Dreaming Well

Brittany new headshotby Brittany Senseman, MA, LPC-S, Anthology Principal

“My life is not supposed to be this way.” Ever had that thought? I don’t know a person who hasn’t! We all grow up dreaming about how life will be, and those dreams are heavily influenced by our family and friends. We idealize those people who have it all together and seem so happy. But, let me let you in on a little secret – they also occasionally think their lives aren’t supposed to be this way, too!

So many of my clients, so many of them ask me if anyone else in the world struggles the way they do. And my constant answer is a resounding “YES!” As kids, we grow up dreaming of what it will be like to finally be a grownup – what our job will be, who we’ll marry, where we’ll live, etc. The options are limitless, and we’re told if we just work hard we can achieve anything!

And then we actually grow up and quickly realize that those dreams aren’t always achievable through hard work. A lot of the time, making those dreams happen requires another person, which means it’s out of our control – ouch! We work really hard on doing all the right things to be super attractive to the “right” person, but still may not find that stable, long term relationship.

And if you’re lucky enough to find someone to commit to, congratulations! You may even get married and make the official statement of commitment and exclusivity, but eventually you’ll find that your partner has a few unpleasant surprises lurking behind a door. And then those thoughts of “my life isn’t supposed to be this way” begin.

So, before I depress anyone any further… let’s look at that thought and break it down a bit. There are some major expectations and assumptions within the statement “my life isn’t supposed to be this way.” If we have any hope of changing that thought, it’s time to look closely at those expectations and assumptions. Specifically, what is my job supposed to look like? What kind of person am I supposed to marry? What kind of house am I supposed to be living in by age ____?

Some of these questions might be a bit awkward to answer. I think it’s an uncomfortable idea that sometimes we expect a certain lifestyle and are unhappy when we don’t get it. It feels entitled or ungrateful – perhaps it is! But acting like it isn’t there doesn’t help anyone.

So get real with yourself and find those areas of disappointment, so that you can see how big the gap is between expectations and reality. Once you’ve looked at it, now you can do something about it! It’s difficult, perhaps even impossible, to change reality (and that’s another topic altogether), so let’s look at those expectations.

First, let’s edit them for time and experience. Those dreams, assumptions, and expectations were set a long time ago before we had any experience or knowledge of ourselves. See what happens when you look at your job not for what you thought it would be in high school, but as you know it is now. Maybe you’re not as ambitious as you thought, or maybe your passion lies outside of your work. Expecting yourself to be high on the corporate ladder when you’re not ambitious is an unrealistic expectation.

When looking at assumptions in relationships, I think it can help to notice differences between the family you grew up in and your significant other. Our “normal” gets set (in some ways) by the routine of our family: dad worked every day 8-6 and came home and slept. If in your current family, dad works 9-2, he might seem lazy, or if dad wants to cook dinner every night he might feel intrusive.

As you’re looking at this, try to see the positives about not repeating the patterns of your original family. Try to see differences instead of disappointments – be open to the possibility that you may not actually know what will be the very best thing for family!

If you can move those dreams, assumptions, and expectations a little closer to reality you’re going to feel less disappointed! So, as you continue to dream for the future, I hope that these ideas make it easier to say “This is how I thought my life would be!”

Please feel free to contact me with questions or comments.

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