How To Know When To Give Up On Your Dream

I've had my dreams crushed more than a few times. From the realization that my fitness company (that I had poured years into) was no longer profitable, to the day I made the decision to step away at Sevenly.

But the beauty of dreams is they are plural. We have more than one. 

For you, it might be a career you once loved but now is feeling empty, or a sport you play but a scholarship isn't looking bright, or maybe just an app you self-funded, you grew, but still couldn't keep it alive.

On the contrary, there’s something to be said for a ruthless stick-with-it-ness attitude. But in my experience, entrepreneurs can often stick with dreams that won't work, don't work, or hurt the areas of their life that matter most.

Thankfully, true starters are never built on one idea. Rather, the pursuing of many and the sustaining of few.

But how do you know which ideas or dreams to give up on? Or when to change directions? While I'd never promote my readers to be weakly dedicated or undisciplined, here are some signs it's time to count your bruises, the lost time and money, and walk away.

4 Signs It's Time To Let Go Of Your Dream 

1. The Truth Is Glaring & You Know It
Organizations almost never die quickly. I've watched executives and shareholders frantically search for solutions while employees are laid off and consumers witness a bloody mess. Denial is a real thing. If you're in a company, partnership, or organization (no matter how much time and money you've put in), allow yourself the smarts to hear the truth. Have the courage to face reality. Even if it's hard. And even if it means to kill the very thing you birthed.

2. Your Gut Will Sense The End
When people say “gut” they are really speaking of your limbic brain. The portion of your mind that accurately senses emotional worry and tension based off past events. If your “gut” says it's time to go, it's time to get some wise counsel and make a decision.

3. Your Dream Has Changed
I've seen too many entrepreneurs sustain businesses or ideas strictly to avoid letting other people down. While commitment is honorable, if your dream has truly changed (and you're sure of it) it's time to go. Remember, that next exciting mission – the one that ends up changing the world – is typically just a slight detour from the path you’re already on. But spending your life supporting the dreams of the past is not exciting… or wise.

4. You’re About To Fall Apart. Burnout is serious. I've hit two difficult seasons of exhaustion in my life, both from overworking. If your dream makes your life miserable, depressing, or filled with anxiety this journey you call a “dream” might actually be a nightmare. Quit and do something else.

Are you stuck in between one dream and the next? Are you struggling with when to let go and move on? What's helped you in the past to move forward? Let me know in the comments below.

Or if you have a dream or idea but don't know where to start, you might to begin here.

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38 Responses

  1. Always intrigued by your writings Dale. Today’s struck a chord because my wife and I started a nonprofit nine years ago and have made the decision to step down and move away from it. It’s been a hard process in a time of grieving on both our parts. I originally wanted to be done October 1 but now had to push back the date till January 1. I find myself though hesitant to let go at times and many times just want to walk away. To the point where I hired a consultant to help me keep moving forward on a transition out of this role. Would love some thoughts on what to share or how to share with those who believed in followed your vision for nine years and still are actively involved only to have the founder step down and move away also would love to hear what to tell others when you’re not 100% sure what’s next

    1. Hey Will, this is tough. There is no recipe. Just show your heart. Follow your gut and get wise counsel throughout the process. I will say you should rip it like a bandaid. Don’t flip flop. When you make an announcement provide firm details. Know you’re not alone and it’s okay for you to have needs.

  2. I’ve never seen any type of article that reads.. When to STOP following a dream.. and honestly everything written makes so much sense that its scary. Im a dreamer, I don’t dream as loud as some people. I tend to keep one foot on the ground the other in the sand, and my head mid way between the clouds and outer space. In other words.. I can always awake from a dream to see reality for what it really is. My husband on the other hand can’t seem to do the same. He’s a dreamer of all trades. Every dream has to come to life, and manifest no matter how big or small. He would benefit from this article, even though I feel it would be somewhat hurtful to him. He won’t let go of this one dream that has plagued us for over 12 years now. It has never been successful, Its always a mess, and it always causes a division between us. I’ve felt for a long time, this “dream” is indeed a nightmare. So much so, that he’ll come up with other great dreams and ideas, but somehow will find a way to funnel this particular dream into the puzzle.. It never fits, it always leaves potential investors scratching their head like, where did this come from, why is this a part of that.. so on and so forth. But he can’t see that its time to let that go. Im not sure how to get him to see this without him thinking I don’t support of believe in his dreams, because I do. I just don’t believe in that particular dream. :-/

    1. Wow. Sounds heavy. This is not uncommon. My advice is to continue to lean in and be empathetic. There is something deeper here. But show him you have needs too and he must put you above his dream. Also my wife and I are HUGE fans of counseling. We go often, this might be one of those reasons to go 🙂

    2. The longer you wait with telling him the truth, the heavier and more difficult it gets! Trust you’re husband and assure him that you support him and believe in his ideas and dreams just not that one. That you believe that its time to let that one go and focus on his other great ideas. Don’t assume anything until you’ve tried it!

  3. Dale, thanks for sharing. I’m a dreamer. So this has been the hardest of lessons for me. I had to walk away from a band that was perpetually on the brink of a record deal in 2011. A year later I walked away from an award-winning design and advertising firm I co-founded. Both decisions were extremely difficult to accept. I had poured my heart and soul into those ventures. I had designed the sweet office and everything about the firm’s brand. Everything. And the hardest part was it was we did really great work, in a great work environment, with great friends. But it wasn’t profitable, or right, and it was crushing me and the relationships that matter most. It’s taken me until now to be able to dream again, and I’m still having a hard time trusting those dreams. But thank you for your transparency and inspiration – it’s been huge for me.

  4. Hay Dale,I have problem witha anxiety especiall when it comes to sports on the field!I don’t know but when I’m practising I play in such a brillian way but when it come to an actual match I totally mess up!I play as if it the first time I’ve played the sport!I’ve tried trials for the tema,like I said I do well at practices but soon as the word “Match” is mentioned I totally freeze and think of the negative outcomes of the day!its been affecting me since last year and I just can take it anymore,I want…actually I need to up my game and see my self making a succedfull career out of my dream.PLEASE HELP

  5. Change is part of life. Being able to adapt and change your dreams based on the fact that life is constantly changing is important. There will always be naysayers when you follow your dreams, which you shouldn’t take to heart, and at the same time you have to be a little realistic.

    I couldn’t be an NBA player no matter how hard I tried.

    I pursued acting for a little bit and there was a guy who was in his 40’s in my class. He lived in a single room apartment. He hated his life and hadn’t made much progress in becoming actor, but at least in his mind, he had been pursuing his dreams for the past 10 years. In his mind, he probably thought, tomorrow could be my big break and so I must hold on.

    I think you should look at stopping when you don’t see any progress towards your dream over a decent amount of time.

  6. This is so hard. I treat my projects like my children – like my own body parts, and to give up on one is like losing a part of myself.
    I can only imagine how hard it must have been to walk away from a company you loved or a business you poured years into building. I’m just always afraid that there won’t be an “after.”

    1. It wasn’t easy. There is ALWAYS grief and loss period for anything lost in life, but there will always be another door that opens.

  7. Why give up at all? The start of a new dream/project could mean the advancement of the old one!

    1. Giving up isn’t always a bad thing. It’s a smart decision when you recognize it’s time to walk away

  8. AMEN, Bro! We can identify with all of these. I appreciate your burst of encouragement though… But the beauty of dreams is they are plural. We have more than one. J&J

  9. I’ve always dreamed of a big city life (New York City that is) but after getting a dream job in Texas where my boyfriend lived I thought maybe marriage and family was what I was going to have instead. But sadly after my boyfriend cheated on me and I broke up with him I am still here in this suburban life. While I do enjoy my job, I am in my mid-thirties and single. I am not sure if moving to NYC would be the wisest choice for my future. Not sure if I should go after that long time dream or just give it up and be content with what I have now because I can be a lot more generous and financially stable in this lifestyle. What do you think?

    1. I say go for it. Regret is not something you want to live with. You are single and there are always plus sides to that – one of them is being able to up and go whenever you want! If it was a terrible decision, move back. Be flexible. If it’s a dream and is in your heart to do it, you’ll find a way to make it work!

  10. I’m glad we didn’t have this kind of attitude when we decided to go to the moon or to become an independent nation.

    1. Haha I’m not sure we are talking about the same article, my friend. Seems like you misunderstood what was said.

      1. Hi Dale…thanks for the reply. I meant no disrespect. However, I feel that the message of one single idea vs. multiple ideas misses the point. I feel that these entrepreneurs who experience burn out, guilt, or ADHD, lack a clear purpose (or their “why”). I find that a focused and clear tangible goal with an over arching life belief is more helpful. For example, to use the analogy of the moon, our country had the over arching belief that we were the greatest nation and getting to the moon would highlight that greatness. This especially came during the heightened Cold War/Space Race. The tangible goal of reaching the moon to beat the mighty USSR, galvanized the country. Our country redirected our resources and prioritize our joint efforts. Many things were sacrificed to get us there and now our country’s flag flies proudly on the moon. Simon Sinek’s book illustrates many of these concepts. Having our “why” grounded will enable us to clearly identify our what (goals/metrics) and how (ideas/strategies). There’s more ways to skin a cat. Thanks so very much for this discussion. It’s something that many entrepreneurs struggle with. I’m glad you brought it to light.

    2. America is an independent nation.. rubbish! All countries are co-dependent on each other. The world’s biggest dependency is on two – Middle East for Fuel/Petrol/Oil and China for Electronics. Even ur iphone is made in china dude! Grow up .

  11. Great article. It’s never easy building a dream. I feel like many entrepreneurs don’t want to give up on a lost cause because others have done it (I’m guilty of that as well). We only see the tip of the iceburg, and don’t see all the sweat, blood and tears it took to get to where they are now.

  12. Nice, Dale!!! This article + Uncertainty is a really good map to an issue like that! I’m your fan now! ehehe

  13. Great ideas Dale. I sometimes have felt this during the early days of my business and created several other opportunities to to fund my life and support the main goal of building a profitable company with a a dozen of staff members in London. Sometimes the inner voice shakes us during hard times and then when we work smart there is a come back. So this confuses and makes me think should I keep doing what I enjoy and thriving to build would make the effort work it. Thanks for your great articles, really enjoyed reading since the day I found it.

  14. thanks dale .. you are the first one who says this , thats right but you see we wont to admits ,cuz changing your mind and accepting that iam wrong for X of years and my dream is just a dream specially when you spent alot of money ,effort and ways, its really difficult
    so what is the solution … what should i do, there is something call DESTINY there is things you cant control its predestination
    your Success its not depends on… hard time you spent or study or effort …… , there is Environment , Connections , Opportunities , Interests and its not equal

  15. There are some dreams that I have had to give up on in my life, however if it was not for those dreams I would not be where I am today. Sometimes things happen for a reason, good or bad. Learn from them and move on.

  16. Thank you Dale. Years ago I sold a business that was breaking me and my family down. I kept it out of the guilt you mentioned, the fear I would let someone down. With life and priority changes, it was smothering and tearing me apart. Finally, I got the nerve to break from it. I barely broke even monetarily, but what a tremendous emotional lift. I didn’t even realize what it was doing to me. I opted to continue to consult and help the new owners, so I still felt a small part involved with “my baby”, while tending to new dreams. Looking back, I’m still very proud of my dream and my work. I believe we all must evolve and grow, just as our dreams do. To deny that growth can be a huge burden.

  17. Never give up! Dreams may start in one way and because they are living volatile things, may change and segue, move in the direction it takes you and NEVER GIVE UP. It is not a static box, a dream, it can morph if it needs to; be redirected, if it needs to; can grow and change, if it needs to. Never give up.
    I understand what you are trying to say, but it I feel like it carries a negative power. The creative, positive power, is that we can let our dreams, whatever they be, take us on a ride that may take up somewhere we never imagined and is better.

  18. I consider myself a realist and I appreciate this post a lot. Yes, it’s important to follow your dreams, but it’s also important to see the world for what it is. There’s no sense in putting yourself in financial ruin or otherwise hurting yourself or your employees because you weren’t willing to see that what you were working on was failing.

  19. I believe that you push forward with your dream until destiny takes over. Dreams are fulfilling our desires; destiny fulfills our purpose.

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