6 Ways To Know When To Follow And When To Give Up On Your Dreams

Most of us have dreams for our future.

We have goals we’ve set and hope to reach.

We’ve made progress toward our desired destination.

But sometimes we hit a plateau along the way.

We encounter an obstacle of some kind.

Maybe even a wall that seems insurmountable.

At some point, we must answer the important question of whether we should stay the course or abandon it.

Whether we should continue to pursue our dream or give up on it.

Kenny Rogers, the singer-songwriter put it like this:

You got to know when to hold ’em…know when to fold ’em.

Scottish singer and songwriter Sheena Easton reminded us we’ve got to know:

…when to stick to our guns and when to abandon the fight.

I love the poster put out by Despair.com. It’s the picture of a car driving straight into an approaching tornado. Under the picture is the caption:

Perseverance: The courage to ignore the obvious wisdom of turning back.

Herman Hesse said:

Some of us think holding on makes us strong; but sometimes it is letting go.

The fact is, sometimes we just don’t know whether we should press on toward victory, or abandon the journey.

Sometimes we begin to suspect that reaching the destination is not so likely.

Do we press on, or do we quit?

Do we continue the battle, or surrender?

Should we count our losses and save our energy for something else? Or should we increase our commitment?

Here are 6 questions to ask when you must decide one way or the other.

1. Do you feel the dream is still alive?

When we first have a dream, we’re energized.

We want to stop everything and begin the pursuit.

We believe we can reach the goal if we just give it our best effort.

We can almost taste victory.

But not all dreams live forever. Sometimes they lose their luster, they fade, and they die.

That’s okay.

We clearly can’t pursue every dream we ever have. None of us lives the required 500 years to do so.

So, ask yourself:

Is your dream still alive?

Does it excite you to think about it?

Is your dream as vibrant as it once was?

If so, you should probably stay the course.

Most routes to our dreams are jagged and winding. They’re almost never a straight line.

But sometimes the detours actually help us on the journey.

Sometimes the detours clarify the route in a way nothing else can.

So, if your dream is alive, don’t give up just yet. You might be closer to success than you realize.

2. Do you have the energy required to continue?

All worthwhile pursuits require energy.

If reaching goals was easy and required little effort, everyone would be reaching them.

But reaching goals requires effort. The bigger the goal, the greater the effort required.

Some people abandon their dream simply because they run out of energy.

They get too tired to carry on.

Even thinking about the pursuit leads them to watch television or take a nap. Or both.

You probably have a pretty good idea whether or not you have the required energy to reach your destination.

Knowing it will require energy, it’s a good idea to take inventory of your supply.

Aviator Amelia Earhart once said:

The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity.

Of course, tenacity requires energy. In fact, the concept of tenacity implies perseverance, persistence, and steadfastness.

None of these are possible without energy.

Without energy, the ability to advance is lost.

Like a car out of gas, or a phone with a dead battery, or a fire out of fuel. Energy is required to move toward our dream.

But even though you lack the energy necessary to follow your current dream, a new dream might energize you in surprising ways.

It may be time to find a new pursuit that will provide the energy needed to make it happen.

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3. Are you sure it was your dream to begin with?

Plenty of people get halfway to the fulfillment of their dream only to discover it was never really their dream to begin with.

It was more or less imposed on them.

– By a parent

– By a partner

– By a friend

– By a well-meaning colleague

It’s difficult enough to reach a challenging goal when we are totally sold on reaching it. When the dream is unmistakably our own. When it is something we want more than anything else.

But sometimes the dream we’re pursuing actually belongs to someone else.

It’s their dream, not ours.

For whatever reason, we get caught up in the pursuit of someone else’s goal.

When we realize this is the case, we need to change our mind.

We need to acknowledge that we don’t have what it takes to reach the goal of someone else. 

George Bernard Shaw, the Nobel Prize winning playwright said:

Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.

Think about it. If we’re in pursuit of someone else’s dream, it’s unlikely we will ever fulfill it.

That’s okay to admit.

What we cannot afford to do is not change our mind.

If we don’t change our mind, we will be unable to change our direction.

I love what American novelist Mark Twain said:

The secret of getting ahead is getting started.

Of course, we tend to think of this as applying only to the starting process. But it also applies to starting over with a new dream.

Deciding to make a change is the most important step in making the change.

Twain also said that the two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you find out why.

Finding out “why” you were born is pretty close to figuring out what dreams you should pursue.

Knowing what is actually your dream and not someone else’s will kick start you on your journey.

4. Have you fallen for the sunk cost fallacy?

Simply put, the sunk cost fallacy occurs when we irrationally continue an activity that no longer meets our expectations.

It’s called sunk cost because it’s a cost we’ve already incurred and cannot recover.

It’s money, time, or energy already spent. 

We get caught in this trap in many ways.

– We increase our commitment to an investment that’s headed south because we’ve already invested so much.

– We remain in a relationship that’s clearly over because we’ve been in it for so long.

– We double our efforts on a project we should abandon permanently because we’ve already devoted so much time and money to it.

American business guru, Peter Drucker, was an expert on productivity. He observed that so much time is wasted by becoming proficient at what we should not be doing. He put it like this:

There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.

We have only so many resources available to us. The sooner we learn what is worthy of our resources, the better.

Whenever we’re assessing whether to continue the pursuit of our dream or give it up, we should be aware of the sunk cost fallacy temptation.

Just because we’ve already invested in something, it doesn’t justify investing more.

In fact, if we’ve invested a lot with little to show for it, it may be solid evidence it’s time to shift gears.

5. Are you prepared to set a deadline?

Sometimes it’s helpful to set a deadline for when we’ll decide whether to advance or retreat.

Determine a reasonable amount of time to devote to the pursuit, then make the call.

The future deadline is more art than science. But having a deadline will provide you some focus.

It’s easy to get sucked into the pursuit of a goal and lose all sense of time and reason.

Before we know it, we’ve invested far more than we ever intended. We wonder how we ever got to this point.

So set a deadline.

Tell yourself that by this date, you will either press on or turn back.

Mark it on your calendar. When the date arrives, make your decision.

If you feel you aren’t quite ready when the date arrives, agree to set one more deadline.

But let the second deadline be the final one. Continually resetting the deadline is just a sophisticated form of procrastination.

With some good fortune, the date will arrive, you’ll make the decision to continue the effort, and you will reach your goal.

If not, determining the goal is no longer worthy of your best efforts is valuable knowledge. You’ll be able to use your resources on a goal more worthy of them.

6. Could success be just around the corner?

American inventor Thomas Edison is credited with saying:

Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.

Sometimes, just a bit more effort will bring success.

Sometimes, holding on just a little longer will allow us to fulfill our dream.

But how do you know if success is just around the corner or thousands of miles away?

You don’t know.

Unless you happen to be clairvoyant. And if that’s the case, you don’t really need suggestions, do you?

You can always invite a trusted friend or colleague to give you their opinion.

But in the end, it’s your decision to make.

A different perspective may help you see more clearly than you could alone. But sooner or later, the assessment period must end and you must decide.

There are many stories of famous people who held out just a short while longer and reached their destination.

– Inventors who tried just one more idea, and made a history-changing discovery.

– Authors who sent their manuscript to just one more publisher, and their career was launched.

– Explorers who took just one more journey, and made history by it.

Here are some specific examples.

Theodor Geisel’s, (Dr. Seuss) first book was rejected by 27 publishers. But he refused to give up. His books have now sold more than 600 million copies.

While developing his vacuum, James Dyson had 5,126 failed prototypes for the machine. But the 5,127th prototype was successful. According to Forbes, Dyson is now worth an estimated $5 billion.

Did these two men have a sixth sense that allowed them to see their future success?

No, they did not.

What they had was a dream that was very much alive within them.

And even though they suffered through many failures and setbacks, on one particular day, success was literally right around the corner.

In Summary

Hopefully these 6 questions will help you when you reach a crossroads and must decide whether to continue on or turn back.

Let’s review them.

1. Do you feel the dream is still alive?

If you do, then press on. If the dream has died, find a new one.

2. Do you have the energy required to continue?

Finishing will require energy. If you don’t have it, it’s going to be tough going. If you do, then your chances of success are much greater.

3. Are you sure it was your dream to begin with?

It’s hard enough to reach our own goals and fulfill our own dreams. But if you’ve inherited the dream of someone else, it’s time to acknowledge that fact and choose your own dream instead.

4. Have you fallen for the sunk cost fallacy?

Previously investing time, money, and energy in a pursuit is not a good justification for continuing the pursuit. A low return on your previous effort is more likely a wake up call that the goal should be abandoned.

5. Are you prepared to set a deadline?

Deadlines give us focus. Even artificially imposed deadlines are effective. Use them to help you decide whether a goal should be laid to rest.

6. Could success be just around the corner?

None of us knows what the future will bring. But when we have a sense that we’re close to victory, we should probably keep at it.

But realize this is more art than science. Intuition can play a helpful role, but there are no formulas.

Hopefully these 6 questions will help you decide whether to stick to your guns or abandon the fight. Whether you should follow your dreams or you should give them up.

About Author

I was born and raised in northern Virginia near Washington, D.C. My dream as a child was to play professional baseball. I made it as far as a baseball scholarship to a Division 1 college. I’m a teacher at heart, and love to teach anything and anybody who wants to learn. I started out as a public school teacher. But within a few years, felt called to the ministry, where I spent 32 years as a pastor. I love the outdoors. I love to read. I love people. I love to learn. I try to take a long walk every day year-round. I’ve done that for more than 40 years. It’s where I do some of my best thinking. It also clears the cobwebs from my head and the nonsense that tries to take root there. My blog is Quotation Celebration, where I discuss the meaning and lessons contained within great quotes.