When Pursuing Your Dreams Feels... Awful

When Pursuing Your Dreams Feels... Awful

I have a client - let’s call her Monika - who’s been dreaming of writing a book for YEARS. 

Through our foundational work together, she determined that her top goal for the next few months is to turn that long-time yearning into a reality.

She’s sick of talking and thinking and wondering and strategizing and musing and noodling out notes about writing a book and is ready to actually write a book.

Monika’s also tends to have a packed schedule, a million projects on the go, and an endless to-do list. To bring her book to fruition, she’s pushing pause on various other commitments and dreams and deliberately cultivating her focus for this process.

My client’s courageous actions brought to mind a Marie Forleo quote that I value and admire: 

#SimplifyToAmplify.

To me (also a notorious ‘over-doer’!), there is something to be said for the power of focusing on less in order to accomplish and complete more; for setting boundaries and saying NO in order to protect and nurture what we truly want to say YES to.

So, Monika was walking this talk. She declared her Big Audacious Goal, cleared the decks, oriented her schedule around work on her manuscript, and finally started actual writing.

Holy moly, right?! 

This woman is literally beginning to make a dream come true (cue the cheerleading and hoopla!) but when she showed up for a recent coaching session, rather than giving me fist bumps, grinning with enthusiasm, or sharing pride in her bold moves, this is what she shared:

Oh, my god.

It’s only Day Three and I feel awful.

I’m putting so much pressure on myself.

I can barely write.

I haven’t experienced this much stress since graduate studies - my left eye is literally twitching.

This is NOT. GOOD.

Ah man, I wish I could have leaned through the screen and hugged her.

This cuspy place of turning our dreams into reality is often such deeply uncomfortable terrain.

What I want to write about is how freaking confusing, disorienting and 100% completely normal, predictable, and par-for-the-course this type of difficult experience is.

So often, when we begin to translate our fantasies and longings into reality, we expect that it’s going to feel so dang amazing:

How liberating this experience will be! How Joyful! How Exciting! 

We’ll be so relieved to finally start to creating or exploring The Long-Awaited Thing!

Our minds and hearts will be expanded! 

We’ll surely feel aligned, purposeful, and inspired! 

In short: we’re ready to feel all the good feels we’ve put off for way too long.

In addition, the longer we’ve been waiting to turn a fantasy into reality, the more built up expectation and pressure we may have projected onto it.

When positive experiences are largely what we’re anticipating, we might feel a quality of utter whiplash when we put change into motion and these common feelings and thoughts arise:

  • Discomfort/Disorientation: “What the hell am I doing?! I’m not ready for this!”

  • Self-doubt: “I’m not going to be any good at X. What if my project is a total flop? Wait - maybe I should just backtrack and stick with the way I’ve always done things.” 

  • Confusion/Overwhelm: “This feel so unfamiliar. I really don’t know what I’m doing.”

  • Fear/Terror/Anxiety: “What if I try this new path or do things in novel ways and everything hurls off the rails and somehow goes terribly, terribly - and irrevocably - wrong?”

  • Disappointment / ‘Let-Down’: “Ack, this felt way easier/better/more fun in my mind!”

  • Regret/Self-Judgment: “Yeah, I’m finally doing X. But why did it take me so long to get here? I’m sad that I didn’t do this ten years ago, when I first started yearning for it. I wish I’d had the courage to create this experience sooner. ” This can further tumble into:

  • Triggering Old Wounds & Recognizing their Legacy: “I see that part of what held me back from taking important risks prior to this was old, unconscious beliefs and fearful sensations wired into my nervous system. I didn’t feel worthy of going for my dreams or safe to do so because of my wounds and defenses - I feel compounded grief that early life traumas (developmental and/or oppression-based) hurt me in the past (and/or present) and that I’ve carried their impact and legacy forward in limiting ways.”

Honestly, all this kind of heavy and challenging stuff can - and often does - come up when we start making courageous new moves in our lives. 

Blessedly, one of my old coaches helped me make sense of this counterintuitive emotional experience (right when I was in the thick of it!) when she taught me that creating transformative change in our lives takes us on remarkable journeys full of polarity.

So, yes, when we take daring risks, we’ll almost certainly experience moments of pride, delight, awe, freedom, inspiration, expansion, excitement: all those kinds of flavours in our inner landscape. (Yay!).

On top of that, there will be new external conditions we cultivate - and some of them may be breathtakingly wonderful: more prosperity than you ever imagined for yourself; an intimate companion who fills your heart to the brim; a beautiful home in a community or landscape you adore; a career path that lets you shine and grow and be of service in powerful new ways.

But I want to give a shout out to the challenges and difficult moments that can accompany putting change and new ventures into motion. 

Because the awful moments often DO show up - and toggling back and forth between inspired faith and positive vibes and fears and self-doubt can be truly roller-coaster-like and exhausting.

Even if we’ve already taken lots of courageous leaps in our past, each time we start something new, it can be extremely uncomfortable (damn it!). Even if we’ve already practiced lots of healthy risk-taking and can clearly see in the evidence of our current lives that we’ve always survived - and often thrived - because of our brave choices, each new change can stir up any combination of overwhelm, doubt, regret, or fear.

For Monika, her discomfort has recently presented as: constant eye twitches, terrible thoughts of the worst book ever, and obsessing over this excruciating ‘starting-to-write-a-book’ process.

For you, it may be an upset tummy, a headache, or disrupted sleep.

Your nervous system may go into total freeze or flight or fight mode. 

Perhaps you feel a distorted level of panic - almost or even immobilized in some moments.

Your personal experience of resistance and adjustment to change may take many forms.

If others judge, criticize, or don’t understand the path you’re choosing - on top of your own fragile state of mind, heart, or body! -  it may require immense bravery to keep listening to your inner guidance system and to continue walking in inspired directions.

For those of us who, like Monika, are experimenting with doing less in order to focus on one key goal or dream (my hand is up!), it can also feel disorienting to experience more space in our lives. We’re so used to the background buzz of overwhelm and feeling spread thin. 

If being ‘too busy’ or a ‘lack of time’ has often been our excuse for not doing something important, clearing space and cultivating focus represents pulling away a security blanket - and now we have to directly encounter our fears about moving forward with our priorities. 

We may additionally worry that our (atypical) streamlined to-do list means ‘we’re not doing enough’ or be invited to confront ways we conflate our personal worth with perceptions of our productivity.

My tips for those moments when pursuing your dreams feels awful:

  • Remember that going through this phase is a big part of how you’ll grow.

  • Remind yourself that you can do this.

  • Reassure yourself that nothing’s wrong: this polarity dance just signifies change.

  • Reach out to receive and take heart in others’ faith that you’re safe.

If following your instincts and wildest dreams was easy, you probably would have done it years ago. 

This very discomfort is likely part of what you avoided - whatever your excuses for waiting were.

This process is almost certain to NOT feel any better or smoother in the future: the way to your new reality is going THROUGH this polarity-filled chapter. 

Do not buy the tired old story that you’ll be ‘more ready’ later.

If you’re really losing your shiz and begging for additional support > more tips and food for thought here:

Feel what you’re feeling. Ugh. I know. But yup, open to the sensations like waves of energy and let them flow through. They REALLY will pass.

Soothe your sweet self - as Martha Beck puts it, comfort your animal body: have a bath, a cup of tea, go for a walk and notice the clouds and feel the ground.

Know that this stage shall pass. Hold steady. 

I want to repeat this sentiment one more time: feeling awful does not likely signify that something’s wrong with you or the path you’re on - at all. Think of this discomfort like a labour pain as you birth new directions and yourself in your life: terrible but unavoidable, a necessary part of the transformation process.

Oh! One more very important thing: DO NOT MAKE DECISIONS when you’re agitated. 

When your nervous system is aflame in terror or distress, you’re operating in your brain stem (sometimes called the ‘reptilian’ or’ lizard’ brain) or limbic system - you literally can barely access your frontal cortex and all its creativity, resourcefulness, intelligence and greater faith. 

I repeat: PLEASE DO NOT MAKE DECISIONS from this ‘feeling awful’ state of being

Once the intense emotional waves have subsided and you are calm again, if you want to reconsider your options or change tack, fine.

But when you make choices from a contracted state of fear or stress, you risk throwing your life (and others’ lives) into chaos. 

I know we won’t always manage to hold steady through the storms and refrain from big decisions in upset moments, but I recommend at least holding the intention to make your decisions from a place of calm. 

Doing so doesn’t mean your decisions will be easy or unaccompanied by painful emotions (far from it), but you’re much more likely to make wise, clear decisions that you won’t regret when they are made in a settled body-mind state (aka. your frontal cortex is online and available).

If you find that your levels of terror, rage, or grief are truly overwhelming, to the point that you’re struggling to function when you attempt steps in the direction of your yearnings, then I recommend that you connect with a therapist or suitable professional.

That is, if  trauma is stirred up to such a degree that makes it difficult to move at all, you’ll likely need support to bust through old stuff and not project it onto your present reality to such a challenging extent. (You’ve got my deep empathy and compassion with this!). 

Finally: once you get through this excruciating part, it’s often your ‘dark before dawn’ and you’ll soon start to settle out! Yeeee-eeeees, for reals.

You may have to ride out a few more difficult waves but often you’ll go through one big whoosh of awful and then after a good sleep, a solid meal, a grounding chat with a loved one, or getting into nature, you’ll find yourself re-oriented, back on solid ground, renewed, freshly empowered, and ready to go. Promise.

For Monika, we helped her face the blank page and navigate her overwhelmed brain by breaking her (exciting but intimidating!) “Big Capital B Book Project” down into bite-sized pieces that felt waaaaay more do-able, creating some structure to guide her writing process, and simply reminding her of how normal this discombobulating experience is.

She tapped into her resilience, listened to her ‘inner wisdom’ and got crystal clear that she’s determined to grow through this journey of change - through creating something she never has before (a book!) AND engaging a focused process and quality of simplified daily life that is unprecedented for her. 

She got anchored in knowing that this discomfort is worth it for her and that made all the difference.

How about you? 

What about this post resonates with you? Is there one tip you want to put into action?

Can you remember a time you were in the ‘awful’ stage of creating courageous change - and what helped you get through it?

I’d love to hear your responses (and any questions) in the comments below.

If you’re in the middle of a dark patch during your own polarity-filled transformation journey, I am sending out a holler of ‘woo-hooooo!’ for you and have 100% faith that soon enough, you’ll get back into the energies of self-trust, growth, positivity, and inspiration.

It’s a ride - and who you’re going to become and what you’ll create in your life and our world is so worth enduring ‘the awful.’ 

Sending respect and care and faith in you! 

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P.S. Most of you probably aren’t in your own personal ‘ring of fire’ (as Martha Beck likes to call this kind of growth experience) right this second. If not, you might want to bookmark this post for when you’re right in the muck - or to share it with someone who could use a boost of faith when it’s timely. I hope this piece reads like a pep talk and love letter rolled into one, that helps you get through a challenging moment - so that you don’t let the momentary ‘awful’ derail you from the future you truly yearn for. :) XO, N


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Nicola Holmes is a Life Coach who works with individuals and facilitates “The Expansion Circle,” a transformative group program for women. Nicola helps people who are feeling stuck or struggling to realize their goals; overwhelmed by life change; or determined to ‘level up’ & turn their dreams into reality. She’s also mama to two young and spirited kids, community-minded, a CBC-lover, voracious reader, and is currently obsessed with podcasts! Join Nicola’s Facebook community or join the email party to access inspiration and resources to fuel the changes you yearn for.