At age 33, author Cheryl Strayed rented a cottage in the town of Sheffield, Massachusetts, hoping to finish writing her book. It had been her lifelong desire to write the great American novel, but now that she was so close, she found herself procrastinating and wasting time watching TV instead. She started to feel like a failure. “I had my dream in my grasp, and I was too weak to hold it,” she says. “It was too hard. It was too big. I was too—I don’t know what. I was too much of a failure to see it through. What happens when we do that? What happens when we don’t act upon our most important intentions? What do we do when we say one thing, and then we do another? What do you do if you’ve aimed so high and aspired to be the best and all of that stuff that I was doing and realize that you just—you can’t—you’re a failure? What happens when we have only ourselves to blame?”
In that humbling moment, Cheryl was forced to ask herself a hard question: Had she set the bar too high for herself? “That is when you have to ask yourself, you know, not who you aspire to be, but to reckon with who you actually turn out to be. Who you actually are. And what I realized, what humility taught me, is that I couldn’t any longer adhere to the narratives that had gotten me this far.”
Cheryl realized that it was time to give up on the Great American Novel and simply focus on writing a book. “I knew I was going to fall short of greatness. So I had to rewrite the story of what greatness was. I had to figure out how to measure success differently. And I also had to figure out what purpose dreams served, if they served them at all. Maybe part of what, you know, was getting in my way was those very dreams. Don’t Let your dreams ruin your life. … The truth that rose up at my humblest, lowest moment was basically that I had to write a book. And that was it. … I had to surrender to the idea of my own mediocrity.”
Here, Cheryl explains why you shouldn’t let your dreams get in the way of achieving your goals.