Tethered Dreams

Dreams Do Come True, But May Surprise You

We dream. We dream while we sleep, we dream while we’re awake. Sometimes our sleeping dreams are actually nightmares, creating angst and fear.

But in most cases the word “dream” connotes positive, aspirational feelings like dream job, dream relationship, dream vacation, or dream school. These dreams provide us with hopes that we know may not ever actualize.

But then, miraculously, a dream is realized! Having worked at highly selective Duke University for over four decades, I have repeatedly observed high school students getting admitted to their dream college. When they receive the coveted acceptance letter via snail mail or (more recently) by logging into a website, a student’s reaction is usually one of sheer euphoria, with shrieks and tears of joy from them and their parents.

A dream come true!

And with that dream, comes enormous assumptions and expectations.  Having read about the school, reviewed the institution’s website, talked with current students and alumni, and visited the campus, students have grand expectations of their soon-to-be lived experiences.  

But many students have unrealistic expectations as they come to anticipate a perfect college experience, which is rarely never the case.  

Our unrealistic expectations are not just associated with dream outcomes. We also have expectations everyday about basic things we hope will happen. These anticipations often become all-consuming during the holidays for us, our families and our children.

With all of this in mind, the notion of managing expectations is paramount. Ryan Reynolds would suggest that the best way to manage expectations is to have none: “When you have expectations, you are setting yourself up for disappointment.” Similarly, Sylvia Plath believes that “If you expect nothing from somebody, you are never disappointed.”

I would suggest that Terrell Owens’ approach to managing expectations makes the most sense: “If you align expectations with reality, you will never be disappointed.”

What is your reality related to the holidays and the new year? How might you encourage your children to dream and have expectations without creating disappointment? 

Like with so many things related to children, talking openly and intentionally about what is realistic and possible is key to a holiday season that results in met expectations. Working as a family to create achievable expectations is a reasonable and necessary goal, with open communication and a focus on gratitude at the core.

I hope you continue to dream and encourage your children to do so as well, while recognizing that the holidays can be joyful even if they don’t follow the plot of a Hallmark movie! 

Happy joy-filled (and reality-grounded) holidays!

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