Bad Dreams, Good Lessons

How Sitting with a Recurring Dream Gave Me Valuable Insight

I have a recurring dream where I’m surrounded by colleagues from my former career in a public school system. They’re talking about me like I’m not even standing there, saying that I left because I couldn’t hack it. I tell them that I left because I couldn’t take being part of a system that wasn’t working, that even feels abusive to people. They shrug and say it’s part of the job, and I stand there feeling guilty and ashamed.

When these dreams first started happening, I’d wake up upset and confused. In my heart I knew that I had left because I found new work that energized me and where I could make a real difference. But the guilt and shame felt very real. They say that while you sleep your brain continues to process your experiences, so I had to understand why this dream kept happening. There was something important here. I just needed to get clarity on what there was to learn. 

At first my dreams had felt like doubts. It was that inner critic telling me that I was inadequate and should return to the safety of work I had done for 20 years. There’s also a small piece of me that feels guilty for leaving a noble career. Still, I wasn’t convinced that going back was the answer. My gut told me there was something else at work in these dreams. My rational mind knew there was no reason to feel guilty. I am still supporting people, just in a new way.

It wasn’t until I spotted a pattern that I figured things out. These dreams always come on around the time I’m making big shifts in my new work. My work has changed from coaching people to become leaders to coaching leaders to find the balance in their lives that makes them feel whole. These dreams were reinforcing my belief of how burdensome and draining it can feel when your role as a leader rules your life, not telling me to run from the path I’m on. They were focused on the tough emotions that I help others process. I understand the doubts leaders feel when they are faced with enormous challenges and recognize they are simply one human. I get the guilt that creeps in when their hopes of changing the world feel out of reach. I understand the shame that comes from not being able to live up to the extraordinary expectations people have of them. And I don’t have to let those feelings rule my life.

When I woke up from this dream this morning, I felt much different than I had felt in the past. I woke up more certain that I had a story to tell – one that would resonate with people and make them feel seen and understood; one that would acknowledge their humanity and still encourage them to dream and work towards a brighter future. It would have been easy to give up early on, giving into the fears that the dream evoked. Instead, I had given myself time and space to sit with the discomfort and get curious about what there was to learn. Time, space, curiosity…sometimes that’s all we need to give ourselves to gain clarity.

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