October 22, 2017

Calling It Quits

You will, no doubt, be saddened to hear that I have, at long last, given up my lifelong dream of becoming an amateur ventriloquist. Perhaps I’d best explain.

You see, one year when I was a child my parents gave my sister and me a pair of ventriloquist dummies. They were “Danny O’Day” models and came with instructions on how to do ventriloquism. I promptly renamed mine “Denny” to cut down on any confusion that might result from having two talking dolls with the same moniker.

I don’t know if I had asked for this gift or not, but I was certainly excited to receive it. I remember trying to get the hang of it, practicing in front of a mirror to watch for telltale moving lips. I still recall a few of the techniques. I rehearsed until I could do it reasonably well, though I always had trouble with those tricky consonants like “B,” “M” and “P.” Still, I had high hopes.

There were a couple of difficulties, however. For starters, I was incredibly shy. Too shy, in fact, to perform a ventriloquism routine for my grandparents, much less a real crowd. Besides that, knowing ventriloquism is only half the battle. You have to be able to entertain. There must be a routine, complete with dialogue and jokes. But I wasn’t funny. I couldn’t make up witty conversations with puns and put-downs. Forget making up jokes; I was unable to even remember the ones other people made up. To top it all off, I could never decide who Denny was. He had to have a personality. Was he a dummy in brains as well as body, or could he outsmart me every time? Should he be shy and sweet, or a wooden wise guy?

And so the years rolled by. Instead of becoming the hit of the youth group retreat, the church Valentine banquet or the school talent show, poor Denny languished in his little cardboard suitcase. I lost my “How To Be A Ventriloquist” book somewhere along the way, and Denny’s case was moved to the top of a messy closet, out of sight and out of mind. Every now and then I would remember him and think, “Maybe someday…”

Then I moved for the first time in 19 years. I was downsizing and if I didn’t really, truly need it, then it had to go. I ran across Denny on closet cleaning day. I had never completely forgotten him, and I was tempted to put him in the “keep” pile. How much trouble could he be? He lived in a suitcase that took up only slightly more space than my laptop. But I had to face the truth: I’m 54 years old. If I were ever going to become an amateur ventriloquist, I’d have done it by now. So with a sad sigh I packed up Denny and toted him off to our used clothing (and etc.) store.

The experience got me to thinking about giving up on a dream. We always talk of going for goals, setting high standards, dreaming big. But is that always best? Is there ever a time to put a dream in a little cardboard suitcase and give it away? I’ve decided the answer to that is “yes” and I invite you to explore some possible scenarios with me.

For starters, perhaps the goal was unreasonable in the first place. Sometimes I hear teachers talking about how many of their students say they are going to become professional athletes. That may be a worthy goal, but let’s face it—for most of them it isn’t going to happen. These teachers shake their heads because they know the students are not ready or willing to invest incredible amounts of time, energy and plain hard work. They simply think they are truly that athletically gifted. What they need is not a pep talk, but a healthy dose of reality.

We may begin with a reasonable plan, but life gets in the way. Ever see “It’s a Wonderful Life”? George’s dream is to see the world. But somewhere between his father’s death and a run on the bank he loses both his opportunity and his money. In the end he sees that his life truly is wonderful, but we assume he never does get to travel the world. Circumstances and choices all along the way have taken his life in a very different direction than he had first hoped.

Perhaps we tried what we thought we wanted but it didn’t work out. Plenty of people have gone off to college, only to discover that it’s not for them. Others switch majors in midstream. Still others change careers in midlife, sometimes doing something completely different than what they began with. Exchanging textbooks for a trade or swapping philosophy for physical therapy could be just what we need.

Maybe somewhere along the desired path we decided it wasn’t worth the effort after all. As a college freshman I signed up for an elective course in music theory. I had taken piano lessons since the fourth grade; I figured that should certainly give me a leg up. I knew studying theory could only make me a better pianist. And if it proved to be more difficult than I’d planned, my roommate was a music major. Surely Patty would lend a helping hand. As it turned out, pretty much everyone in the class was a music major except me. It wasn’t just hard; it was crazy hard. By the end of the first week I knew I was in way over my head. Could I have stuck with it? Of course. Would I have pulled a “C?” Maybe, but only with a lot of help from Patty. The bottom line was that I decided as a nursing major I didn’t need to jeopardize my chemistry and biology grades because I was staying up all night trying to write a sonata. Music theory simply wasn’t worth the effort, and I dropped the class without shame. (OK. With a little shame.)

So what do we reap from the ground wherein our dreams lie buried?

For one thing, we can exchange frustration for peace of mind. As long as we’re struggling to achieve a goal that probably shouldn’t be ours in the first place, we will be unhappy and feel like a failure. Once we adopt a more reasonable standard, we can come much closer to finding contentment. If we’re going to spend time and effort on attaining something, shouldn’t it be something we can actually achieve?

For another, in being flexible we can follow what God is doing in our lives. A word we would do well to remember is “Providence.” We can have our lives all mapped out, but God might have other plans. He may allow what seem like detours but are actually the best roads to take us to his destination.

And as we accept our limitations we can discover our true gifts. Once our young sports superstar wannabes admit they actually don’t have enough raw talent to propel them to the pinnacle of success, their real abilities may surface. Instead of becoming a basketball all-star, Johnny might turn brain surgeon…or carpenter. Either way, he can put his mind and hands to doing the tasks he is most skilled to perform.

Lastly, sometimes in bidding a dream farewell we clear the way for other people. I told you I took Denny O’Day to our used clothing store. That was the last I saw of him. Someone took him home, perhaps a young boy who will grow up to be the next Jeff Dunham.  He will always remember the day he opened an old cardboard suitcase in a thrift store and discovered a little dummy just waiting to be set free.

So what about you? Have you ever waved goodbye to a goal? Did the death of your dream lead you to a new adventure? How did you know it was time to call it quits?


 

Comments

  1. Jeff Dunham is so incredibly gifted…..I always need to keep Kleenex around when watching him, as I laugh until I cry at the antics of him and his “friends”.

    I did not know that you are a nurse (as am I). I had a VERY similar experience with an art class in nursing school, and although it was fun, especially compared to Physics and Organic Chemistry, it just took up too much time.

    Thanks for sharing with us about Denny, and reminding us all that NOT laughing and enjoying God’s world when it is appropriate is ignoring His gifts of humor and fellowship.

  2. The one thing about getting older is that Iget to reflect on the past. When I was young and just starting out I wanted to be the best engineer… and i was going to do great things. I had completely missed the point that I really struggled to get to this there, made some choices that caused me to take the long road just to get to this point. In other words I took a lot of what God had given me, almost squandered it, began listening again (though I didn’t know it at the time) and got on track. And now I wanted more. At one point I took up guitar playing (because I liked to sing) – no big dreams but maybe playing out around the region. I took up running with dreams of winning something along the way…

    Fast forward to today. I have a large family. I never became the great engineer (some engineering but more of a computer guy these days) but it gave stability to my family. I never became the great musician but I played with some people along the way that created some great memories, and more importantly, maybe influenced my children to become even better than I am. My oldest son is a great guitar player – far better technically than I could ever be, my second son is studying music performance at college and he is a great sax and base player (and both of them at one point formed a band and played out – cool). I never “won” any races – but participated in a few. And I would like to think that my children seeing this were influenced in running track and performing well on the swim team (especially my girls).

    So in a sense I did not attain my dream, and in some cases gave up on them entirely to focus on something that became much more important – wife and family. But I would like to think along the way that my attempt at the dream influenced my children in my life and they took the ball and ran with it (with no prompting from me) and became even better (they increase while I decrease kind of thing).

  3. My thoughts seem to get stuck in moderation a lot these days….

  4. Cordell Day says:

    After all these years I had completely forgotten about Denny. After his lenghthy imprisonment maybe he will find happiness at last. Lat’s hope so.

    Dad

  5. David Cornwell says:

    Several issues can show up when one is dealing with his/her personalized dream. One is that we make it the “will of God” for us. Then come hell or high water we think we can attain this goal if we just do all the right things, because God will see us through. So then when the dream collapses all around us it can lead to total devastation. We did something wrong, God let us down, or we displeased God in some way. This happens to college age Christian youth many times, or at least it did in my deep past.

    When I was in high school in the 1950’s I was in love with aviation and fast jets. Any movie that came along about the Air Force, test pilots, or any related field fed into my dream. I had books that identified different makes and models of planes, with their characteristics, purposes, and specs. I’d go to the newspaper store and buy all the recent aviation magazines. I was convinced in my mind that I could fly a light plane, Cessna, Piper, etc without any further training. I’m still think maybe I could have! But in truth this dream conflicted with reality in several ways that I won’t talk about here. It even conflicted with a couple of other dreams. Luckily I didn’t attach the “will of God ” to the plane dream.

    It’s good for youth to have dreams, but reality must also intrude its sometimes ugly head. As far as the “will of God” is concerned we should be taught to pray about making correct choices, discerning among conflicting realities, and knowing that God’s will for our life isn’t always written out ahead of time in unfading ink.

    Just as you imply, the death of a dream can lead to a new adventure. In fact, to see life as an adventure, is always a good route to take, because an adventure with God can take us anywhere.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy says:

      What happens when ALL your dreams are dead?

      At my age, I have only one left — to become an F&SF writer. In a time when the only thing that gets published are one-page flashfics, 1000+ page Trilogy Components, Vampire Romances, and “Just Upload it to a Website so I Can Read It For FREE!”

      • Amazon offers authors the opportunity to self-publish to Kindle. It costs nothing, and you share the revenue with amazon. Go to http://www.kdp.amazon.com for details. Perhaps you can still have your dream.

      • We share a dream, oh Headless One. Actually, I’m about a quarter way into my first SF novel, but it’s very slow going. For money, I work as a news writer/reporter at a small town newspaper — and trying to force myself to write after I’ve spent the day being forced to write at the point of a deadline is difficult at best. Constant mental fatigue is my primary enemy these days, and the temptation to just give my brain a rest and waste what little free time I get vegetating in front of the boob tube is often too hard to resist.
        What I need is just a plain old jobby job with regular hours — one that is not life consuming and doesn’t follow you home, but also pays enough to pay cover my bills and buy a few groceries here and there. But after years of looking, I’m beginning to wonder if these kind of jobs still exist here in America.
        Maybe someday I’ll finish the book and, God-willing, find somebody who will publish it.

      • I wanted to be a librarian (don’t laugh, it was that or an astronaut) 😀

        No dice on the librarian front, for various reasons. I also swore that I would never end up working in an office or secretarial work, so I resisted for years learning to type (despite well-meaning pushing from my parents about “Why don’t you do a little secretarial course?”)

        Where did I end up working? Administrative work in an office. (I was a Clerical Officer, Grade III (Temporary), in local education, oh, yes!)

        Life is strange.

  6. Nice essay, Denise. You lead me think of my high school trumpet, still in its case, sitting on the floor of my office. I wasn’t a talented trumpet player, too shy to even practice hard enough to move up from 3rd chair to 2nd. I’m now 50 years old…so why am I still holding onto my trumpet???

    • Rick, I’m glad I’m not the only person who does these things! Maybe at age 50 you’re not so shy any more. Why not give it another whirl?

      • “Maybe at age 50 you’re not so shy any more.”

        (I sit staring at the computer screen, petrified by the thought.)

        😉

  7. “Maybe at age 50 you’re not so shy any more.”

    (I sit staring at the computer screen, petrified by the thought.)

    😉

    • (Mod can delete this comment. I meant it as a Reply to Denise’s comment, which I posted.)

  8. Isaac (the poster occasionally still known as Obed) says:

    Ever since my first paycheck with my first job, I’ve been messing with home recording. About three or four years ago, I finally had the time, gear, and a little extra money to make my own CD of my own playing. It wasn’t great, and I had WAAAY too many copies made. I figured I’d play around town in the local music scene, sell my CD, and enjoy the life of a local working musician (i.e. poor, but having a blast). It had been something I’d wanted to do most of my life and finally I could pursue it. Well, that lasted about three months. I found out I really hate gigging and I really hate the local music scene. So, I’ve still got 600-700 CDs under my bed that I give to friends here and there. I’ve done some more recording as a hobby, but nothing serious. And I’ve decided that I’m happy to play backup to friends or a church or two when I feel like it. But being a gigging musician is just not for me.

    • You are not alone on this one Isaac. I played in a CCM band in high school / early college. At one point I thought this was my calling, although my dad gently brought me back to earth and I went on to become an engineer.

      A few years ago, I convinced a very talented friend of mine to start playing with me in a guitar duo (he’d given up a professional music career because he felt it was un-Christian). He was a natural, and for him it was a dream re-kindled, but for me the reality was nowhere near the dream (I also hated the gigging) and I handed the reigns over to someone else after about a year. My friend died not long afterwards, but at least he got to have some fun doing something he loved. I for one am glad that I was able to kill an old dream on my term,s which in someways made it easy to handle.

  9. I used to think that if I tried really hard that I might be able to recapture some of the innocense of my youth.

    Nope. No way. Done. Over it now.

    I guess I’ll just have to rely on my Savior.

    Without Him I am toast.

  10. I had a World Series related injury yesterday. Forgot the phone on the table at the restaurant and strained a calf running back to get it. Made it in by game time. Hey ~ it was World Series related.
    Good message Denise. It’s a killer to live a misguided dream or someone else’s dream. No truer way to destroy a legit and burgeoning future.

  11. Denise ~ I don’t know how to say this without sounding melodramatic but my dream actually DID come true ~ for 5 glorious years. And then it was killed. And that has led me to really know Jesus Christ and His cross. Not the Americanized, Victorious, Triumphant, Radical etc etc Jesus. I guess what I should say is that I was living my dream and by God’s grace He woke me up!! Plus, I found the Internet Monk and learned that I was truly not alone. And as my old favorite Rock Opera song says, “I’m Free ~ and freedom tastes like reality.”

    Good to hear from you Denise. I pray for you and think of you regularly.

  12. My comments never did come out of moderation – not sure what triggered it, or any of the others – maybe the name Radagast – oh well, maybe next time…

  13. Considering the theological aspects of the death of dreams one that is more poignant for me since my name is Joseph & I do dream every time I go to sleep.

    One of my favorite, but more sobering scripture verses, is Proverbs 13:12, “Hope deferred makes the heart sick; but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.”

    The cold reality of life is reflected in this scripture as a matter of fact, not as a divine promise that all longings will be fulfilled. For me, the condition of a sick heart far outweighs the tree of life counterpoint…

    After a very disrupting divorce & a bout of unemployment for the 3rd time in my work experience, I am not glibly hanging on to the overused promise made to Jeremiah the prophet recorded in Jeremiah 29:11. As it takes many years for any tree to grow & mature, the number of remaining years for me is waning rather rapidly…

    All my work experience more of the practical job category making enough income to support a family. It was not a career, nor something I was passionate about. It was work. I never ‘rose‘ to the top, nor did I ever feel I was the head & not the tail (Deut 28:13).

    I don’t feel like Job either, waiting for the restoration of fortunes to be returned to me after my “brief & momentary afflictions” have done their damage & God deems me worthy of passing the test…

    I am tired. Discouraged. Frustrated. Feeling much like a divine afterthought in the grander scale of a very large universe. My youth has been spent. The resiliency factor is either barely registering, or simply missing altogether. And fear is a real component of dealing with any more rejection in both the ongoing job search & the possibility of a new intimate relationship…

    {sigh}

    It is this reality I am dealing with at this stage or phase or leg of the journey I still stumble along…

    • Hi, Joseph.

      I am right where you are– tired & weak & worn, and for some of the same reasons– but whenever I read or hear something like this post from Denise, I wonder whether I’m deliberately ignoring the obvious solution. Maybe if I could just let go of something, everything else would turn around for me (not necessarily my circumstances, but– more importantly– the battered condition of my soul). Trouble is, I suspect that the “something” I should let go of is not just an outdated dream of how life was supposed to be, but my pain itself. Now, you’d think a person would *want* to surrender pain, but I’m afraid this pain may be the only real, honest thing I’ve got going right now. Sure, it hurts, but it also serves as constant proof that I’m still alive. And it’s all mine. So I grasp it with both hands…

      • camillofan:

        although the messages at the faith community i attend are very pertinent & timely, the subtle generally applied ‘answer’ seems to hinge on our response: trust God more. believe, i mean, ‘really’ believe He loves you & is your light & salvation. He cares. He knows. but how do we take that to the bank? how does that translate into the practical circumstances we all live out in the daily reality we find ourselves in each morning we awake???

        i can believe all the good/grand things of the next life definitely going to be incomparable to this one, but heck,
        God still has me populating this life & it seems from from being the abundant life category Jesus claimed to give…

        and not in the prosperity sense, but more in the soul-level satisfaction level. peace. contentment. wholeness. light. love. laughter…

        maybe the ideal Big Dream of a divine source needs to be killed off. no more hope deferred then. no more disappointment. no more frustration…

        i oft times wonder just what God has in mind for me. it sure doesn’t seem to be the fulfilling Christian life no matter how spiritually-eyed i try to perceive it as. anyway…i understand your own wrestling with the unique issues of life you also have dealt with & its ripple effects thru your soul…

        blessings…

  14. Hello!

    I just started reading your blog. Your post was uplifting and enlightening. Keep up the good work. I’ll keep you in my prayers brother!