You will, no doubt, be saddened to hear that I have, at long last, given up my lifelong dream of becoming an amateur ventriloquist. Perhaps I’d best explain.
You see, one year when I was a child my parents gave my sister and me a pair of ventriloquist dummies. They were “Danny O’Day” models and came with instructions on how to do ventriloquism. I promptly renamed mine “Denny” to cut down on any confusion that might result from having two talking dolls with the same moniker.
I don’t know if I had asked for this gift or not, but I was certainly excited to receive it. I remember trying to get the hang of it, practicing in front of a mirror to watch for telltale moving lips. I still recall a few of the techniques. I rehearsed until I could do it reasonably well, though I always had trouble with those tricky consonants like “B,” “M” and “P.” Still, I had high hopes.
There were a couple of difficulties, however. For starters, I was incredibly shy. Too shy, in fact, to perform a ventriloquism routine for my grandparents, much less a real crowd. Besides that, knowing ventriloquism is only half the battle. You have to be able to entertain. There must be a routine, complete with dialogue and jokes. But I wasn’t funny. I couldn’t make up witty conversations with puns and put-downs. Forget making up jokes; I was unable to even remember the ones other people made up. To top it all off, I could never decide who Denny was. He had to have a personality. Was he a dummy in brains as well as body, or could he outsmart me every time? Should he be shy and sweet, or a wooden wise guy?
And so the years rolled by. Instead of becoming the hit of the youth group retreat, the church Valentine banquet or the school talent show, poor Denny languished in his little cardboard suitcase. I lost my “How To Be A Ventriloquist” book somewhere along the way, and Denny’s case was moved to the top of a messy closet, out of sight and out of mind. Every now and then I would remember him and think, “Maybe someday…”
Then I moved for the first time in 19 years. I was downsizing and if I didn’t really, truly need it, then it had to go. I ran across Denny on closet cleaning day. I had never completely forgotten him, and I was tempted to put him in the “keep” pile. How much trouble could he be? He lived in a suitcase that took up only slightly more space than my laptop. But I had to face the truth: I’m 54 years old. If I were ever going to become an amateur ventriloquist, I’d have done it by now. So with a sad sigh I packed up Denny and toted him off to our used clothing (and etc.) store.
The experience got me to thinking about giving up on a dream. We always talk of going for goals, setting high standards, dreaming big. But is that always best? Is there ever a time to put a dream in a little cardboard suitcase and give it away? I’ve decided the answer to that is “yes” and I invite you to explore some possible scenarios with me.
For starters, perhaps the goal was unreasonable in the first place. Sometimes I hear teachers talking about how many of their students say they are going to become professional athletes. That may be a worthy goal, but let’s face it—for most of them it isn’t going to happen. These teachers shake their heads because they know the students are not ready or willing to invest incredible amounts of time, energy and plain hard work. They simply think they are truly that athletically gifted. What they need is not a pep talk, but a healthy dose of reality.
We may begin with a reasonable plan, but life gets in the way. Ever see “It’s a Wonderful Life”? George’s dream is to see the world. But somewhere between his father’s death and a run on the bank he loses both his opportunity and his money. In the end he sees that his life truly is wonderful, but we assume he never does get to travel the world. Circumstances and choices all along the way have taken his life in a very different direction than he had first hoped.
Perhaps we tried what we thought we wanted but it didn’t work out. Plenty of people have gone off to college, only to discover that it’s not for them. Others switch majors in midstream. Still others change careers in midlife, sometimes doing something completely different than what they began with. Exchanging textbooks for a trade or swapping philosophy for physical therapy could be just what we need.
Maybe somewhere along the desired path we decided it wasn’t worth the effort after all. As a college freshman I signed up for an elective course in music theory. I had taken piano lessons since the fourth grade; I figured that should certainly give me a leg up. I knew studying theory could only make me a better pianist. And if it proved to be more difficult than I’d planned, my roommate was a music major. Surely Patty would lend a helping hand. As it turned out, pretty much everyone in the class was a music major except me. It wasn’t just hard; it was crazy hard. By the end of the first week I knew I was in way over my head. Could I have stuck with it? Of course. Would I have pulled a “C?” Maybe, but only with a lot of help from Patty. The bottom line was that I decided as a nursing major I didn’t need to jeopardize my chemistry and biology grades because I was staying up all night trying to write a sonata. Music theory simply wasn’t worth the effort, and I dropped the class without shame. (OK. With a little shame.)
So what do we reap from the ground wherein our dreams lie buried?
For one thing, we can exchange frustration for peace of mind. As long as we’re struggling to achieve a goal that probably shouldn’t be ours in the first place, we will be unhappy and feel like a failure. Once we adopt a more reasonable standard, we can come much closer to finding contentment. If we’re going to spend time and effort on attaining something, shouldn’t it be something we can actually achieve?
For another, in being flexible we can follow what God is doing in our lives. A word we would do well to remember is “Providence.” We can have our lives all mapped out, but God might have other plans. He may allow what seem like detours but are actually the best roads to take us to his destination.
And as we accept our limitations we can discover our true gifts. Once our young sports superstar wannabes admit they actually don’t have enough raw talent to propel them to the pinnacle of success, their real abilities may surface. Instead of becoming a basketball all-star, Johnny might turn brain surgeon…or carpenter. Either way, he can put his mind and hands to doing the tasks he is most skilled to perform.
Lastly, sometimes in bidding a dream farewell we clear the way for other people. I told you I took Denny O’Day to our used clothing store. That was the last I saw of him. Someone took him home, perhaps a young boy who will grow up to be the next Jeff Dunham. He will always remember the day he opened an old cardboard suitcase in a thrift store and discovered a little dummy just waiting to be set free.
So what about you? Have you ever waved goodbye to a goal? Did the death of your dream lead you to a new adventure? How did you know it was time to call it quits?