In my last post, you may have heard me describe my time owning Flourish as my dreams realized. Being a boutique owner was in fact my dream job. Ever since I was a little girl, I had this unwavering love for art, beauty, and fashion. I spent solid days playing barbies with my cousins, lovingly changing out each doll’s outfits over and over. I published my own magazine at the age of 10, with dedicated “fashion editorials”. In high school and art, I pursued my artistic side and eventually declared an art major with a focus in fibers (which is as close to a fashion degree Saint Mary’s College offered). I went on to work in another local boutique, where I finally determined that being a boutique owner was my calling: I was enthralled with the mix of fashion, business, and working with people. It was a perfect myriad of all my skills and passions. And from there, I spent the next years of my life dreaming and longing for the day that I could open my own store. That’s when I began calling owning my own boutique, my #dreamjob.
You are most likely familiar with that term, “dream job”. And even more likely you are familiar with their ever present friends; “dream guy”, “dream house”, “dream body”, “dream vacation” and so on. These terms are upheld in our culture and even daily conversations with a silent common understanding: everyone should have a clear picture or blueprint of their dream _____ and go after it with reckless abandon until at long last you have achieved and conquered it. Those of us who are lucky enough to have staked claim to our dream ______(you fill in the blank) are esteemed by others. We uphold, pin , and aspire to phrases like “She believed she could, so she did” or “dream big” and so on. Undoubtedly, many of you reading this looked at me and my work at Flourish and thought something like, “there’s someone who went after her dreams”…. And, over the years, many people came to me and shared how inspired they were by my pursuit of my dream career.
I, myself, put so much stock in achievement and pursuit of my “dream job.” Once I opened the doors to my “dream boutique” though, I raised the bar on that definition. It had to be bigger, better, more well known, and more successful. If we had 10,000 fans on Facebook, let’s set out sights on 100,000 fans. If we had a 1,600 square foot store let’s go for a 3,600 square foot store. My “dream job” became a proverbial carrot out in front of me…always one step ahead, beckoning me on to try for more success. Along the way, I married my “dream guy” and bought my “dream house”. In all honestly, I’ve spent the better part of the last 15 years, going after all my “dreams”.
Now let me pause for a moment and pre-empt your concern: there is nothing wrong with espousing to excellence. And, in fact, I think it is a high calling to look for beauty and excellence in everything and then work to improve the world around you. Further, I want to clarify that goals are important. Goals like, “I want to find a worthy career” or “I want to marry a man of character” are critical to your well being and your ability to function both in this world and to become a contributing member of God’s kingdom. That being said, I think there is a real and present danger in the the common place terms “dream job”, “dream house”, “dream guy” and so on.
The word dream attached to all these important parts of our lives is what is dangerous. A dream is “other wordly”. It’s ethereal and allusive. A dream is a creation inside your mind that does not necessarily exist. So when we are young and formative and we start to affix the word dream in front of our future spouse, job, home, car, body, or vacation, we open ourselves up to danger. These dangers include the pressure of achieving unrealistic expectations, the disappointment that failure to do so creates, and most importantly an isolation from God’s plans for our lives.
Having unrealistic expectations for a dream guy, dream house, dream job, etc is detrimental. It creates an environment of pressure to perform. For me, my drive to achieve my “dream job” in becoming a boutique owner accelerated my steps and actions. Before I opened Flourish, my wise dad said to me, “I think you could do anything you set your mind to and specifically I think you would be a great boutique owner. However, I think there is wisdom in waiting a while so that you can have a family, and then start when your kids are older and in school.” However, the ever present concept “dream job” was floating around inside my mind, creating an unhealthy urgency in my decisions. I felt that I would not be “complete” or “satisfied” until I started my store. My dad’s wisdom fell on deaf ears, because I didn’t have the patience to let my story unfold in God’s timing and instead I was obsessed with achieving my dreams as fast as I could. In fact, you could even say, “I believed I could, so I did”. But as I found, once I started…the term dream job or in my case “dream store” alluded me. The actual opening of my store didn’t quench my thirst. I would find myself thinking, “If we just carried this line, the store would be perfect. Or, if we were featured in a major magazine then we really would have arrived. Or, if I redid the displays tonight even if it takes all night then the store would be perfect.” I was never satisfied or filled up. The pressure to achieve that dream was self inflicted but it was a contest I couldn’t ever win.
When those same unrealistic expectations are applied to your “dream guy”, the stakes are even higher. When we predetermine that our dream guy makes a certain amount of money, looks a certain way, lives in a certain city, wants the same amount of kids, etc: we apply these etherial and unrealistic mixture of qualities to our potential mates. If you’re lucky enough to find someone who measures up, what happens though once the honeymoon phase wears off, and a character trait is revealed that isn’t part of your “dream guy’s” resume? Or worse, what happens if something happens that changes him? What happens when he gets in an accident and his dream face is altered? How do you react then when he loses his job, and his dream salary isn’t coming in? Does he still fit the mould of your dream husband when he sits broken on your couch crying, or if he gains weight, loses his hair, or falls short in some other area? This same line of thinking can be applied to the other allusive milestones too. What happens when you can’t actually afford that “dream house”? Well, for many of us it means we buy it anyway and go into debt. What happens when we can’t find that dream job? Perhaps, we take the next best position, but sulk and resent our boss every waking minute.
Disappointment is that next danger. When the dreams give way to reality or if we never even find that dream job/guy/house, we are left in the wake of disappointment. That may look different for various people. Some may feel like nothing is ever good enough and they keep working harder and harder to be good enough, some may give up and harbor resentment, and some may decide to keep looking and keep searching for their ideal dream. It makes sense that all around me I see Millenials either not getting married at all (no one measures up right?), choosing divorce (dream guy was not as advertised), job jumping (this current job is not my dream job and definitely does not have my dream salary), or working out to the point of obsession (dream body from Pinterest is only a few planks away).
But, more dangerous than all the above is the consequent isolation from God that many of us experience because of the emphasis on our dream plans. While we are busy dreaming, plotting, and pursuing our perfect ideals, we miss out on what God has for us. God designed us to prosper and flourish, but I don’t think he defines that prosperity as we so often do. The bible says,
“Now listen, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.” Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, “If it is the Lord’s will, we will live and do this or that” (James 4:13-15)
When we become single minded in pursuing specific dreams, we don’t leave room for the plans God has for us. My favorite passage (Jeremiah 29:11) also says;
“For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord”
Note that it does not say, “For you know the plans you have for yourself”. And yet, this is how I was living my life. Before Pinterest even existed, I had imaginary wish list boards in my heart all filled up with my ideas for my dream store, my dream house, my dream kids and so on. None of that has panned out as I had planned. Not one darn thing. My dream store that I worked so hard to build, is at this very moment, being unassembled and piece by piece sold off. And, my dream house is about to be put on the market too: it’s too much house and too much debt for us and I’m ready for a change across the board. My dream husband, who I absolutely adore, is an imperfect person. Sometimes he hurts my feelings and (insert gasp) we argue to the point of tears at times. My dream kids (who again I adore) get sick, don’t want to wear the clothes I try to dress them in, throw tantrums in front of other people, and I quickly learned have their own ideas and don’t like to conform to “dream plans”. My dream body….don’t even get me started there, lol.
One by one, I have laid down every dream. But here’s the thing. I have never been happier. I didn’t lay down my dreams out of defeat… I laid them down for His plans instead of my own. Maybe it’s being almost 35 and getting a little life experience under my belt, but I began to realize that all these dream ideals were exhausting me. I didn’t measure up across the board. And, I never really achieved any of them. From the outside looking in, it may looked like I did. But, behind the scenes I was struggling to keep it all going. I bought my dream house but then was too busy to decorate it or have anyone over. I had my dream job but at the expense of enjoying life with my family. And so on. I began to realize that if God knows the plans he has for me, maybe I should look to Him instead of myself. And, as I have started to defer to His will instead of my own, I have found so much joy and so much freedom.
Go through your list. Cross out the word dream, and insert the word “God’s”. I want “God’s house for me”, “God’s husband for me”, “God’s career for me”, “God’s healthy body for me”. And then just watch the pressure and strife melt away. Remember, God wants good for us, so you don’t need to be afraid either. In time and as you shift your pursuit from running after ideals to running after His will, he will reveal all his plans for you in the right way and in the right time. Trust in Him, and worry more about what you can do for His kingdom, and how you can serve Him: and the joy and fulfillment will so outshine your old dreams. Plus, remember dreams are short…they become fuzzy once in the light….they allude us. God’s plans are real and present, they work for your good, and He knows us better than we know ourselves. So stop dreaming, and start living. Stop pursuing perfection, and find rest in His guidance. Stop trying to control your job, your spouse, your kids, your health, your wealth…and instead give thanks and let the Lord sit in the driver’s seat.