“Changing directions in life is not tragic. Losing passion in life is.”
We all have natural talents, and in some cases, we may have devoted years to honing our skills and turning them into a career. As we’re on the road to achieving our goal or fulfilling our potential, there may be this invisible weight that starts to bear down on us.
That’s because there is a burden of potential. The burden is that fear that we’ll never reach our full potential, and the obligation and pressure we feel when we don’t want to continue on the path we’re on.
Sometimes we tie our sense of self-worth to making this one dream come true, because we’ve told people that we’re trying, and we don’t want to seem like quitters or failures if we consider changing course. That fear can keep us glued to the track, even if we have a sense that we would be happier doing something else. It can be hard to believe there might be more than one way to reach our potential and live a satisfying life.
My Own Struggle with The Burden
I moved to Los Angeles to become a stand-up comedian.
Once I got over my initial fears of getting on stage, the fear train just kept on coming. (This is one of the few forms of transportation that shows up with any consistency in LA.)
The problem was that I was not a lost cause. I have memories of making packed rooms laugh and getting positive feedback from not only my friends but other comedians whose careers I had followed. I had potential.
Did that mean I had to keep trying? Even on the days I bombed, or no one showed up because I was performing at an art gallery/coffee shop at 1am? Did I have an obligation to fulfill this potential?
At the time I was getting into psychology and seriously considering changing tracks and becoming a therapist. I was afraid I was abandoning my dream and my potential. But my own therapist at the time reminded me that my own unfolding into my potential wasn’t done. I could be just as creative being a therapist as I could when I was doing stand-up.
At the time I kind of rolled my eyes internally and prepared myself for the slow descent into mediocrity. I probably said, “Oh yeah, that’s a good way to look at it” while my doubts lingered. But now I know she was right.
Though I still feel “in process” on my path, I’ve not only increased my creative output, I don’t feel that I’ve compromised on my dreams at all. Every day isn’t easy, and doubts still creep in, but I feel much more at peace with my choice.
So how do you release the burden? Here are a few things to consider if the weight of your dream feels more like a shackle.
1. Pick the path you won’t mind walking for a while.
We all have heard the old adage “Life is about the journey and not the destination.” It’s frustrating but true. Nobody knows when their life might change or when they might reach their goal. Between the big achievements, there’s the slow meandering of everyday life. Pick the life you can love between the big achievements.
What I loved about stand-up was the creativity, finding humorous ways to point to larger truths, and having a voice. What I didn’t like about stand-up was open mics, late nights in bars, drinking, most male comics (sorry, but there’s a lot to this for another article), and constant financial insecurity. So basically, most of it outside of being on stage. I didn’t like the day-to-day.
You need to at least get some joy from the in-between stuff.
These days, I like my day-to-day. Even on the days something “big” isn’t happening, I love that my day is filled with interesting conversations and making my own hours and being in bed by 10pm. Every day certainly isn’t perfect, and I still struggle some days but overall, I can do this for a while, in between accomplishments.
2. Allow your dreams to evolve.
Sometimes, we can get so attached to a certain idea of success that we don’t allow our vision to expand as we change and grow. If you play basketball, you might dream of playing in the NBA. If you are a dancer, it may be Julliard. But those aren’t the only ways to a happy life. In fact, there have been enough biopics to show that reaching the pinnacle of success isn’t always the path to happiness.
In the Netflix show Losers, they show how a big upset or “loss” could lead to an even more successful outcome, one the athletes at the time couldn’t have imagined for themselves (like boxer Michael Bentt, who goes from defeat and despair to a successful Hollywood boxing coach for movies like Million Dollar Baby). “Success” seemed like a trophy, but it can morph into this whole wonderful life you couldn’t have predicted for yourself.
3. Question why you have this dream.
Sometimes a dream may not even be ours. It could be something our parents wanted to, but never did accomplish. It could be something we think society wants us to be, or we’re seeing someone else’s life and thinking, “If I could be like him/her/them, then I’d feel great about myself.”
We need to investigate our chosen path and make sure we chose it for ourselves. Working with a mentor, coach, or therapist can help us look under the hood at our life path and see if it’s really where we want to go.
Ultimately, it’s about learning to hang out between your ideas for your life and where you are now and understanding that how you feel now is the biggest indicator of how you will feel then. The accomplishment won’t be what makes you happy. The goal is to cultivate happiness wherever you are so it will be there wherever you end up
About Abby Krom
Abby Krom is a psychotherapist in Los Angeles, CA. After learning to manage her own anxious mind, she now helps other overcome fear and worry to move forward in their lives. She also helps release people from an obsessive relationship with food and body image. You can find out more about her at her website www.abbykrom.com.