What to Do When Your Dreams Exceed Your Reach
Sorting through some old files recently, I made a humbling discovery — a list of goals jotted down shortly before publishing my first book in 2012.
Despite good advice from experienced authors about keeping my ambitions in check, I insisted on dreaming big. According to my list, I expected to sell 10,000 copies of the book in the first year. I also planned to lure 1,000 subscribers to my new blog.
It was a heady time of possibility and excitement, of focusing far more on frontiers than limits. Now two years later, I’ve become well acquainted with another phase of the author’s journey. It’s called Reality.
The book earned positive reviews and attracted some enthusiastic readers. It even earned me a live appearance on CatholicSingles.com, where I skyped with a gracious book club – my wedding ring, of course, firmly in place.
Sales, however, have amounted to something less than 10,000. As for the 1,000 blog subscribers, I’m still more than a few sandwiches short of a picnic.
Did I need to sell a lot of books to support my family? No. My wife and I are fortunate to have good day jobs that pay the bills. Did I need my blog to go viral to find fulfillment? No. I’m blessed with a great family and many wonderful friends.
Did coming up short of my own expectations bother me? Absolutely.
For months after the book’s release, I promoted it relentlessly, checked the book’s Amazon ranking obsessively and carefully monitored blog traffic. Then, gradually, I ran out of gas.
By the time the book turned one year old, it was clearly not destined to be a best-seller. Activity on my blog had grown stagnant, it was getting overrun with spam and I felt much less inspired to write for it. If this project wasn’t going to make a major splash, why not focus my energy elsewhere?
The irony, of course, is that my book explores why struggle can be good for our souls, and that sometimes, to paraphrase the Rolling Stones, it’s better to get what we need instead of what we want. I still believe this principle is true, even if I hoped it wouldn’t apply to me.
Because a funny thing happened when, after many months and some discouragement, I finally grew more accepting of my limited success as an author. Rather than craving big success, I found greater value in the occasional emails from people I didn’t know who had found inspiration from my book. Loyal blog readers started to ask why I wasn’t writing anymore; they missed me! Slowly, rather than pursuing a faceless crowd of thousands, the notion of writing for a small group that benefited in some small way from my work became more appealing.
This was a lesson in poverty of spirit – the grace of embracing, not only our abilities, but also our limitations as opportunities to grow in self-awareness and faith, a reluctant acknowledgement that we often cannot dictate the outcomes of our efforts.
As German Catholic theologian Johannes Baptist Metz has observed, “We are all members of a species that is not sufficient unto itself. We are all creatures plagued by unending doubts and restless, unsatisfied hearts.”
We are, in other words, proud people who attempt at every turn to minimize our reliance on God and inflate our sense of self-importance. When our dreams exceed our reach, we have a choice. We can lose heart and despair. Or we can say thank you and wait for further guidance.
Stephen Martin is a speechwriter and journalist who blogs at The Messy Quest. His book, The Messy Quest for Meaning, which explores how to find a calling, was published by Sorin Books.
Image by Mark. Used with permission. Sourced via Flickr.
Coming to Terms With Our Limitations
This article is part of a series at The High Calling on Coming to Terms with Our Limitations. Not a super-fun topic, I suppose, but certainly a reality that all of us must face sooner or later in our lives: the lack of living up to our dreams; the struggle to accept our not-so-glamorous circumstances; redefining of our perception of success. Are you dealing with this in your professional life? Do you know someone who is frustrated and could use a reassuring Christian perspective? Why not share some encouragement with those folks by sending these articles around via email or social media?