange not to want it anymore.

But I decided to go with what’s true for me, and the truth is: I’m done with old ideas and old dreams.

I’m a completely different person from the girl from a decade ago who had those dreams and visions.

It was unreasonable from me to expect that my dreams will remain static, as I evolve as a person.

I’m feeling nostalgic, that is all.

The art show was a really nice way to conclude it, even though it didn’t look the way I imagined it years ago.

So the Katharsis series is officially over, and I’m ready for something new!

I don’t know what it is yet, so for now I’m approaching it one step at the time. My desire is to maintain a more regular art practice so I won’t create any more backlogs like I did before.

But the art show wasn’t the only thing I’ve let go.

Seems like this year I’ve done some radical shedding.

I let go of the vision of how I wanted my business to evolve this year, when I saw it wasn’t working. I went into the place that looked easier, and things turned out better.

And I’ve let go of the promise I gave you, months ago.

The Book That Wasn’t

There was this book I was writing since 2012, I think. It started as a bunch of articles about overcoming art block that I published on (now acquired) Seth Godin’s Squidoo, and people seemed to like them. Sadly, because of some esoteric algorithm that Squidoo created to suck up to Google, my page got flagged and then shut down, and nobody responded to my inquiry as to what is wrong, so I could fix it. (Likely because they shot down thousands of such pages and were receiving an avalanche of hate mail every day.)

In any case, people who went there in search of help with overcoming their creative blocks encountered a very unfriendly message about this page being shut down.

Art block
The little illustration I created for my “How to overcome art block” Squidoo page

I took this event as a sign that I should pack this text into an ebook and offer it for sale on my website.

I “just” needed to edit it so it reads more like a book and not a collection of articles, and voila!

Of course, it didn’t turn out that way at all. All this time I’ve been learning and realizing a lot of things about mindset, limiting beliefs and fear of failure, and I started adding more content to the book and rewriting the old content.

I also wanted to include more practical exercises so people could actually do the work needed to make shit happen. Which led me to creating audio meditations, for the “extended” version of the eKit.

All of this resulted in putting off the project deadline month by month.

Thinking back, I should’ve just published the original ebook and upgrade it later, but I wanted it to be “perfect” because I didn’t want to embarrass myself by putting out crappy work as my first digital product. You only get one chance to make a first impression.

After years of dragging on with this, it became evident I was no longer writing the same book.

It evolved along with my realizations around creative blocks, and I’ve figured that most of the topics I covered weren’t really what I wanted to write about at all, and I wanted to focus on what I thought was important.

The problem was, I was feeling like a fraud, because the issues I wanted to focus on were the very issues that kept me from finishing the damn book.

And even though I’ve heard that “you teach what you most need to learn” about a million times, I still wasn’t comfortable teaching what I felt I wasn’t modeling yet.

So I decided to stuff this project away until I felt ready.

In the following months I encountered at least 3 books or eCourses on this subject by people I was hanging out with online (hi there!), and two of them even had a title that was so insanely similar to what I planned for my book/course! If I published it, I would have looked like a copycat.

And as if that wasn’t enough, I’ve heard about the new EU VAT regulation. (In short, it makes things insanely difficult for small digital businesses and since January 1st 2015, so you’ll either need to rely on Amazon or other platforms to sell your digital products, or do a bunch of administrative and technical work you don’t have the time, money and knowledge for.)

So I figured I was probably never going to write this book in the form I originally had in mind. I’m still not completely sure because I haven’t checked in with its essence yet and found out what it needs, and how we could make this work, but I feel at peace with this conclusion.

I don’t think all the work I’ve put in needs to go to waste, though.

I could publish bits of it here on my blog.

I could take some parts into another program that focuses more on the topics I do want to teach.

But having it on my to-do list feels heavy. I’d just rather move onto new things.

I’m sorry. I hope that you who have been waiting for my book don’t feel as if I betrayed you. I thought that telling people about it would help me with accountability, but sadly it didn’t. Because it was already too late. I probably should have announced it a year before when it was still a fresh idea in my mind. The announcement I made was an attempt at resuscitation.

You will get access to what I’ve created in one way or another. Some of it for free, on my blog. Some of it in one of my courses (when I figure out the scary, difficult thing that is EU VAT). And those of you who applied to beta-test my book & eKit will get to beta test my new course, which will be even more powerful and amazing, so I don’t think it’s such a bad deal! ;)

But I can’t tell you when that will be — for now, I need to remove all the pressure.

New things are ahead

In fact, just when I got over the fact that I’m done with my old (I keep typing “owl”) dreams, I got some glimpses of future projects.

They excite me so much and I can’t wait to share them with you!

But new projects that are pulling me forward require me to let go of the old projects, with all their expectations and shoulds that I’m dragging behind me like a bunch of tin cans.

I am allowed to cut them loose and start fresh.

I’m done with cleaning backlogs and feeling inadequate because I haven’t made the dreams of 23-year-old-Nela come true yet.

The 29-year-old-Nela’s got a full tank of fresh new inspiration, and she’s eager to get going.

Are you coming along?

Nela Dunato

About Nela Dunato

Artist, brand designer, teacher, and writer. Author of the book “The Human Centered Brand”. Owner of a boutique branding & design consultancy that helps experienced service-based businesses impress their dream clients.

On this blog I write about art, design, creativity, business, productivity and marketing, and share my creative process and tips. Read more about me...

Some blog articles contain affiliate links to products on Amazon. I’ll get paid a few cents if you buy something using my link, and there’s no extra charge to you.

12 responses to “Letting go of old dreams”

  1. Letting old dreams go, huh? I’ve been there before, in fact, I was there 2 years ago when I quitted school for the first time. I wasn’t exactly depressed, it was more like “woah, my dreams and objetives in life aren’t the ones I thought! So… What now?” So, I had 9 months to think about what I genuinely wanted to do in my life. Nostalgia was everywhere. But I wanted to do something that genuinely makes me feel happy and not useless. What I want to share to the world. The kind of people I want to meet. The kind of experiences I want to have. The wisdom I want to share in the future. The talents I want to have. Point is, I (kind of) understand your situation. Sometimes we must leave those old dreams go forever, because they have no more value in our lifes. I guess that’s part of growing up. Sorry for the long comment, I guess I was also letting some things go of my chest!

  2. Thank you so much for sharing this stuff. I have had similar things on my mind. In my twenties I had some really specific goals and a vision for what I wanted my life and work to look like. I find that I am still beating myself up for not making those things happen. Some stuff still rings true and I am continuing my pursuit, but I really like what you said about leaving the rest behind. Time to cut some tethers and make space for new things!

  3. Such a good post Nela. It’s so strange when we come face to face with the truth that what “once was”, is now “no longer”. This sinks in every December when I look over the year and go all the way back to the beginning of my journal from the year when I had set my goals. Often some have come true and then others are like “blah! glad that didn’t work out”. 12 months of space is a good reality ;)

  4. Yay, Nela! I love this! It’s so important to stay focused. We grow and our projects must grow along with us. I always try to follow Cal Newport’s project batching advice – only work on one set of projects at a time! You start them around the same time, then don’t start anything new until you’ve finished them all and taken a focus break.

  5. Totally know what you mean and have written on this topic before too. I used to hold onto them and not let myself do my new passion projects b/c I didn’t finish my old ones. Then I realized that I just didn’t allow myself to do *anything* b/c of this restriction and I had to let go of my old projects and realize they were no longer important to attend to.

    I love what you said, “But the time has come to face this shadow, and in the end I admitted some things to myself, and then I admitted them to my best friends, and I felt so relieved that I didn’t have to bear it any longer.” It helps us to admit and discuss what’s eating us inside. I needed to hear that.

    I was watching a CreativeLive video for artists and they said something interesting, that one of the artists only shares his big goals with his close friends. Because sometimes, when we share our goals everywhere (thinking of accountability) it can create inaction, because everyone congratulates us on our effort even though we haven’t actually achieved the goal, and creates our own feelings of accomplishment before actually achieving it ourselves. His recommendation was to show the world your goals in your actions instead of in sharing your plans. I had never heard that before and I thought it was an interesting alternative to the accountability idea.

    Thanks for sharing.

  6. Totally relate to this, and it also took me a long time to realize. For a long time, I felt like I *had* to be a fiction writer. I’ve given myself permission to let go of that dream and to just write what I want to write. I’m writing a lot more since I gave up on the thing that never quite fit. Looking forward to seeing what you do next, Nela!

  7. Such a heartfelt post Nela, and so relatable. :) As you said, when we talk about the things that are close to our hearts and feel vulnerable to share, that’s when we find out we’re in a very healthily populated boat. :)

    I love that you’ve been so honest about deciding to let some things go, and I know it can feel kind of hard – I think it’s a kind of grieving process really. But I’m also very excited to see what will come into the new space created by releasing the old dreams! :)

  8. @Fidel: Oh, I love long and thoughtful comments :) They add so much to the post.
    I know what you mean about school. It is difficult when you don’t know what to do, which was part of the reason why I stayed in school for so long before I quit. When I finally did quit 4 years ago, it was when I already had a permanent job in a career (web design) I felt comfortable in. The job was my “excuse” so to speak. My parents gave me so much grief over it, if I didn’t have a plan B, it would be even worse.
    I hope you found what you were looking for, and that you’re so much happier now! :)

    @Carrie: Well said! Yes it’s pretty crazy how we fear we’ll let down our younger self if we don’t follow through on *her* dreams. It took me so long to realize that she made her decisions from what *she* thought was possible and best for her, and I see a lot more potential than she ever could.

    @Anna: Ah yes, this time of year for reflection and evaluation :) It’s good when you can see it in such a short span (1 year is not too long) and course correct. Yay for the plans that did work out! :)

    @Laura: Ah, focus, that concept I still have to grasp :) I haven’t read much by Cal (although the name is familiar), will look it up. Though in the context of this article, “done” can sometimes mean “released”, not “completed”. I’m wondering what he has to say on this.
    Surely, this ending might have been avoided if I worked toward completion sooner.

    @Kathy: Oh man, that’s so familiar! I didn’t allow myself to do ANYTHING before completing the art show paintings and the book. Everything had to wait until some later time. It frustrated me so much and I felt so creatively stifled!

    Oh I know that story – I heard it on a TED talk by Derek Sivers.
    I’m not sure which approach works best, because I’ve tried both – being completely secret, and sharing my goals. But right now I’ve only shared my next project with a few select friends because I wanted their feedback on my idea, and they’re gently nudging me to move on, sending me materials that could be useful to me etc. But I would not go public before I’m ready.

    @Beth: Oh, I totally understand that. I had my own such projections as well. And it seems like this very grand idea is what stops you from creating in the first place. You’ll make a lot more progress in writing by allowing yourself to write whatever!
    Thank you! :)

    @Tara: Haha so true, I heard it so many times from other bloggers, but it took me seeing it happening on my own blog to trust it completely :) The fear of hearing crickets and looking like a complete weirdo is still real, though! :D

    Thank you for your kind support!
    Yes, at first difficult to differentiate between the grieving and feeling a genuine desire to continue. I think the truth emerges when you give it a bit of time. I started writing this post nearly 3 months ago, but back then it felt too raw to share. Now I’m on the other side of grief and frankly I’m a bit pissed I didn’t let it go sooner! :) It would have saved me a lot of guilt.

  9. Wow! I really feel what you wrote. I will be 60 next week. Many of my dreams have been fulfilled – I have a family of three children(grown now), I went back to school and got my AA. (I applied to an upper level college here in my home town, UF, but got turned down. I got discouraged and never applied again.) I married, twice. Both husbands wanted to try to own me and tell me how to live. I knew enough to get out of those relationships, but, lacking the good sense to pick a decent mate, I shall refrain from trying until some later date, if ever.
    Now, though, my health has caught up with me. Hey, if I had known I would live this long, I would have taken better care of myself, my body. I went to a reunion of my old high school/junior college friends about 5 years ago. I was amazed, and somewhat hurt, that things just weren’t the way I remembered them! Back then, we all had our dreams. We had a myth. We were flower children and gonna change the world through love and peace. I did do a ton of protesting and writings and whatever I could. But, I spent my life being subservient and passive, rather than standing up and making waves, even if for myself. I am currently going through a ‘course’ offered by an old online friend, about art and how we approach it and what not. The first thing we talked about was the myths we believed and how they differ from what we really know. I believed in a myth, the hippie philosophy, and I guess I took it the wrong way because I only allowed myself to be walked on. Now, I find myself evaluating my life and I get angry that I didn’t do more of what I wanted. Thing is, I didn’t know what it was. It seems sad to have lived all this time and not know what I want still. But, by gods and goddesses, I am going to find myself before I leave this world. If it ticks someone off, so be it. That part of me is transformed and I refuse to take it from others anymore! I have spent too much time doing what has been expected of me. It’s high time I figure out what “I” expect of me. That is my goal.
    Your writings always help me dig deep into myself. I appreciate that. However you present your work, your advice, your ideas, etc, it resonates with me. To change is human. You are wise beyond your years!
    Thank you, dear lady!


  10. Dear Su, your comment brought tears to my eyes.

    Thank you so much for sharing your story here, and I’m sure that everyone who reads it will be moved by your determination to live the rest of your life for yourself, just as you deserve!

    Looking back, the flower children movement really did look like it was going to change things for the better. And I’m certain that it did change a lot. But yeah, as you noticed yourself it may have lacked some healthy balance of peacefulness and sovereignty – not over other people, but over ourselves.

    The course you mention sounds really interesting, and I’m so glad it’s offering you just what you need right now.

    Thank you so much for your kind words!
    I’m so honored that I have a chance to connect with you this way, and that my writings are useful to you.

  11. Hehehe, I think I am one of those people who wrote a book about Creative Block, no? As you know, Nela, I’m not always that linear about what I create so I just started out with a bunch of notes I’d amassed about the creative process and the book gradually decided to be about beating blocks. Like you, there were moments when I wondered whether I could actually walk the talk, but I’m happy to say that I have remained unblocked so something must have worked!

    If I had a pound for all the other projects I abandoned during the many, many years it took to get that book together, I’d be laughing. We can’t finish everything and you are so right that we needn’t beat ourselves up for not doing so. I do think, that with experience, we get better atuned to what we really want to do and probably start fewer things that we don’t finish but there will always be some things that have ceased to serve us.

  12. Yep Cherry, you are :D

    I like your organic process. And I admire you for following through! Writing a book is not easy, and I’m so glad your message is now out there helping people that need it.

    You’re right about that. I’m still learning the lesson of focusing, and abandoning projects is always so uncomfortable, but the result is kind of like letting go of a sucky relationship – once you officially break it off, it’s actually a relief! :)

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