Photo Credit: Diana Simumpande
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Many of us have dreams of serving the world, leaving a legacy of impact and leaving our mark. Or we want to have an experience of a lifetime, but life comes and goes, and the dream goes unfulfilled. It often seems so far off at times.
We all start with the idea--fabulous, grand and meaningful. But then, we put it aside. Life steps in and changes plans but the dreams, as Langston Hughes shares in his poem Harlem, and Lorraine Hansberry captures in her play A Raisin in the Sun, the dream goes deferred.
First I want to start by saying, dream deferment is a complicated situation, based on many factors.
1) circumstances in your environment
2) your own fears and internal resistance
3) criticism, judgement or opinions of others
4) interruptions from others
5) excuses, justifications, rationalizations
All of these items have one thing in common. Resistance, with a capital ‘R’.
Stephen Pressfield, The War of Art shares powerful words:
“Remember our rule of thumb: The more scared we are of a work or calling, the more sure we can be that we have to do it.
Resistance is experienced as fear; the degree of fear equates to the strength of Resistance. Therefore, the more fear we feel about a specific enterprise, the more certain we can be that that enterprise is important to us and to the growth of our soul. That's why we feel so much Resistance. If it meant nothing to us, there'd be no Resistance.”
These paths all lead to 2 choices, one that you heed the call despite, or in spite of the resistance. Or you ignore the call yet again and allow the resistance to distract you from the call.
What happens to you when you defer a dream?
Depression, PTSD, loss of hope to name a few. When you’re forced to give up on your passion or give it up under duress, it can cause physical changes to your brain. Your neurotransmitters change, the signals within the brain and to the rest of the body change. It can cause a listlessness, a lack of direction. You can feel a sense of loss or grief.
Perhaps you lose your way, not knowing why you are here and forgetting who you really are. It’s the makings of a crisis of meaning. One manifestation is the so-called dark night of the soul.
Even living in poverty or constant struggle effects the brain and its structures. These have long term implications on your epigenome and can have lingering effects from previous generations.
In short, it makes it harder to succeed in the future.
The science behind your choices
This choice point is paralleled in the brain’s own neural pathways.
As you’re probably aware, the subconscious runs the general programs. When you’re using your conscious brain to think, plan, visualize or contemplate, the subconscious runs the rest of the show. It runs us on autopilot. That autopilot is in the ‘on’ position, about 95 percent of the time.
If your neural networks have been practicing following your calling, facing resistance and being comfortable about being uncomfortable while you are focusing, that’s what will continue to happen when your subconscious runs the show. The opposite is also true.
Neurons that fire together, wire together. The more the specific pathway is used, the more it grows.
Your brain’s circuitry, is modelled on how the universe operates at it’s core. What we focus on, grows larger. What you regularly give your attention to, increases the affinity to that pathway and your brain, body and focus becomes more efficient and interested.
Alternatively, when you continually give up on your calling, complain, make excuses and choose the stance of victimhood, the corresponding network of neurons slowly faces attrition. When that pathway is no longer used, it is culled to make room for more of the complaints and actively looks for more reasons to complain or give up.
Bottom line: you become what you habitually do. And the more you do it, the more you’ll get good at it.
But Let’s be honest, It’s not always easy
Langston Hughes and many other pointed out the injustice of certain groups as they try to get ahead. In a Raisin in the Sun, the African-American family faces tough choices and systemic issues that make success more difficult. Make no mistake, historically, however far we have come, those hurdles still effect a larger percentage of society, than we admit to. This is in large part of this is the narrative of progress and the extent of the military-industrial complex/corporatocracy that rules the majority of the world. Minorities and those not conforming to the mainstream ways, are marginalized and their ideas and contributions do not benefit from the same advantages and weight as those who are in the so-called ‘mainstream.’
Psychologically, emotionally, and physically these structures cause damage to these marginalized individuals. It takes more courage and fortitude for these individuals to step out of their comfort zones authentically and more effort to overcome these systemic biases.
If you’re in this category of standing out because of your color, creed, orientation, gender, ability, belief, wealth, or education, then realize these structures might make following your calling more difficult. However, you can succeed. Overcoming these and other obstacles are part of your unique journey.
My own thoughts are: ‘if I was born this way, then I can succeed this way.’
Stop blaming and start taking responsibility
Instead of letting your dream be differed, I would love for you instead for you to take a moment and make these dreams a reality. Here’s some practical things to get you moving in the direction of your dreams.
A few ideas to get you started:
1) Start an account to fund your dream, aka a freedom fund.
Take a part of your income and funnel it towards your dream. It doesn't have to be much. For those of you not used to doing this, start with setting aside as little as 1% or .5%. That means for £1 or 50p for every £100 you bring in. For many of us, we do not notice it. You can put it in a separate account or simply hold it in an envelope or jar. My advice: Keep it simple and consistent. Increase your commitment by guarding against spending and increasing the percentage saved.
2) Start saying ‘yes’ to your calling.
Make a list of activities that can take you in the direction of your calling. Each task should be simple and take about 10 minutes. Start each day by selecting one item to finish. This item is the most important task to complete for you. Each day you do this, is a way of saying ‘yes’ to your calling and wires your brain to see more possibilities and become more efficient at the task as you move forward. Celebrate your win and reset the bar tomorrow back at 1 item. My advice: do it within 5 seconds of your inspiration to bypass the resistance. And do it regularly until it becomes a habit. It’s just as important as brushing your teeth.
3) Eat to support your DNA, brain and wellbeing
Everyday your body is conducting necessary repairs, replacing old worn out cells and tissue and copying your DNA. You become what you eat, digest and assimilate, quite literally. Not only will fresh foods give you more energy than the processed counterparts, it’s tasty and more appealing. It’s like building a structure with low quality materials, you’ll also get a low-quality output and product. My advice: start crowding out the foods that are less than ideal with whole, fresh foods.
4) Say ‘No’ to resistance, clutter and distraction.
Just as it important to hardwire your brain to naturally say yes to your calling by overcoming the resistance, it is equally important to cull the habits, focus, thoughts, beliefs, relationships and things that take us in the opposite direction of your calling. My advice: take an inventory of your life and let go of the things that no longer serve you and your calling.
5) Get used to fear.
It’s impossible to make decisions and take action in the direction of your dreams when you are constantly in fear. Your brain and body can only focus on one item, protection from fears or perceived threats, or growth. Each time you focus on growth, you face the fear but shift your focus from fear to possibility. Perception is key. Change and growth require you to see fear in a new light, they are a part of the journey not a cause for alarm. My advice: Learn to listen to your fear, but take regular inspired action in spite of it.
6) 'Assume the feeling of a wish fulfilled'
This is a powerful quote from Neville Goddard. Start by finding out what it would feel like, in your body, if the wish were to be fulfilled. Would it feel different than your negative thoughts--surely! Feel it from the thoughts, the sensations and the emotions in your body. Memorize that feeling by focusing on it every day, as often as possible. In doing so, you not only activate your creative capacities, you unrehearse the old pattern and you build new neural networks in your brain. My advice: every morning before you start your day and the last five minutes before you fall asleep. Watch what happens and take note on what ideas, coincidences and synchronicities show up.
7) Watch your thoughts, beliefs and perceptions.
Gay Hendricks talks about this in his phenomenal book, The Big Leap. We all have at least a few upper limits in our lives. The key is to realize that often these thoughts & impulses that come up are not real, but rehearsed states. The body wants it's chemical hit for the day and it goads us into feeling our usual way to keep us safe. When we step outside of that, expect resistance in it's myriad of forms. And Michael Neill shares in his book, Effortless Success, that a thought is like the weather. It flits by but we don't need to take it seriously. We have many thoughts, but a fair number are repetitive and come from our unchecked subconscious. My advice: Instead, notice your own patterns and find resources and a support system to help you through.
My final thoughts:
Don’t lose heart. You are the creator of your reality. You have the ultimate power. It’s your story that needs to emerge and you have a hand in the outcome.
Don’t let your dreams get deferred. Don’t wait for regrets to haunt you.
Over to You:
Do you have a dream deferred?
What will you do to allow yourself to dream, prioritize and act on that dream?
Why is that dream important to you?
Is some part of that dream already in your life or available to you?
What do you have to let go of to make room for you dream?
What have you been doing, thinking, believing, that keeps you from realizing your dream?
Why are we unsatisfied?
Let’s look at a few factors. First, the amount of stress from living day to day is increasing, from job pressures, money worries and the ever-present dissatisfaction, especially in the free nations of the world. Oliver James, author of Affluenza, calls out a key component of the source of this dissatisfaction: ‘advanced capitalism makes money out of misery and dissatisfaction, as if were encouraging us to fill up the psychic void with material goods.’
He goes a step further by blatantly stating, "I contend that most emotional distress is best understood as a rational response to sick societies."
Let that sink in.
Emotional distress in response to a sick society.
He calls this phenomenon ‘Affluenza’ a type of selfish capitalism that is nobly in English-speaking countries whose citizens that are heavily invested in their levels of success—ie fame, wealth, comparison, and the ‘rat race.' We’ve lost touch with our own feelings and the doubts, fears and insecurities we feel have been co-opted by corporate interests and in maintaining hierarchies that keep us stuck.
How has this happened?
Namely, a society has more than it needs yet advertisers convince them they need more. And with each subsequent generation the anxiety and depression increases.
If we look at this problem with the lens of epigenetics, it is not a personal defect within our DNA, but an opportunity to empower our liberation. Epigenetics is a new science where the paradigm of living above your genes. Each subsequent generation receives DNA with certain set of tendencies and potentialities within it. One such negative might be the tendency for depression. Yet it won’t come to pass unless that specific sequence of genetic material is triggered, often by stress. While we don’t have control on the actual sequence, our daily life choices, actions, beliefs, thoughts and feeling have an impact on how those are expressed.
As a result of poorer quality food, more stressful lives, less connected within relationships, and of course less meaning in work-a-day lives, is impacting our epigenome and genome, both as individuals and our society at large.
Are you programmed for dissatisfaction?
Perhaps you are genetically prone dissatisfaction, however we have a capacity for being programmed. Our brains, especially in the formative years of birth to the age of 7, we are learning how to live in the world and pick up programming from our environment and role models. Even after the age of 7, we can easily be programmed when advertising and media plays on our fears and insecurities.
For instance, as Oliver James mentions, we are saturated media as it is, “barely concealed advertisements for classes of product.” Even, and especially, education, as "little better than a systematic method for spreading the virus.”
In his book, Richard Brodie shows how the Virus of the Mind are passed on and ‘infect’ us, especially regarding finding meaning. We have memes in society that program us. Memetics, the studies viruses of the mind and how we transmit ideas between individuals, pervades how we think. This type of programming has become insidious and virtually undetectable.
Memes about meaning
In his recent essay, ‘On the Phenomenon of Bullshit Jobs,’ David Graeber, makes a few points that are crucial to this discussion. First, that we live in a society where many of us realize that our work is fruitless and meaningless. More and more of the world’s population is making this realization and it leads to the emotional distress that Oliver James mentioned. Some cope well, changing to more meaningful careers and lives, or finding meaning in their work. Yet, most unfortunately do not adapt instead turning to nihilistic tendencies, searching for a panacea, or accepting the status quo. It’s the lives of quiet desperation that Henry David Thoreau was referring to in Walden.
The meme here is what TV shows and education teach, that we live in lives that are not our own and live through the bullshit. We live for our weekends, our vacations, and those few precious moments: graduation, an award ceremony, the raise, the wedding, birthdays and anniversaries. We’re not meant to find meaning every day. Instead we get sucked into the drama or fear of the latest news or media offerings. Until our own death, we simply exist and suffer.
The second crucial point that Gaeber makes is that while those that pursue more meaningful work, i.e. auto workers or teachers, ‘should’ make less money and be inconvenienced because their work actually matters to the world at large. In his words, ‘yet it is the peculiar genius of our society that its rulers have figured out a way…to ensure that rage is directed precisely against those who actually do get to do meaningful work.’
The prevailing meme: we’re told that doing purposeful work that serves a cause greater than ourselves, that it is perfectly acceptable to be paid less or treated poorly, because that’s the price you pay for doing good work. I personally find this appalling. These are only 2 of the memes that are in play.
Why do many of work in jobs or careers that do not challenge this status quo? I believe it is because we depend on the money and the powers that be keep the economic, educational, and financial systems to keep us in this dependency. The system keeps playing on our fears and dissatisfaction and instead of solving the root cause, it’s easy to seek for a panacea or a pill that can suppress these feelings.
What causes lack of meaning?
While a depression is a coping mechanism by the mind and body after a stressful situation. Behind lack of meaning and an overwhelming sense of hopelessness is complex. It can have many causes, including biochemical or hormonal imbalances.
Step 1: Trigger. Something we perceived as something negative happens, often we don’t remember the source looking back. It’s often very subtle.
Step 2 Response. We have a response or reaction to the negative event or situation.
Step 3: Habit. We continually rehearse this response, it becomes a bad habit. We become addicted to the bad habit and ‘see’ the trigger everywhere and repeat the response, even though the response may be ineffectual.
We see life, an advertisement, hear about someone’s life and we are triggered all over again. This is how a short term negative becomes the new cage for living one's life.
What you need to do instead?
The truth is we need to go inward.
The real courage, is understanding how pervasive the system does manipulate our actions and that we, are truly empowered individuals to take control of our own lives.
The best way for us to move forward is to take our empowerment into our own hands. Liberation is the best solution. Once you become liberated, turn around and help those ready to leap forward as well. True liberation then, is not from the oppression of a job, but the oppressive memes that live within our own heads.
Over to you
Notice how these memes and feelings of dissatisfaction show up in your life. If you’re stuck in a situation that brings you unhappiness, notice what specifically is upsetting you. Once you begin to see patterns consider the following:
1. Is there more clarity you need? If so, what?
2. How can you feel more empowered?
3. What memes effect you more than others? How can you talk back to these memes/fears?
4. How much autonomy, purpose and mastery do you feel in your life and career? Are there things you can do to increase these feelings?
5. Do you know what your priorities are? Use the Wheel of Wellness I have created as a free gift to help you to figure that out.
Your Daily Points
Let’s say you have 100 units of energy, each morning, when you wake up. You have access to these points of energy on any given day, once you use them, they are gone until the next day. You can use these units to live your life as you please. It’s your choice how you use them. You can use them to maintain the status quo and struggle OR for to follow your calling and transformation.
Three Sources of Motivation
You have your biological needs to fulfil. It’s fair to say, some of your energy is directed to maintaining these urges.
You also have a second directive, to avoid pain and gain rewards, the fear of taxes and being shunned and the potential of a bonus in your pay check or gaining praise for doing the ‘right thing’ does create an impact in your life. To sustain this paradigm, you expend further energy in maintain it.
Past that, as many scholars have pointed out, you have an urge to find meaning and contribute to something greater than yourself. Abraham Maslow called this ‘self-actualization’, our ability and innate desire to fulfil our greatest inner potential. In his words, ‘what humans can be, they must be.’
As Daniel Pink points out in Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, similarly shares, “The science shows that the secret to high performance isn’t our biological drive or our reward-and-punishment drive, but our third drive—our deep-seated desire to direct our own lives, to extend and expand our abilities, and to make a contribution.” In summary, he makes the case that society has moved beyond Motivation 1.0: biological urges direct us, to Motivation 2.0: rewards and punishments shape us and direct us, to Motivation 3.0: intrinsic motivation based on autonomy, mastery and purpose guide our choices. Ultimately, putting consistent focus and effort aligned with your calling yields your greatest fulfilment.
However, our society, including business, schools, government, economics and other major systems that we depend on, are still primarily using the older paradigm of Motivation 2.0. Many of us stuck straddling both uncomfortably. Luckily, individuals and organizations alike, have been making the switch. With each unit being carefully considered and reallocated.
Each unit of energy represents the focus you must give to life. It is the mental and emotional energy that available to you to navigate life, maintain your wellbeing, and growth. According to Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements, we unwittingly and unnecessarily waste our precious energy in maintaining ‘agreements’ with through our thoughts, beliefs, actions, relationships and intentions. He recommends self-awareness and self-reflection to be investigators in our life and observe where we are spending our 100 units. Awareness and clarity is the first step to true, lasting transformation.
How Are You Using Your 100 Points?
Pain avoidance / pleasure seeking
Over to You
Track where you are expending your 100 daily units in your life for the next few days. Put your ‘scientist’ hat on and collect some data. Approach this activity from a place within yourself of no judgement. It’s a chance to find data without the focus of worry, labelling ‘mistakes’, or murkiness. Clarity comes from seeing the Truth (with a capital ‘T’). We cannot change what we do not see or acknowledge.
Areas that you might consider mapping out and focusing on: Finances/Wealth, Health/Wellbeing, Purpose, Work/Career, Relationships, Contribution/Legacy, Play/Leisure, Education/Growth.
Go with your style! Anything goes from taking mental notes to sharing with a buddy to a play-by-play in a journal to making an excel graph.
Finally, once you have collected the data consider the following questions.
Your calling is calling
You came here with an assignment to fulfil and with each minute that passes, you are either a step closer to accomplishing it or further in the fog that obscures your calling from you. Yet each ‘tick-tock’ from your clock can be a reminder and a wakeup call. According to the doomsday clock, we are just a few minutes from our demise—the closer to midnight, the less time left in the proverbial hourglass of life on Earth.
Although the doomsday clock has quite an ominous title, it is a symbolic. The clock, created in 1947, is managed by scientists at University of Chicago based on world events. Initially, it measured threat of nuclear war but now measures the threat of global warming and other potential ‘end of the world’ catastrophes. We had the greatest time of peace in the years after the falling of the Iron Curtain and the Berlin Wall as well as the agreement of nuclear disarmament in 1991. Yet, inch by inch, that peace has ebbed away and we are ever closer to the proverbial ‘end of the world’, especially from the far-reaching impact of climate change.
As the time creeps, unhaltingly forward, it’s easy to get caught up in the fear. Instead it can be reminder to follow the path of love and fulfil on your calling.
Most likely, on the path to awaken and fulfil your calling, you’ll face many dark nights of the soul as well as, internal resistance and external obstacles. For example, the pearl is created by an oyster in response to an irritation created from grains of sand trapped inside it’s shell. As time passes, the oyster creates a secretion to cover the sharp edges of the sand. Layer by layer, the secretions grow and ultimately the resultant pearls are harvested as a valuable commodity. Challenges in your life can be seen as a gift to reawaken your calling and give you the grit needed to transform your pain into your path.
Searching for meaning
In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl shares his struggle to find meaning and fulfilment in his days as a captive during the Holocaust. Imagine him and millions of others being in a camp, constantly parched, starved, exhausted, lacking in warmth and compassion from their environment and captors. Psychologically, emotionally, spiritually and physically drained. A place of unimaginable horror. The ultimate dystopian doomsday scenario for many of us. One that can potentially bring us to our knees and keep us languishing in despair. At any moment, his life could have been taken away; he had very little freedom to express his purpose and it was a desolate situation to find meaning. Yet he persevered.
Unlike many of those in his cohort, Frankl kept finding ways to keep finding meaning in the desolate circumstance. He would have long conversations, in his mind, with his beautiful wife, not knowing what had become of her. He cherished the seemingly insignificant fortunes: a nicer guard on shift, the warmth of a bowl of water to be his soup, a small opportunity to keep his dignity. Through sheer determination, he survived the horrific experience by knowing he had to share both his story and the story of his fellow innates with the world.
The experience furthered his own prior professional insights, that emphasized his own personal and professional quest: finding meaning is our highest calling. After his release, he said, “life is never made unbearable by circumstances, but only by lack of meaning and purpose.” He chose to find meaning of his suffering and went on to share this message as an author and psychotherapist. That grit became the enduring message of his life, his calling.
Is time running out to find and achieve your calling? The short answer is ‘yes’, but it is what you’ll do with the time you have left that is more important. What will you do with your remaining time?
You don’t need to live in a dystopic pit of despair to find a way to transcend your current experience. While it might be easy to fall into the fear of impending doomsday and the pervasive fears of the world through media, you have the ability to transcend these fears. In the wise words of Tony Robbins, ‘stay in your head, you’re dead.’ Right now, you have this moment to find peace of mind and act with clarity.
Over to you
Draw to circles, one inside the other. In the first circle, the larger of the two, list your specific worries, fears about everything from your health, your children and family, your career, finding my calling to the threat of nuclear war and the effects of climate change. Label the it ‘My Circle of Concern’.
In the smaller circle, list the items in your circle of concern that you do have control over. It becomes obvious which items you have direct control, indirect control and no control over. You might not be able to stop nuclear war, but perhaps you can shift your own energy supplier to a sustainable energy supplier, like wind power.
To take this further, list all the proactive efforts you can take to mitigate or change the outcome of the first circle. For example, under your health, you could list walk 3 times a week or eat more vegetables or under climate change you could choose to support green energy or take your own bags to the grocery store. Once you accomplish these, challenge yourself to continually expand your circle of influence by taking proactive, inspired action.
Once you’ve finished, consider the following questions:
All Aligned Alignment Biology / Embodiment Boundaries Calling Capitalism Consent Costs Decolonization Depression Economics Epigenetics Gaslighting Growth Human Design Identity Impact Injustice Inner Knowing Integration Intuition Liberation Marginalization Meaning Memetics Oppression Personal Development Process Reclamation Rightness Safety Scientific Hand Analysis Self Care Sustainability Systemic Oppression Systems Of Power Transformation Truth Work
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