When Dreams Come Crashing Down

I stuck the thermometer in my son’s mouth and waited for the beep.

He watched me with hopeful eyes.

I pulled it out and read the number. “You have a fever of 102.”

His shoulders sagged and he blew out a weary breath.

“I’m sorry, honey.” I brushed the hair from his hot forehead. “I know how much you were looking forward to this tournament.”

The state basketball tournament, the games he’d looked forward to playing all year, the last of the season. As point guard, his team needed him. But how could he help his team now?

Disappointment. Aching, gut-wrenching disappointment. My son felt it. We’ve all felt it at one point or another.

We’ve been talking about reaching for our dreams this week, first believing in ourselves, and second doing the hard work necessary to make those dreams come true. The fact is, even if we’re reaching high and doing everything right, sometimes we get punched in the stomach.

Heartache hits us, deflates our high hopes, and sometimes even knocks us to the ground. A rejection letter from the agent we really wanted. A “no thanks” from the editor who’s had our proposal for months. A contest entry that doesn’t final. Critique feedback that glares with all our faults. A stinging review on our book. An unfriendly reply from a fellow writer.

Our shoulders sag, we blow out a weary breath, and we hurt with the sharp stab of frustration. In all my years of writing, I’ve had plenty of painful moments—too many to count, actually.

I’ve learned to approach disappointment in several ways:

1. Allow hard times to keep us humble. If all I ever experienced were happy, high moments, I shudder to think how prideful I’d grow. I’m pretty sure God allows me moments of utter embarrassment and failure to keep me from thinking I’m “all that.”

2. Remember life’s not all about what we accomplish. When I get so busy striving after my dreams, sometimes the disappointment slaps me in the face and forces my focus back onto the things that matter most—particularly my relationships with others.

3. Don’t forget there’s always next time. When Olympic skier, Lindsey Vonn, crashed into the fence and lost her chance for a medal, she picked herself off the ground, brushed off the snow, and said something like, “I hope I can do better in the next race.” And that’s the same kind of attitude I want to have. I don’t ever want to give up hope.

4. Let the difficulty spur us to improve. After the blow, I allow myself a few seconds of pity (or few hours!). Then I remind myself that I believe I can do anything I set my mind to do. The key is to figure out a new way to move forward. Maybe that’s buying a new craft book and studying harder. Maybe it’s starting a new book and making that one even better. I challenge myself to move beyond what I've already accomplished.

Disappointment is a reality. In fact, the more we risk and the higher we reach for our dreams, the more crashes we’ll likely have. But we can’t let those tumbles define us. We have to pick ourselves back up and keep hoping and believing.

Yes, I agree, there may be times when we need to step back from our writing, take a break, or re-evaluate our goals. But all too often we let despair knock us off the writing path, when instead we should be persevering.

Perseverance is downright hard. But without it, how would we ever know what we could have accomplished if only we'd kept going?

Have you ever experienced broken dreams or crashing disappointment? How are you keeping the pain and frustration from weighing you down?


  1. This seems a rather timely post for me as I've had a few bouts of disappointment myself. Nothing serious and yet it still stings by times.

    People assume that once your book is published that everything you write afterward is guaranteed publication and that isn't necessarily the case.

    So, when disappointment comes along I allow myself to wallow a bit (but only so long as it's pointless )and then I pick myself up and keep going. What else is there to do?

  2. As a person who played sport in highschool and college - I really feel for your son! That is a huge disappointment, but it's not the end. As soon as I send off that query, yes I'm hopeful, but I'm also realistic. I jump into another project, one I'm excited about and that helps with the disappointment when it comes. And when it comes, I ride it out the best I can.

  3. As writers I think we experience more knock backs than triumphs. We have to keep driving forward not because we don't want to stop, but because we know we *can't.*
    You know, I couldn't stop writing even if I tried to give up.
    Thanks for a very inspirational post. I have to keep reminding myself to look up once in a while from my dream and concentrate on what's happening now.

  4. So sorry for your son! I *hate* it when my children have disappointments. :(

    Another great post, Jody...


  5. Great post, Jody!! I don't like to think about it, to be honest. But in the midst of it, I remind myself that GOd is in control even if I don't understand it. I think that's where faith plays a huge part. When life throws you curve balls and prayers seem unanswered... declaring Jesus is sovereign and that he love us still is HUGE for me. Maybe that's a little trite of an answer...but it helps me get through it.

  6. I've had plenty of disappointment but keep telling myself no one else is going to do this writing thing for me.

    Plus, I've kept a (possibly naive)optimism that the next editor/agent/story will be THE ONE.

  7. Yes definitely. It's so easy to look back on those from where I am now and realize God had his hand in it all. I'm so happy I don't have any other agent but the one I have now. And some of the rejections/disappointments I've received have led me to the stories that are now out on submission.

    It is so true that the higher we reach, the harder we fall. I'm on top of a ladder right now. I'm either going to step on top of the roof and do a happy dance, or fall and have a very, very, very sore bum. I'm praying for the roof!

  8. 2010 started out quite frustrating for us as hubby was rushed into emergency surgery sans medical insurance. I'm so humbled by the constant cloak of prayers that covered us through his surgery and recovery. God answered our prayers in many ways.

    Right now I'm going through a very challenging time with my day job. The frustrations and stress weigh on my shoulders like boulders. Sometimes I look toward Heaven and think, "Really, God? Again?" I know He's changing something within me and a lesson will come from this, but right now, I'm discouraged and hopeful for the light at the end of the tunnel.

    For me, it helps to talk with friends, dig through Scripture, and spend time on my knees.

  9. I've know the exhilaration of having dreams come true and the crushing disappointment of seeing them die.

    In everything, God remains -- faithful, gracious, loving and true. He restores me and redeems my life. All of it.

    Blessings to you today, Jody!

  10. I still feel the pain of not being able to be pregnant. But if I had been, I'd have missed so much growth though having adopted and all the challenges that came with that.

    I lean on the sovereignty of God, run through the deadly D's like I wrote about on my blog, and then count the disappointment as His appointment to grow and change me.

    It *is* harder to deal with my children's disappointment, though.

  11. "Remember life’s not all about what we accomplish."

    I need to tell myself this more often! I have been born and raised with this idea that I need to excel and be better than everyone else. When one goal is met, I need to make another and meet that one. It's exhausting. I have to stop looking at writing success as something I HAVE to attain, otherwise I'm a failure. I need to change my sole motivation to love of the craft and not for the reward.

  12. What doesn't kill us... and all that. For me, it's necessary to remember that I have a whole, lovely, successful life beyond the dream itself. It grounds me. I sit here today on the cusp of my writing dreams coming true, but it's also early spring here on the East Coast and I have a LOT of work to do in my garden. It's a good thing. Thanks for this post Jody. You always inspire me.

  13. Major bummer for your son. I hope he feels better soon. I think disappointment always seem more difficult when it occurs because of things we can't control. It would be different to look at a situation and know you can do something to make sure it doesn't happen next time. But sometimes life throws something beyond our control. Thanks for the great tips on this topic.

  14. It's so true about disappointment being an inescapable part of life, and particularly for writer. With my writing, I'm always trying to look two steps ahead so that I'm not too disappointed when any one thing doesn't pan out, no matter how much I might have wanted it.

  15. Great post, Jody. You've come up with some wise and practical ways to deal with disappointment. (Now if only it were as easy in real life as it seems in writing.)

  16. I dealt with disappointment early this year. I'd been flying high. My manuscript had placed in several contests, I'd received a handful of requests for fulls, and I was offered representation by my Dream Agent. Wow! Could things get any better? I was sure I was on my way to a contract.

    Reality check. As some of you know, my wonderful story had a great beginning, but I'd unknowingly sabotaged it at the 1/4 point. My agent delivered the news with a nice balance of compassion and directness. I had to rewrite 3/4 of my story.

    What did I do? First, I spent the better part of a weak bemoaning my blindness. Then I began brainstorming. I developed a plotting system I'm using to guide me. And I set to work rewriting my story.

    Your points are spot on, Jody. I was humbled. I'd accomplished a great deal, but I have a lot to learn. After my initial shell shock, I reminded myself that I've written six books and rewritten four. I could rewrite this one--for the third time. And I set to work with the goal of producing a much better story.

    Thanks for this post. As you can tell my my novella here, it really struck a chord with me.

  17. You consistently touch on exactly the things I need to hear! Thank you for this, Jody!

    There is an old cliche that I try to remember in times of disappointment. "When God closes a door he'll often open a window elsewhere." If I focus on the barricade it may keep me from discovering the opening. God helps me keep the disappointments in perspective and reminds me that no matter the outcome, I'll always love writing.

    My condolences to your son. I hope as he recovers something special will turn up to compensate for the missed tournament.

  18. Patrice KavanaughMarch 19, 2010 11:24 AM

    Hi Jody,
    I esp. love your line, "In fact, the more we risk and the higher we reach for our dreams, the more crashes we’ll likely have." It's a reminder that disappointment often comes from really going for our BIG dreams. If we want to avoid all disappointment (and I know a few of those people!), we can simply stop dreaming BIG. How sad would that be? Patrice

  19. I think I'm becoming dependent on your wisdom and encouragement. Thanks again, Jody. :-)

  20. This is one of my favorite posts of yours, Jody. It's so important to not let our focus on our personal dream override our compassion, our relationships, or our humble spirits. Thank you.

  21. Argh! I am well acquainted with crashing disappointment. BUT, you are right in your attitude about it. I'm learning to focus more on the relationships and the journey than my single focused destination. I do not want to miss the flowers along the side of the road :D

  22. I ache for your son. What a painful lesson, bless his heart!

    Yes, I've experienced many heart-wrenching disappointments. It takes awhile to recover from ones associated with relationships. Those rip my soul in shards.

    Scripture helps me the most when I'm in a pit, especially the Psalms of David. And worship music. Somethinga about focusing on the love of God dares me to hope again.

    Love your posts--so thoughtful and encouraging,

  23. Jody, thanks for all of the great posts on both life and writing. You're officially on my daily blog reading list now. :)

    Writing is how I crawl out from the pain and frustration. I'll avoid the pen with everything in me, but once I get moving and the words start flowing, I'm out from under the rock and the sun shines again.

  24. As a former college athlete, I can feel your son's pain. Yes, I've definitely experienced broken dreams, and for as long as I can remember, I used writing as a coping mechanism. I've been a journal writer on and off since I was 12, and at times, the pen and paper have been my salvation, sometimes more so than talking it out with loved one. Believing that everything happens for a reason helps too. Sometimes figuring out that reason is part of the fun in life!

  25. Oh, so many times. It's awful. But I think it's even worse to watch your kids go through it. You want to take that pain from them and give them everything in the world to make them happy. I know that's not good, but it's what the compassionate mom in me wants.

    I really like your number 3 about remembering that there is a next time.

  26. Whether in writing or life in general, we all have disappointments. That's part of life and we have to accept it and like you said, focus on the positive and improving something (e.g. our next book).

    I love you comment about 'staying humble' because it so true.

  27. I wrote a short story called "Homage" that solicited amazing, 5-star reviews from members on It took first place out of 130+ entries in that website's official contest. I still think it's my strongest work to date.

    I entered "Homage" in Glimmer Train's short story contest. I waited, hopeful.

    It didn't even place. I was crushed. I thought, I don't really have what it takes to write publishable material.

    I let that pity party last a day or two. Then I let it go. I reminded myself that a rejection from one magazine doesn't guarentee rejection across the board. And I already have the best reward there is: I wrote a story I'm proud of.

    I enjoyed this post!

  28. So sorry for your son! It's hard to see them disappointed, especially when the events are out of control.

    You're exactly right. Disappointment is a part of achieving your dream. Victory wouldn't be as sweet if we didn't have to struggle to reach it :-)

  29. Sorry to hear about your son, that's hard. Good post, helps put some perspective to many things:)
    Happy weekend,

  30. Hi Jody -

    Aww, I'm sad for your son. I'm sure he had high hopes for the games.

    Your post reminds me of Thomas Edison. He failed many times before inventing a light bulb that worked. When asked if he was discouraged, he told the person he'd eliminated the ways that were unsuccessful. He didn't give up, but used it as a learning experience.

    Susan :)

  31. Your poor son! That had to hurt for him:(
    Like him, life happens. I think we learn how to handle these disappointments early on in life, like your son is. You encouraging him, telling him there will be other opportunities and mending his broken heart. We go on:)

  32. I've been posting one of my own personal stories on this topic for the past three days. The point that I try to make is not to let our failures or disappointments define us and not to become victims. Today things might not be going so well, but there's always tomorrow. We just need to keep our heads up an press on to the next chapter.

  33. Disappointments? I'm the queen. No really, I am. I've had an agent, lost an agent. Came close with others and no cigar. I've had three people read my latest MS and two out of three liked it. And yes I was hurt by the one that didn't. I'm struggling to impress agents, but really I have one dream agent. I'm hoping by my birthday in September I'll have another agent. It's my secret birthday wish. Shhh... don't tell ;)

  34. I have a number of short stories with publishers at the moment. They've all been out with other publishers and all got rejected. It's such a slow process. You wait months only to hear a "no thanks". It can get seriously demoralising, but each time I run the story through YET ANOTHER edit, I hone my submission letter writing skills, I learn more and try to be better. The key is not to give up. Like you said, I might do better next time (and I haven't run out of publishers yet).

  35. Yes, of course, huge, spirit-crushing disappointments. I grieve. I lose self-confidence. I lie down on the couch and think, Who am I, really? Then, I start to hear the angel voices again. They're soft and gentle. They say, You are good enough. You have what it takes. The right path will find you.

  36. Querying certainly got tough at times. With every rejection, I'd pick myself up, wipe off the "rejection dust," and keep on moving forward.

    Viewed in the right light, disappointments can be positive: they make success that much sweeter. When I did get an agent, the joy was (and still is) deep and powerful.

    Hope your "baby" feels better soon. ;-)

  37. Great topic! Sigh. Fifty-five years have brought loads of peaks but definitely some valleys.

    What helps me is to take time to digest the incident and then pray over God's approach.

    Slow and steady does it...

    Tell that son he has many more a couple of weeks.

  38. Oh that stinks for your son! But you are right we can't let disappointments knock us off our path. We just need to keep going after it, however we can:)

  39. “I hope I can do better in the next race.”

    Love that. There's always a next race.

    I hope you're son is feeling better.

  40. Jody, thanks for your comment on my blog today. I have since updated it to include an award with your name on it.


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