Why You Should Give Up on Your Dreams

Not the pep talk you were expecting headed into 2023, we reckon

A dartboard punching away a dart.
Failure is a fresh start. Learn to embrace it in 2023.
Nuthawut Somsuk

There’s a great Peanuts strip where Charlie Brown strikes out on three pitches, trudges back to the dugout with his trademark “Rats!” and inexplicably decides to seek consolation from Lucy.

“I’ll never be a big league player!” he bemoans. “I just don’t have it! All my life I’ve dreamed of playing in the big leagues, but I know I’ll never make it…”

Wise, worldly, never-fazed Lucy fires back with a plan: immediate goals. Charlie Brown simply needs to set his sights on today’s smaller, easier battles. His ears perk up in kind. Battles like…seeing if he can walk to the pitcher’s mound without falling down.

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This likely isn’t the pep talk you were looking for here on New Year’s Eve’s Eve’s Eve, with resolutions and aspirations jockeying for position in your brain, but it could perhaps prove a healthy and helpful one: give up on your dreams. And not in the “que sera, sera” or “take it one day at a time” sense. Literally abandon them. Accept that it’s difficult enough for you to even walk to the pitcher’s mound, let alone hawk a ball 95 miles an hour from atop it.

A concept called “goal disengagement,” recently profiled by Scientific American, frames the decision to quit dreams to the curb as liberating, instead of deflating. Research psychologists have begun to champion the virtue of letting go: “What the latest science shows us is the importance of abandoning ambitions when they become too costly or their feasibility plunges, or both. ” And: “The ability to set goals, pursue them despite setbacks and then quit them as circumstances change is adaptive and healthy.

This line of thinking to the typical American sensibility is like iced coffee spilled on a Dell desktop, but perhaps we could all use a violent reboot. Moving on, after all, can essentially put an overnight clamp on the stress and depression that have long barnacled one’s dearest dreams.

Besides, failure doesn’t have to be sad or shameful. It deserves its day in the sun. Failure is a chance to pause, think inward, take stock of what didn’t work. It’s a reminder to stay humble, an opportunity for a fresh start. All that time, effort, commitment, money, mental real estate, what have you, that was going to one stupid, singular thing (a promotion, a beach house, Major League baseball)…what if you diverted those resources elsewhere? What might you be capable of in another arena?

Studies show: people who are better at disengagement are less likely to be depressed. They have high-functioning immune systems. They’re happy to seek out new endeavors.

It can feel impossible for some of us to abandon our dreams, especially if those dreams seem elemental to our sense of being — perhaps they were inherited from parents, or are linked to our careers in some way. Whenever a refresh rolls around (say, a new year), it’s easy to pump these goals full of purpose once more, and convince ourselves we simply haven’t been working hard enough, or approaching it from the correct angle.

But do yourself a favor, and recognize yearly obstacles for what they truly are: signs that maybe this dream just isn’t for you. That’s not so bad, is it? At least you have a sense of who you are. Even more mysterious is when people do achieve their dreams, then languish in a sensation of hollow confusion (this is called arrival fallacy). There is no permanent happiness waiting on the other side of the 10,000 hours rainbow.

Abandon your dreams in 2023. Consider finding new ones. Or allow yourself to relax, for once, and just focus on putting one foot in front of the other. There’s pride in just making it to the mound.

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