My Year of Living Backwards – Four Ways to Resurrect Your Dreams

imageWhat is it that keeps you from achieving your dreams? (And yes, you get to have them at any age).

Our dreams suffer many detours on the road to reality. The world may not be quite ready for what we have to offer. Illness intervenes. Family may not be supportive. We can’t pretend such setbacks don’t exist. At the same time, we can’t let them prevent us from taking action. Our dreams may not take us to the place we want to go, but they will take us somewhere — perhaps to a place we could never have imagined when we first set out.

When people reach the end of their lives, their regrets are not for the things they did so much as the things they didn’t do: the risks they didn’t take, the people they didn’t reach out to, the places they didn’t go. Don’t let that be you. Invest in your dreams. Trust the process.

“Easy for you to say, but what if you’ve lost your trust?” you ask. “I haven’t had a lot of luck with my dreams.”

Most of us run into problems when we try to put our dreams into action. But if there’s a problem, there’s usually a solution. Let’s take a look at four of the biggest dream busters, along with ways to outsmart them:

1. Your dream is met with indifference, or derision. The problem is not the world, it’s our expectations of the world. I launched this blog with dreams of reaching hundreds of people (tick), maybe thousands of people (not yet). Yet as a writer, I feel compelled to communicate with as many people as possible. Why? Beats me, but there it is.

The truth is that not everyone wants to read what I write. My books have a nice, but very small readership. Does that mean I shouldn’t bother? Of course not. If I refrained from writing, something inside me would shrivel up. My children (who are forced to read these blog posts) would never discover my secret thoughts about the world. I may not be able to create a blog that goes viral. I can make sure it is the best blog I can write.

What about you? Maybe you were born to sing. And maybe you’ve tried to find an audience for your music. I know people who can outsing Katy Perry and Miley Cyrus. But no one knows them outside of church or the karaoke bar. Some make it, some don’t. Is that a good enough reason to silence our voice?

Each of us has a special gift we were born to share. In an age of celebrity, the value of that gift is judged by the number of people who respond to it. But letting the world determine our value is a big mistake, one that will leave us bitter and broken. Even those who do reach the pinnacle of success will eventually discover that truth.

So go ahead with your dream. If you’re an artist, draw. Inventors, invent. Carpenters, carpent. (I just made up that word. As a writer, I’m allowed to do that.) What is inside you deserves to shine in the light of day.

2. Your dream doesn’t line up with your values. This is known as dissonance, which according to Google is “a tension or clash resulting from the combination of two disharmonious or unsuitable elements.” Let’s say that family is a top value for you. At the same time, your dream is to hang off the world’s most dangerous mountains by a skinny little rope. The dissonance between these two values may keep you forever suspended in limbo.

Or what if financial security is a top value, but your dream is to be a freelance potter? (I know a few potters. They have second jobs.)

You may not even be aware of the dissonance; you just know that “something” is holding you back. Becoming aware of your values can help resolve some of these conflicts. The mountain climber can work with the family to explore and assuage their fears. While Everest may be out of the question, the Squamish Chief may prove an acceptable compromise. Perhaps the potter can take a part-time job to pay the rent, while devoting the rest of the time to art. Plenty of artists make this trade-off. Harrison Ford was a carpenter in Hollywood before his big break.

For those of you who know your dreams but are not so sure of your values (we all have ’em), here are some exercises to help you clarify them.

3. Living your dream is not a priority. But here’s the kicker: you think it is a priority and believe the problem rests in your lack of willpower. I often do prioritizing exercises with people. They start by listing their top 12 goals in life. That takes a while. Goals range from finding a rewarding career to quitting smoking, from losing weight to backpacking in Iceland. We then do an activity that forces them to rate every goal against every other goal. The result? The things they assume are at the top of the list actually fall somewhere near the bottom. (If you email me at, I’ll send you the exercise.)

If it does turn out that your dream falls near the bottom of your list, refuse to stress out over it. As a young mom, I thought that getting fit was a top priority and beat myself up when I couldn’t pull it off. I failed to take into account that nearly all my time was taken up with small children. For a whole year of Tuesdays, I spent 13 hours in the car, ferrying kids hither and yon. As I’ve said before, you can have it all, just not all at once.

4. Your motivation is unclear. We waste a lot of time blaming ourselves for procrastinating. But how much time do we spend identifying our motivators? Some people are motivated by money. Others, like myself, are driven to influence others. (I often wish that money were one of my prime motivators.) Still others seek warmth and acceptance from the people they love. Many people prefer tangible rewards such as medals and trophies. My Labrador Retriever will do anything for a cookie.

Failure to understand your motivators can be a big hindrance to your dreams. Instead of castigating yourself for failing to lift your dreams off the ground, identify the rewards that carry real meaning for you. Then get started on those dreams.

5. You don’t put a date on your dream. Avoid the someday trap: someday never comes. Furthermore, our subconscious mind doesn’t know what to do with fuzzy goals. So don’t aspire to “lose weight.” Plan to lose “five pounds by June 1.” Don’t plan on “getting fit.” Aim at walking two kilometres three times a week. Many people plan to travel when they retire (in other words, someday). Instead, start a little fund so you can wave good-bye to the people at your retirement party then drive straight to the airport.

Failure to understand the why means your dreams may never take flight. Spend a few moments reminding yourself what those dreams are, then make your plans. The only thing you have to lose is a lifetime of regret. Reinvest in those dreams of yours. You owe it to yourself in these, your years of living backwards.


Susan Young de Biagi is a regular contributor to PRDN.

As a trained historian, my twin passions are writing and teaching. In addition to Cibou—my first novel—I have written or co-written three books of non-fiction, and authored a number of digital, educational products.


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