Paulo Coelho’s words about the third obstacle we encounter when pursuing our dreams helped me stay strong during my own struggles.
“Once we have accepted that love is a stimulus, we come up against the third obstacle: fear of the defeats we will meet on the path. We who fight for our dream suffer far more when it doesn’t work out, because we cannot fall back on the old excuse: ‘Oh, well, I didn’t really want it anyway.’ We do want it and know that we have staked everything on it and that the path of the personal calling is no easier than any other path, except that our whole heart is in this journey. Then, we warriors of light must be prepared to have patience in difficult times and to know that the Universe is conspiring in our favor, even though we may not understand how.” (vi-vii)
It’s not just fear, but the fear of defeat that prevents us from moving forward. I know this fear too well. What if what I write doesn’t matter to anyone? What if no one reads my blog? I’m just fooling myself; no one cares what I have to say. I am a nobody who will only experience a painful rejection if I put myself out there.
If those fears aren’t enough to stop us from moving towards our dreams, it seems obstacles are thrown in our path constantly, seemingly to stop us from moving forward, but in reality to build the stamina we will need to persevere, and, in some ways, to test our passions for the dream.
I have encountered many obstacles attempting to block my writing goals over the past seven months.
First, we canceled our baseball trip. I’ve written about this vaguely, which will have to do for now, but my travel blog’s URL, 32in32.com, became meaningless. The money I spent on the domain name, the name that represented our great baseball journey across the country became null and void. I almost quit before even starting my dream to become a writer over this fact alone. But I remember sitting with my dear friends, Jamie, Sandy, and Brittni, and they encouraged me to persevere, to not let this stop me. They helped me refocus my blog for a new purpose, appropriately christened 32in32: Keeping the Dream Alive. They helped me see that it didn’t matter what the URL said; what mattered was that I wasn’t giving up on my dream.
While my vision of our future was shattering back in December, my laptop was stolen by strangers who crashed a party my daughter had while we were out of town. As foolish as it sounds, my life was on that computer. It had pictures from Ian’s baby years on up that are now lost forever. All of my notes, thoughts, and drafts of future posts that I never printed out were on that laptop. I was devastated. In the midst of that pain, I was able to let go of it, thanking God that my daughter was safe. I started using our home computer, refusing to give up.
On the day I was going to publish my first post, a beloved student committed suicide. My world was turned upside down. I didn’t want to pursue my dreams anymore. I felt like a failure; obviously, I couldn’t impact my physical world with optimism, how could I dare to think I could influence the blogosphere? Instead of publishing on January 17, Ian’s birthday, a day that marked the celebration of Ian’s life, I published my first post the next day. With Jenny’s death an invisible current through that post, I published, not giving into my fears, but pushing forward, hoping to spread optimism through my sphere of influence. It worked with me first. I could not change the past; I could not prevent Jenny’s death. But I could work to prevent sadness and depression in others; counting my blessings pulled me out of the depths of despair. I hoped my posts would inspire others to count their blessings and feel the release of pain through choosing thankfulness over pain and regret.
Unbelievably, in the midst of an outpouring of ideas and writing bursts, I lost my home computer a few weeks later. At this point, I couldn’t believe that the universe was conspiring in my favor. How could it be? Everything that I needed to be a writer was being attacked or taken away. I was tempted to throw my hands up in defeat and walk away. But then, I was reminded of this Alchemist quote, and my resolve returned. All of the obstacles that I overcame up to this point made me stronger than I had ever been. I borrowed a laptop and continued to write. I was learning “to have patience in difficult times.”
Over Spring Break, I did a seemingly innocent activity that lead to months of unbearable pain: I went roller skating and fell hard, resulting in compressed and turned vertebrae in my neck. Essentially I had whiplash, leaving me unable to hold my head up for any length of time. I was in excruciating pain by the end of my teaching day, which left me unable to write or do anything when I got home. I went into physical therapy for two months. After a few adjustments, I was able to sit at my computer with a neck brace for short bursts of time. What did I choose to do, even while in pain, with these borrowed moments? Write. It was a clear indication that writing was my passion.
“Well, necessary or not, [defeats] happen. When we first begin fighting for our dream, we have no experience and make many mistakes. The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times” (vii).
No matter the circumstance, I pursued my dream. The obstacles, the fear, the defeats all lead to a greater conviction to pursue my dream. I fell five times, but I’ve gotten up six times. I won’t quit because I know I’m making a difference; even if it’s in my life only and no one else cares what I have to say, I have changed a life.
“Because, once we have overcome the defeats—and we always do—we are filled by a greater sense of euphoria and confidence. In the silence of our hearts, we know that we are proving ourselves worthy of the miracle of life. Each day, each hour, is part of the good fight. We start to live with enthusiasm and pleasure.” (vii)
I know I am “worthy of the miracle of life.” I’ve never had more confidence than I do now. I’ve found my voice, and I like how it sounds. I’m excited about every day and look forward to the joy it will bring. I continue to stumble and struggle, but I am not afraid of what my future holds. I will overcome any obstacle that comes my way.
“Intense, unexpected suffering passes more quickly than suffering that is apparently bearable; the latter goes on for years and, without our noticing, eats away at our soul, until, one day, we are no longer able to free ourselves from the bitterness and it stays with us for the rest of our lives.” (vii)
I have seen and lived with people who are entrapped by that bitterness. I will never become one of them because I have freed myself from the “bearable” suffering of pushing my dreams aside. Langston Hughes asks “What happens to a dream deferred?”
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?
I am happy to say that I am no longer deferring my dream. I am free from the “what ifs” that once burdened me.
How about you? Look around you. Do you see the bitterness? Do you feel the pain of a generation who has deferred its dreams? When you look in a mirror, do you see it in your eyes? When you sit in the silence, do you feel it in your heart? It’s not too late; but be ready to conquer your fears of defeat. It is truly worth it!