Harlemby Langston Hughes
What happens to a dream deferred?
      Does it dry up
      like a raisin in the sun?
      Or fester like a sore—
      And then run?
      Does it stink like rotten meat?
      Or crust and sugar over—
      like a syrupy sweet?
      Maybe it just sags
      like a heavy load.
      Or does it explode?

What happens to a dream deferred? Mr. Hughes asks us. What happens when we say NO to the instincts in our hearts that nudge us to be happier than we currently are? What happens when we put off the possibility of delirious joy to stay in the safe cocoon of predictable mediocrity?

We stifle. That’s what happens. When our dreams die, we rot, age, fade, and die, well before our time. But when we grasp the dreams, even when we only begin by baby stepping our way to bigger things, we set our soul on fire. We climb upward to a giddiness unimaginable in the lines of regular life.

Following your dreams means letting yourself be yourself. It means dancing to that tantalizing song in your head that is uniquely yours. Following your dream could be sitting and sewing. It could be renovating an old car. It could be backpacking across the world. It could be writing a book or learning to belly dance or baking cakes for the neighbor. We are confused about what a dream is and what it isn’t. It isn’t always the amazing feat that is featured on the front page. It is, however, the most amazing thing you’ve ever done, because when you’re doing it, you feel wholly, undeniably, extraordinarily, and uniquely YOU.

Chrysalis

But when you don’t do it? When you don’t live your dream? You experience cognitive dissonance. Your body and mind and soul are at odds with each other. Your legs walk you each day into the law office, say, when your soul wants them to walk you into the artist’s studio. You’re out of alignment. Your brain runs wild but you can’t grasp one clear morsel of thought. You are busy all day doing worthwhile things but go to bed exhausted instead of rejuvenated. You wonder, “Why?”

This happens to all of us, and certainly it’s happened to me. I once was sleeping, but it felt ok to sleep. I was happy… enough. I had plenty of material items and comfortable, old beliefs to keep me cozy and warm in the cocoon of my regular, “normal,” suburban, American life. It was easy enough to ignore those small pangs every now and then from my soul. Those soft What If whispers. Those waking dreams that offered a glimpse into what could be, if only, when I get around to it, when my ship comes in… In the cocoon of my comfort zone, I knew what to expect. I knew which way to go. I knew the rules and knew that, if I only followed them, I’d fit into the crowd. It was a good life. But then, for whatever reason, the cocoon began to break open. My hand fell out. I pulled it back in, horrified, my heart beating like mad. What is this?fiercely whispered I to myself. What world have I discovered outside my safe, happy one? The cocoon kept ripping open, slow tear by slow tear, and I kept exposing more and more of myself to this new existence outside of it. It was scary, yes. It was a disaster of sorts! Where did my safe cocoon go? Why is this happening to me? What can I do to get my life back, the life that I understand, the rules that I know how to live by, the habits and rituals I’ve always followed?!

And then I realized I had broken out. And then I realized I was flying.


 

It’s the new year, a great time to reevaluate, to step back and take a look at what you’re doing, what you’re feeling, and what you’re thinking. And what you’re not doing, what you’re not feeling, and what you’re not thinking. Have you deferred the dream? Or, said another way, have you gotten away from your true self? If not, celebrate! Dance merrily to your music!

But if you have gotten away from yourself, rest assured: there is wild, electrifying dancing awaiting you. You just have to quiet down and listen for it more carefully.