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  • Writer's pictureSam

Life Lessons From a Lost Dream

Updated: Jan 15, 2023

A Tiny Life Moment about letting an old dream go

(First published Jul 22, 2020 in Medium publication: Tiny Life Moments)

Mindless Facebook scrolling. We all do it, probably for longer than we care to admit, a typical procrastination tool. This time though, on probably my 9th scroll of the day, I have confronted with a post advertising the dream job that I’d pursued for most of my life; a job in the first of its kind Sea-Life Trust Beluga Whale sanctuary. This sanctuary was built to retire beluga whales, who can’t return to the wild, to a sea pen where they can experience a semblance of their wild life. A ground-breaking opportunity, an absolute dream that I was fully qualified for. But I didn’t apply. Why? Because that dream was long lost to me…

It’s July 2020, and I’m 29, still pretty young, and still lots to learn. But something that I have learned is that seeing a dream through to its conclusion doesn’t have to mean that you accomplished it, sometimes it can just mean that you’ve learned that it’s not the right dream for you. While growing up, all I wanted to do was become a killer whale trainer. As I got older and learned that I actually didn’t agree with killer whale captivity, my dream changed to wanting to become a captive whale & dolphin rehabilitator and marine biologist. I went to university to study zoology and immersed myself in many different activities all to do with trying to achieve my goal. My hobbies were water sports like sailing and diving. I was often looking to attend conferences and make connections in the marine biology world that would aid me upon graduation. I was always seeking out outdoor activities to get myself used to a career where I would be spending the majority of my working life outside in all conditions. I was driven, but actually, I wasn’t happy… At such a young age, I didn’t really know the difference, but also I just didn’t notice that I wasn’t happy following this dream. I was so caught up in the game that I didn’t have the wisdom to stop and ask myself regularly if this was really what I wanted.

Happiness is a feeling that seems obvious. You’re either happy or you’re not, right? Well, I’ve found that there are 2 kinds of happiness; there is the surface-level kind and the deep kind. Both are important, but without the necessary wisdom, it’s hard to tell the difference. While pursuing my dream of marine biology and whale/dolphin rehabilitation, I was very surface-level happy. I was at university where I got to be involved with lots of people all interested in similar topic, the pursuit of knowledge and discussion with like-minded people is a true joy, I was also involved in lots of fun activities like diving. I filled my days up with working on my degree, pursuing interests related to my dream, and spending a bit of time with friends. I was very surface-level happy, but that masked the fact that deep down I was feeling pretty unfulfilled. I wasn’t deep down UNhappy, but I also wasn’t happy, and I made the mistake in my naivety of thinking that didn’t matter, because when I achieve this next thing or that next thing, then I’ll feel the fulfillment surely! Funnily enough, the fulfillment never came. However, the realization that I was pursuing something that wasn’t for me didn’t actually come until I started engaging in things that were nothing to do with the marine biology dream, and this is why in life we need variety. Variety enables us valuable mind space away from the things that we love, this is when we realize how much joy they’re really bringing us. If you don’t step away from the painting you’re working on to take it all in in ALL its context, you will never get a sense as to whether it looks right or not, and it’s the same with our lives. When I did finally step away and put my dream into perspective, I discovered some small, but so important things about myself:

It turns out, I’m not mad keen on working with animals. I’m very fond of animals, I respect their way of life, am fascinated by them and very much care for their welfare. However working with animals is often messy and smelly, some people aren’t fussed by this, but I don’t actually like it.

I don’t like being out in all weather. I can deal with it, and I have stayed in ditches in the cold & wet nearly getting hypothermia, but I don’t like it. I really don’t deal too well with being cold and I realized that being in that sort of weather over and over again would just add up to making me feel miserable. I like having a social life. Working in the industry of animal care, research, and conservation generally means long unsociable hours and staying in places where there isn’t much in the way of human activity. These things are good for the soul sometimes, but too much of it isn’t right for me, I like seeing friends last minute and being able to go out at a moments notice. This particular job involved living and working on an island off the coast of Iceland! Not ideal for my well established social life. Having money is important to me. There isn’t much money involved in working in the animal care, research, and conservation industry. I learned from my time away from my dream that there a lot of different things that bring me joy that generally involve money. Doing a job where a lot of the reward for it is the love of it without much hope of earning much from it just didn’t appeal to me in the end. I’m a terrible employee. Lastly, I have learned that I’m a terrible employee.

I want to do things my way and get angry when I feel like I could come up with a better business model (even though I probably couldn’t). I work best when I’m free to make my own mistakes and figure it all out for myself, something employment doesn’t generally offer. I’ve found a lot of joy in trying to make my own way in the world and that is now a focus of mine that I don’t want to be taken away from.

Something that struck me about these realizations is that they are quite small almost insignificant things, but as it turns out, these sorts of things are the things that decide whether we are deep down happy or not.

Many small joys build a stronger foundation of happiness than a few big joys.

Another thing that struck me was that these are often things that people try to tell you shouldn’t matter, or you should be willing to sacrifice. Well, I disagree. These things I now know are important to my life, and that’s more important than anything! Had I not been fed this societal message maybe I’d have learned earlier that this wasn’t the right path for me, but at least I figured it out eventually.

I said "lost dream" before, but that’s not entirely true, I didn’t lose it as much as I let it go on its way. My inner child was very upset that I didn’t go for that job, but much like children in real life are so often a source of innate wisdom, sometimes as the adult, you do know better, and this tiny life moment enabled me to finally package away a dream that was no longer right for me.

Lessons Learned:

  • Sometimes the conclusion to a dream is finding out that it’s no longer for you anymore.

  • We need to be able to step away from the pursuit of our dreams to know whether or not they’re still right for us.

  • The little things that we learn about ourselves build the strongest foundation for happiness.

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