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How to Handle Delayed Work Dreams

Updated: Dec 31

People much smarter than me estimate that most of us will spend one third of our life at work, which equals about 90,000 hours. I wonder: How many of those hours do we truly enjoy?

Our experience of work often feels like a low-grade fever. We’re okay. Getting by. But we’re making ends meet instead of making meaning in the world. By all accounts, it’s easier to kick up your feet and resign to the grind than to pursue passion and purpose.

Most of us experience unmet longing for satisfying work from the moment the alarm goes off and we debate between snoozing and forcing ourselves out of bed. Dreams lie dormant in our hearts—dreams of what we want to build, people we want to help, an impact we long to make. And the road ahead is blocked with a number of insecurities, challenges, and frustrations.

Why We Experience Unmet Longing at Work

If you’re frustrated by delayed work dreams, here are a few challenges you might be facing:

Fear of Risk

Most of us have secret aspirations about work that we’re scared to acknowledge—even to ourselves. You might find yourself stuck in an unsatisfying job, but the thought of leaping to the next opportunity feels way too risky.

You "can’t" leave your secure job in real estate because you have a family to feed. You "can’t" not be a doctor because you went to school for so many years to learn how to become a doctor. You "can’t" follow your desire into education because you won’t make enough money to level the mountain of student loan debt that’s crushing you.

All these factors might be true. Yet, I encourage you to keep hope alive as you continue to make wise, practical, commonsense decisions about how to move from where you are to where you want to be.

Getting Stuck in the In-Between

My husband’s love for spreadsheets is eclipsed only by his love for me. Early in our marriage, he made a “desired future dashboard”: a simple spreadsheet that helped me clarify what I’d like to accomplish in five, ten, fifteen, and twenty years.

When I saw “Twenty Years” over the last column, an excited panic struck me. The desire to write books and speak and teach was simmering below the surface of my heart. And as I thought of where I’d be in two decades, I said to myself, Rachel, you better have written some books by the time you get there! What a waste if twenty years slipped away with those projects sitting on a back shelf in my mind, gathering dust.

Setting goals is easy. Pursuing them is hard. There’s a long, long road between where we are today and what we want to contribute. And yet, hope comes from perspective. When you feel frozen and forgotten, look further into the future to remind yourself of where you’re going.

Being a Shadow Artist

There’s a fantastic book called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In it, she writes about the idea of “Shadow Artists.” Shadow artists are those of us who are close to the field of work we long to do but are just a few degrees off.

For example, you might work for a big accounting firm when you really want to own a business doing financial advising for your own clients. Or you’re a copywriter making money for other businesses while a book inside you slowly drifts into oblivion. Your hope is buried in a forgotten corner of your heart, and you need a treasure map to rediscover it.

To an extent, we all feel like shadow artists from time to time. We’re blurry pictures of the full, vibrant version of who we long to be. We long to be a part of something big and influential, and some of us haven’t even discovered what that “thing” is.

The Anxiety of Not Accomplishing All Your Dreams

When I was little, my dad had a t-shirt that said, “So many books, so little time.” I inherited his addiction to reading and find it frustrating that my finite brain is a mismatch for the nearly infinite number of pages I want to consume.

The same goes for work. Unmet longing enters the picture when we don’t just want to accomplish a few things: We want to accomplish ALL the things! When I try to reconcile all my best-laid plans with my God-given 24 hours each day, I can easily slip into stress and sadness—the anxiety of not accomplishing all my dreams.

One of the best books I've read on this particular problem is a sweet short story by J.R.R. Tolkien, Leaf by Niggle. Silly name, I know, but Tolkien wrote this book to calm his own fears about dying with unfinished work. Even better, he explores the glorious mystery of what work will look like in heaven, where time will become an infinite resource (if it exists at all, my brain hurts when I try to wrangle that one to the ground!)

How to Handle Delayed Work Dreams

When it comes to unmet longing, we need to get go of the notion that we can “fix it.” Most of the time, it’s something to live with—not try to live without. That being said, here are a few thoughts on how to do it well.

Allow the Longing to Exist

One of the greatest gifts we can give ourselves when it comes to unmet longing is to simply acknowledge its presence.

Picture your life as a road trip. You’re at the wheel and this work dream as a passenger in the car with you. It has a presence. It has a voice. And yet, its existence makes you super uncomfortable because you don’t know when—or if—this dream will come true.

We often make one of two mistakes to solve this tension. One is that we try to toss this dream out of the car completely. We bury it, stuff it down, and ignore it. It’s just too painful. The other mistake is allowing the desire to take control of the wheel. We don’t just let it have a voice, we let it call the shots. We are obsessed and consumed by the dream, and we become frantic and frenetic. We end up out of control, careening off course, forcing stuff to happen before it’s time.

Instead of suppressing or indulging this desire, let’s choose to allow it to be. To check in with that hope while still embracing 100% where we are today. To live in the tension of “not yet,” patiently moving toward the picture God has put in our heart.

Get Gritty

Grit is the strength of character that we build when we persevere through difficulty. It’s getting up when your alarm goes off, morning after morning, and choosing to make the most of the precious day that lies ahead.

Just a few pages into the Bible, God shoots us straight that work is difficult. It’s one of the earliest consequences of the fall of man, of paradise lost:

“…the ground is cursed because of you.
All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it.”
Genesis 3:17a, (NLT)

Sounds like a typical Tuesday, am I right?

This difficulty should not surprise us! When we let go of the ridiculous notion that life should be easy—that it should always proceed up and to the right, that profit and results and sales and word count should come naturally—we begin leaning into the process of learning grit.

Rejoice in Your Limits

Many of us treat our energy like a credit card: We swipe and swipe and max out and extend our limit, living under the delusion that we’ll make up for it sometime next month.

Our limits (emotional, physical, spiritual, mental, relational) are part of our design. And no designer worth his salt creates useless or dysfunctional features. This means that our limits were engineered by God. In fact, in the few first pages of the Bible, he wove the rhythm of rest into the very fabric of creation.

When I not only accept my limits, but rejoice in them, I am reminded of who is on the throne, who’s ultimately running the show. I allow the weight of the world to fall of my shoulders (speaking of design, I was never made to carry it in the first place!)

A Simple Prayer for Delayed Work Dreams

Here is a prayer I’ve turned to over and over when feeling frustrated about my work aspirations:

Psalm 138:8 NLT

God wants his plans for you more than you want your plans for you. This, my friends, is a comforting thought 😌

As you work and wait, be faithful in the small things. Ride out the seasons of discouragement, the failed job interviews, the rejections of your proposals. Keep going. Keep moving. An know that every single day, whether you’re “living the dream” or not, God has good work planned for you (Ephesians 2:10).


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