The Horrible, Awful, No-Good Dark Side of Chasing a Dream

the dark side of dreams

If you’ve watched my TEDx announcement video or read this post, you’ve heard my story of the dog who escapes the invisible fence. This one:

Invisible dog fences keep animals in place with fear. As dogs get close, they are given a little bit of hurt, just enough to believe that surely all that lies outside the yard is hurt.

In reality, all that stands between a dog and complete freedom is about 30 seconds of pain.

I had a dog once that figured that out. He would yelp for 30 seconds while he ran through the barrier, and it was a horrible sound.

But then it was over, and he was free.

I know that most of our fears are just 30-second fences standing between us and freedom.

I’ve been told that analogy is inspiring, and I mean it to be.

But there’s a horrible part of that story that is not inspiring. It’s terrifying. It’s painful. It’s the very opposite of inspiring.

For 30 seconds, the dog is experiencing non-stop electric shock.

A split second of that sensation is enough to keep most animals in line. It’s enough to make grown men jump and shove their fingers in their mouths like babies.

Thirty seconds of that kind of pain must be excruciating.

But we skip over that part of the story.

Just like we read about people who have succeeded and we skim over the part where they say they went bankrupt twice. Or lost everything. Or thought about quitting a million times.

Or sobbed on the bathroom floor while someone tried to send comfort through the locked door.

I mean, sure, we read the words – but the words don’t do it justice. Because what the story has that real life doesn’t is perspective.

When you’re in the middle of the 30 seconds, you don’t know that a happy ending is just a few paragraphs away.

It feels more like imminent death than a plot point.

And in real life, it usually lasts a hell of a lot longer than 30 seconds.

A friend of mine is crossing the invisible fence right now, and watching her reminds me of just how bad it is in there.

I want to tell her that she is close, that the pain itself is proof that she is going in the right direction.

I want to promise her that this, like everything, is temporary.

This will be worth it, I want to tell her. But more than that, I want her to know:

This part is awful.

This moment deserves to be seen. This pain needs to be acknowledged and not glossed over with platitudes about growth and progress.

People who push through that invisible fence are changed forever not because they discovered a magical pasture on the other side, but because they have had their shells burned away and their insides charred.

It makes perfect sense that this hurts so fucking bad.

You are not weak for doubting your ability to endure this pain. Doubt and despair are as inevitable as they are awful when you’re halfway between what you know and what you’ve dreamed about.

The courage that brought you to this hell will bring you out, but first it will desert you.

And that does not make you a failure or a coward. It makes you human.

It makes you one of us.

I see your pain, my warrior friend.

I see it, I recognize it, and I honor it.

And I promise it will not last forever.

Get More Inspiration & Encouragement

Sign up to get my weekly(ish) email with personal stories, practical tips & links to recent blog posts. You'll also have access to exclusive discounts on products & events and a handful of freebies I've made just for you.

I save my best stuff for subscribers! Join us.

Your email will never be sold or shared, because I aspire to not be a jerk.

  1. daniel says:

    The pain is real and temporary. The effects of the pain, those could last forever and possibly be the reasons to not do something. However, that said, it is better to make forward movement than languish in a standstill.
    daniel’s most recent post: Homeless In My Alley

  2. jb says:

    great post. thank you

  3. Sarah says:

    I love, love, love this post. Too often, when we see someone suffering, we want to help them by telling them to pull back. “Get away from the fence!” we yell, but perhaps we ought to be encouraging them to keep on walking through it. I know a pet peeve of mine is when I’m actively suffering in pursuit of a dream or goal, and the people who love me try to get me to back away. Their intentions are pure, but it might be helpful if more of us reacted as you do toward the end of this post: with support, but no encouragement to abandon the dream. I am going to keep this in mind … and in heart. :)

    • Britt Reints says:

      There are few things worse than watching someone you care about be in pain – even if it is for a good reason!

  4. beautiful post, my friend.
    hope the person going though the difficult time sees this and knows to keep fighting. i am confident they will make it.
    love to all.
    hello haha harf’s most recent post: Question

  5. Naomi Liz says:

    You’ve just put what I went through last year succinctly into words. It was about a year and a half of an invisible fence…so long that I became dead inside, feeling neither pain nor joy. I’m on the other side now, still reeling a bit, but glad to have some life back in my heart. Glad to feel alive again.
    Hope. That’s my word for 2014. Because at the end of last year, I couldn’t even bring myself to see anything better in the future. There was no looking back, and no looking ahead. I prayed that I could just have enough faith to hope for something better.
    And slowly, slowly, I’ve been glimpsing hope in my life. Finally out of that electric fence.
    Naomi Liz’s most recent post: {Tug-of-War} The Urgent and The Somedays

  6. Deidre says:

    This is what I needed to hear today. Thank you. I’m wrestling with this lately, ready to take a leap but also terrified and so I’m in the thick of the invisible fence (or as I termed it to a friend today, the abyss). The problem is you don’t know how long it will last and you can’t be sure it’s really going to be better on the other side. Faith, in the self and in the world, comes into play.

    • Britt Reints says:

      Yeah, faith is huge. Faith that even if you fell into the abyss, you’d figure out how to make whatever is at the bottom work for you. :-)

  7. martymankins says:

    Great post. The pain, regardless of how many levels it is or what causes it, it’s real and it’s something that many deal with on a regular basis.
    martymankins’s most recent post: Banal Leakage – Ep #013

« « 5 Reasons to Give Your Gratitude Practice Another Shot | 7 Ways to Start a Gratitude Practice » »