Robin is a writer and thinker who loves to wonder about things. She helps companies create marketing that empowers, rather than interrupts, their customers, and writes about education, technology and the new economy on her personal blog, robinoula.com. You can find her on Twitter at @robinoula.
What happens when our dreams don’t go according to plan? What happens when, after taking that giant leap of faith, that first great act of daring, we hit a roadblock and falter? What happens when we begin to doubt our dreams?
10 weeks ago, I disrupted myself. Dramatically. I'd been dreaming for a year about moving to San Francisco, and when I got the chance this summer, I leapt. I flew down alone. I spent six weeks living in a teepee that I found on Airbnb. My husband joined me at the end of September, and I thought from there it would get easier.
It has gotten harder. Dreams always lose some of their luster as they begin to actualize, and the spectre of doubt has been creeping back into my consciousness. Not regret, simply doubt. Did I make the right decision? Will I ever learn to love California? Can we even afford to live here? Can I make this work? And so this post is deeply personal, because I'm not reflecting on lessons that have already been learned. I'm smack in the midst of a blooming, buzzing, confusing dream. When it comes to doubt, I'm right there with you.
Our culture is filled with parables of boundless optimism, of the impossible dreamer who never loses faith. Doubt is viewed as a negative emotion, a failure even. Doubt, we learn from a very young age, is a threat to progress, something to be feared, defied, ignored and swept aside in relentless pursuit of our dreams.
But when we treat doubt as a threat, when we shut it down the moment it appears, we are missing out on a tremendous opportunity to learn. I realize how counterintuitive this sounds, but opening ourselves to doubt can actually help us on our dreaming journey if we let it. The idea feels uncomfortable only because we are misunderstanding the nature of doubt itself.
Theologian and philosopher Paul Tillich said that “doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” We cannot fully know our dreams if we are alienated from the doubts that swirl within them, for each shapes the contours of the other. Just as light cannot be itself without shadow, our dreams arise from the interplay of faith and doubt, not the absence of one or the other.
Let’s be clear that embracing doubt isn’t the same thing as succumbing to it. When we embrace doubt honestly and with our whole selves, we merely allow it to be what it is, so that we may learn, understand and ultimately give ourselves permission to release its hold over us. This is a far more powerful way to treat doubt than suppressing it, which only causes it to linger like dust upon our consciousness.
Every moment of doubt holds a lesson, a chance to gain a little more clarity, a little more insight into the forces that inspire us and the fears that hold us back. Doubt reminds us that we are finite, that we are human and that by our very nature, we do not have all the answers. Nor should we, because the human spirit withers in the face of absolute certainty and soars in the face of uncertain aspiration.
We need the creative tension between faith and doubt. We must dwell there, in this wild, tender place between knowing and not knowing. For this is how we dream, how we imagine a better world and take that first breathless leap toward creating it.
I love this line, “The human spirit withers in the face of absolute certainty and soars in the face of uncertain aspiration.”
“Are you alienated from the doubts that swirl within your dreams?”
“Are you dwelling in the wild, tender place between knowing and not knowing?”