You know who I'm talking about. The discouragers, the putter-downers, the "well-meaning" people who let you know in no uncertain terms just how lame, stupid, and impossible your dream is, and who go out of their way to steer you in a different direction claiming it's for your own good.
I know a lot of these people. I call them the Dream Spitters.
Because that's what they do. They spit on your dreams.
Dream Spitters come in all forms - supervisors, friends, family members, acquaintances, and sometimes even strangers will, for some unknown reason, make it a point to say to your face exactly why you shouldn't be doing what you're doing. It's happened to me more times than I can count and all I can say is, protecting myself from the spit is extremely tiring.
I wasn't always able to protect myself though. The first major Dream Spitter I encountered (and who earned the first official nickname) was in Seattle many years ago. I was newly engaged, excited about living in a new place, and along with my day job (which by the way was filled with Dream Spitters, my direct boss was the king of soul-crushing expectorating) I was going to sign language interpreting school at night. One of my dreams was to be an ASL interpreter, specifically at concerts after seeing one at a concert and falling in love with the art and skill of interpreting music. After about a year and half of school an opportunity arose for me to try interpreting for a church's worship music segment. (Those of us who weren't certified yet weren't able to do any spoken word interpreting, but because music is more free flowing and doesn't have to be as exactly lined up as speech, it was a good way to practice in public.) I met with the signing supervisor, who was very warm and welcoming, I worked hard all week on memorizing the songs, and I was so excited on Saturday night when the musicians, pastor, signing supervisor, and I met for the rehearsal. I was beaming with joy and anticipation as I stepped up onto the mini stage off to the side where I would be one step closer to my dream coming true. The music started and I went into a zone - I was hearing the music and feeling the music, my entire body was engaged in the signing, not just my hands, and overall I felt this beautiful flow between the music coming out of the speakers and the signs appearing effortlessly one after the other. It was a magical, beautiful, joy-filled, expressive experience for me, and when I was finished I felt like I had really accomplished something magnificent. Yes, it was just a rehearsal in small church with no attendees, but for me it was a triumph. I felt like a bright shining light, emitting beauty and expression into the dark empty space. I had that sacred experience of what happens when what you think you want to do intersects with what you are supposed to do, and you feel like your dreams have aligned with your purpose. For me, it was a feeling of unequivocal exuberance and sparkling pride...which lasted for about 30 seconds.
Enter the Dream Spitter.
The warm and welcoming signing supervisor came up to me as I stepped down. I was beaming and smiling, unable to contain my elation. She frowned at me and held up a large lined notebook. As the pastor began his sermon practice she sat me down and said these words to me:
"You have a beautiful signing style...but here's what you did wrong."
She proceeded to go down her extensive list of how she would have done it differently, how at this place instead of using this certain sign they used a different sign, and how the Deaf people she knew who attended this service preferred this song signed this particular way, etc. etc. etc. She basically cut me off at the knees and let me know that while my signing might be acceptable somewhere else, here at this church SHE would be the one to take over the following morning.
I. Was. Crushed.
I got in my car and sobbed uncontrollably until I was calm enough to drive myself home. Once I got there I called my fiancé (this was before cell phones so I had to wait to get home to call him) and started hysterically crying all over again. I felt like my dream, my purpose, my ultimately fulfilling job that I was working toward had been snatched out of my hands and thrown far away, unable to be reached because I was so incredibly incompetent. At that moment I felt like a huge ugly door had slammed shut on my beautiful, magical dream and I remember feeling utterly inconsolable.
I was young. I was impressionable. I had hopes that didn't match my self-esteem. And I believed what this person said about my abilities, and assigned that poison to my soul. Which I know now is the ultimate goal of the Dream Spitter.
I did not volunteer again, and although I kept going to school, my heart was no longer in it. We moved shortly after we got married and I was unable to get my certification, but I didn't really care. I had left this dream behind and did not possess the desire or the wherewithal to try to open the door to it again.
At the time I was so "in" it that I couldn't see the reality of the situation. Too often this happens with young people who don't have a foundation of courage and determination to help see them through these times of disappointment and defeat. Now that I'm 2 decades removed, and have encountered many similar incidents in my life, I can see that the following things were true in my scenario:
1. My signs were spot on. Every sign was technically correct and would have been understood perfectly by a Deaf person watching. I think it's important to note this because I wasn't a slacker - I cared about this assignment, I studied and worked diligently to make sure that what I was doing was absolutely accurate. Music can be signed on a broad scale, and even though what I chose to do may not have aligned with the supervisor's choices, it was still right and would have been comprehended as it was intended. (Not to mention that it was her responsibility to tell me ahead of time if certain signs were preferred over others at this place.)
2. This Dream Spitter was a big fish in a teeny tiny pond. I was young (she wasn't), I was cute (she wasn't), I was on my pre-wedding diet so I was thin-ish (she wasn't), and I was happy, energetic, and effusively excited about getting to sign for my first time outside of the classroom. In other words, I was a threat to her domain, and seeing her position potentially jeopardized by this fresh and bubbly new person made her scared and feel the overwhelming need to put me in my place.
Sad, isn't it? It was her job to be encouraging and supportive and ideally be a mentor to us up and coming interpreters. They needed signers and she complained incessantly about having her weekends constantly taken up by this job because she had no one to help her. But as we can see, she didn't actually want anyone to help her, and certainly not anyone who might have been better at her job than she was.
There's no telling how many other people's dreams she has spit on throughout her life and how many additional people took her deliberate denigration to heart. But as I said in my last post, that must be one heavy heart she has to carry around, and one miserable life she has to feel the need to put people down instead of lifting them up.
This woman was just one of many Dream Spitters I have encountered in my life. The boss who told me that my self-review numbers were way too high. The music teacher who harped on my inadequacies with never a positive affirmation. The close friend who let me know to my face all of my unforgivable faults that made me a terrible companion. The co-worker who advised me to dial it down a notch because I was making the rest of them look bad by comparison. The relative who told me that I would never find any kind of success as long as I was overweight. The bridesmaid who admonished me post-ceremony in front of the wedding party that the wedding kiss went on too long. The distant relative who advised me against looking for another job when I was crying myself to sleep every night. The other boss who set me up on my first day to appear incompetent while she took over for my unpreparedness (Did I mention it was my very first day on the job?). I can think of at least ten more off the top of my head. Dream Spitters are everywhere, and they will do everything they can to bring us dreamers down to their pitiful level, where they kill others' hope and anticipation in an pathetic attempt try to feel better about themselves.
So how do we combat the Dream Spitters? The Joy Stealers? The people who are all too happy to see us fall flat on our faces after deliberately placing the banana peel under our feet.
First off, cut them out of your life. Immediately. You don't need them. If you can't completely cut them out (i.e. family members that you have obligations to see) then cut them out of your circle that you tell good things to. If you don't share your dreams with them, then they won't be able to spit on them. When asked what you're working on, you have every right to reply "This and that," or "I've got a few things in the works," and leave it at that. Usually that is enough to make the other person realize that you don't want to discuss it further, but if they don't get it the first time around, when they ask you, "Like what?" then you can feel free to say, "I'll let you know when it's done, I'm not really comfortable talking about it while I'm in process." Or something like that. Usually these people love to talk about themselves so another tactic would be to answer the "What are you doing right now?" question with "Not much, what are YOU working on right now? I heard you joined a new book club (or knitting club, or cooking class, or whatever you heard they are into)." Or "You know, this and that. How's work going? Did you get the new desk chair you wanted?" You get the idea. The point is, get the focus off of yourself as quickly as possible and these all-too-discouraging people will forget about spitting on you and instead enjoy talking about their favorite subject: themselves. You may have to put up with complaining and kvetching and whining from them about their current situation, but at least you and your aspirations will be off limits.
Secondly, remember remember remember that their dream spitting is not about you. It is about them. I remember when I had my first baby and chose to not return to work outside my home I got calls every few weeks from a former colleague of mine. She said she was calling to check in on the baby and me, but in every single conversation she would inevitably ask me when I was returning to work. I would patiently explain to her that I was not going back to work, instead I was staying home to raise my child. She could not understand this concept. She would say things like, "But you could be doing so much MORE!" and"But you have skills and an education, don't you want to put them to good use?" and "But don't you want more out of your life?" Not only were these comments incredibly rude, but they were also supremely disrespectful of the choice I had made of the way I wanted to live this new chapter of my life. Because I had a different opinion than her, she simply couldn't comprehend why I, or anyone, would make that choice. Dream spitter.
Now, this woman chose to remain unmarried and childless and used her time and efforts to move up the corporate ladder. At any point during that time I could have said to her, "But don't you want MORE out of your life? Won't this choice leave you unfulfilled because no one ever said on their deathbed 'I wish I'd spent more time at the office?' Why would you ever NOT want to have a family?" I could have easily (and some would argue justifiably) spit on her dreams because they were diametrically opposed from mine. But I pride myself on being a lifter-upper, not a keeper-downer.
Thirdly, recognize that 9 times out of 10 the reason the Dream Spitters are doing the spitting is because they are unhappy in their own lives. This is obvious, but when you're in the midst of someone making you feel like your dreams are impossible it's can be hard to see the root of where it's coming from. You might want to willingly take on what they are dishing out because it's easier to give up than to keep plugging away at your dream. But don't ever let the Dream Spitters win. It's what they want, and they don't deserve it.
Lastly, realize that the Dream Spitters of the world are wholly and completely consumed by outside validation. Their lives are all about what other people think, or more accurately, what they THINK other people are thinking. Miss Dream Spitter Sign Language Interpreter enjoyed her position of power and relished reigning over her underlings. Do you know what I found out about her later? Her husband left her, her first daughter had a baby out of wedlock (which was a big deal to the small tightly-knit church community), her son had been nearly arrested, and her other daughter left the house as soon as she could to get away from her mother. I have to assume that mine weren't the only dreams she made a habit of spitting upon.
The list goes on. The friend who kept telling me what was wrong with me was dealing with a crumbling marriage and an fierce desire to work but kept coming up short in finding her perfect job. Horrible boss #1 had just gone through her third divorce and it was common knowledge that she only had that job because she was a friend of one of the directors there. The colleague who badgered me about my decision to give up my job only found her validation from outside forces like her job title and her salary - she couldn't get it from inside of herself, nor could any of the other people who have felt so free to spit on my and other people's dreams. The trick is to not let these people's frustrations and disappointments about their own lives rub off on you or me or anyone else who is trying to live a fulfilled and happy life according to their own terms.
So my friend, I encourage you to renounce the Dream Spitters in your life!! You have my permission to cut anyone out of your life who spits on your dreams and doesn't see you as the luminous, stellar, amazing, accomplished, capable-of-anything, talented person THAT YOU ARE. Not all of us will be able to fulfill our dreams or see them fully realized, but each and every single one of us deserves the chance to try. And while we're trying, we don't need some yucky Dream Spitters to get in our way.