What your dreams reveal about your reality

what are your dreams telling you

I had a nightmare the other night. The kind that sticks with you for a while.

I dreamed my classmates and I had to give presentations—singing presentations in which every single person basically stood up on a stage and sang karaoke. (Your typical journalism school assignment, clearly.) I watched the others stand up one by one and sing their hearts out on the fluorescently lit stage, and with each final note, the group would applaud.

Then it was my turn.

I’d forgotten all about presentation day. I hadn’t practiced my song in weeks. (Isn’t that always how school anxiety dreams go?) But the music started and I began mumbling along with what was supposed to be a Kelly Clarkson song. (Not exactly my go-to karaoke singer in real life, but again, we’re dreaming here.) I’d forgotten some of the words, but I belted out the notes as best I could. I even started to get into it, though I couldn’t hear myself very well—for all I knew, I was out of tune. But the worst part was when the song ended and no one clapped. No one even looked up from their computers. It was dead silent.

My stomach quivered with the kind of humiliation I hadn’t felt in years. Several painful seconds went by as I placed the microphone back on the stand. Part of me felt shamefully invisible while the other part of me couldn’t be invisible enough. I almost let it go and walked off stage without acknowledging the awkward moment, but instead, I delivered a little hostile sarcasm to the crowd: “Really? Not even a courtesy clap? Real nice.” Some people offered a couple of half-hearted claps. It only made me feel worse.

This dream haunted me all the next day. I’ve had plenty of awful school-related dreams, but this one felt particularly significant. Why? Because the only thing unrealistic about it was that I was singing Kelly Clarkson karaoke for a grade. Everything else—the nerves, the fumbling over words, the vulnerability of exposing my heart to an audience and the feeling that no one cares? That’s all within the scope of reality.

It doesn’t take a professional dream analyst to decipher that my dream-self’s inability to confidently sing a power anthem might be linked to real-life feelings of uncertainty and self-doubt.

Most of the time, I feel like I have my shit together and know that I’m more than capable of achieving anything I take on. But sometimes, it can feel a bit like I’m Kermit-flailing behind a microphone wondering if I’m coherent or just plain crazy.

You could say grad school has instilled a proper sense of urgency with an unfortunate side effect of second-guessing everything, including my own abilities and whether I’m on the right path. If you are, ever have been or intend to be a grad student, this article about imposter syndrome—the feeling that there must’ve been some sort of mistake when you were accepted into school and that everyone will find out you’re a fraud any day now—is a worthy read.

But these feelings are hardly limited to school anxieties. Anyone brave enough to put their work out there for people to see, read respond and react to has likely been there—it’s how they deal with the criticism, the negative thoughts and the bad dreams that makes them a success or a could’ve-been. 

That means if you’re a blogger who, like me, has poured your heart and time into a blog post and obsessively refreshed the stats and comments and worried no one gives a shit—I get it. I’ve been there. I’m still there sometimes (see above dream). But as long as you love doing it, keep doing it. And if your dreams give you any indication that something’s not right, analyze the hell out of those dreams and write a blog post/diary entry/song about it. Then get back to work. Because the only thing worse than creating something that’s a failure is failing to create.

And the next time I have to give a karaoke presentation? I’ll be prepared with a flawless rendition of “Stronger.”

 

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Comments

  1. “The only thing worse than creating something that’s a failure is failing to create.”

    Cassie, your dream sounds horrible. And I have absolute certainty that in real-life karaoke, you can rock a power pop anthem with the best of ’em. But what I really want to say here is, thank you. Thanks for being vulnerable enough in your writing to admit that sometimes, shit is just terrifying. We take on ambitious projects and challenges and adventures–running websites, making huge moves location-wise, enrolling in grad school (you’ve got me on that one, lady)–and so from the outside, we look like shining examples of the generation. We’re the try-hards.

    But underneath all of that, there’s still the uncertainty, the self-doubt and questioning, the “I’m not good enough at this. Am I any good at this? No, I’m really not good at any of this” inner monologue.

    You’re way stronger than that self-doubt, and what you have to offer far outweighs the fears hiding underneath the surface. Thanks for sharing your story, and thanks for continuing to create.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Thank YOU for this thoughtful, kickass comment. I don’t know when exactly I became a try-hard, but I did—and man is it a pain sometimes. But it’s all been worth it.

  2. I’m not even exaggerating — I literally just spoke to my therapist today, and a lot of it was to do with imposter syndrome, so this blog post is ringing a million bells with me right now. I guess it’s nice to know that I’m not the only one out there feeling like this at the moment, but we can totally get through this! Apparently it’s much more prevalent in women, which sucks, but the harder it is, the better it’ll feel to achieve, right? (I’m possibly kidding myself here, but go along with it…)

    • Cassie Paton says:

      I agree. It’s bizarre, when things come too easily, the reward doesn’t feel quite as sweet. I’m glad I’m not the only one feeling the side effects of imposter syndrome. I’ve thought about how much I could benefit from a therapist myself lately. It’d be better than unloading all of my frustrations and anxieties on my boyfriend every day!

  3. I always think dreams are triggered by something in our waking life (though I’ll still never understand the dream where Christoph Waltz from Inglourious Basterds was on a consistent hunt of me but I had Matrix-like bullet-dodging moves).

    That dream sounds gut wrenching but way to pull a lesson from it! If dreams bother me as much as this one did for you, I usually do write it out in my journal first thing in the morning. Dreams can be super telling–why not give them a little attention (if you remember them, that is)?

    • Cassie Paton says:

      HAHA what a random dream. I always wonder where bizarre details and plots like that stem from. I’ve often thought about dream journals, and I love the idea of them. Sometimes I have a really hard time remembering anything about my dreams other than their moods, but then maybe getting in the practice of writing them down would help with memory!

  4. Although it’s definitely not always the case, I’ve taken a lot away from some of my dreams. Sometimes they really do mirror your current fears/struggles in a way that is almost scary. It’s crazy what the psyche can tell you when you’re not even conscious.

    That does sound like an awful dream, but kudos to you for turning it into a message of empowerment!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Yeah, sometimes dreams are so ridiculous and stupid that I try not to read too much into them. (Or, I blame eating too much food haha.) But they really are spot-on sometimes. I wish we knew more about the science behind dreams, because I would’ve majored in that shit during college!

  5. Giiiiiirrrrrrlll….are you in my head? I too had the same dreams during my grad school career. Everyone seems to have it so together and I feel like I’m just bullshitting….but I soon realized…everyone else thought I had it together.

    And I hate dreams that stick with you. Once my boyfriend was a real jerk in my dream and I was mad at him the whole morning after…ha!

    Glad you took this bad dream and made it a insightful moment. I loved it!

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Haha, I’ve had the same dream—my boyfriend did something horrible, and I couldn’t shake it the whole next day!

  6. Kathleen Walther says:

    Cassie,
    I was just telling your mom yesterday how much I’ve been enjoying reading all of your blogs and seeing your vlogs (new term for me). Keep up the GREAT writing!! The dream analysis can get a bit scary at times for me, especially when I have several in a row that are nightmarish (is that even a word?), Usually that happens when I am overtired or have had something really significant happen to me – good or bad. I usually don’t remember my dreams, but then there are those that I do remember and I wish I didn’t.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Thanks so much for reading (and for saying so), Kathy! I often don’t remember my dreams either, or they’re very hard to even describe because it’s only a feeling or a fleeting image that I remember. But the most vivid dreams are often slightly disturbing… and it’s so annoying starting your day off with those images!

  7. Well, at least you chided them for their rudeness! So you still had some moxy in the dream, which is good. I keep having dreams about my job lately, and they’re killing me with lameness. I’m sure they’re about other things in a metaphoric way, but I wake up and all I can think is “ugh, more work dreams!” and then I promptly erase any lingering memories of them. Which means no analysis that might reveal that my students are a metaphor for something bigger. Like real adults? Who knows, who knows.

    • Cassie Paton says:

      Agh, I use to hate work dreams! (When I had a regular job.) Like, I spent all day with these people and then I have to go and DREAM about them?!

  8. I’ve had SO many dreams similar to those – basically being at school and forgetting some sort of big project. Oh, they’re the worst! I’ve been having money-related anxiety dreams lately where I find out I only have $30 to last me for an entire week and I need gas and groceries and I just start freaking out. I think all dreams hold some kind of meaning to what we’re dealing with. Whether that’s feeling like a fraud, something we’re worried about, or a way we’re holding back.

    Impostor syndrome strikes me hard, too! Especially at my current job where I write full-time and while I don’t particularly have panic attacks that I will be fired at any given moment (like I thought at my last job), I still sometimes wonder what I am doing here and when they’ll find out I’m a fraud! You are SO not alone in this feeling, even if we’re coming from two completely different experiences!

  9. I know that dream too well – I definitely know the feeling. I used to freak out during presentations, as I became older and aware of the fact that I wasn’t alone – things became a bit easier. Blogging is a nice release but yes sometimes the stress of maintenance can get to you – the networking is what I’m still getting the hang of. You’re definitely right that you either fail at creating something or don’t. Sometimes I post something that I’m not 100% proud of but sometimes you have to relax and hit ‘publish.’ Happy Hump Day Cassie! -Iva

  10. Yes yes yes to this: “Because the only thing worse than creating something that’s a failure is failing to create.”

    It can be so tough to just get started. All the fears and doubts rush in at the very beginning, stifling creativity and shackling expression rather than freeing it. The more you just get started, over and over–whether that’s on a presentation or a blog post or writing an album–the more you remember, “hey, I can do this!” Now that you’ve had some dream practice, I hope you’ll rock your next presentation!

  11. Love the last line “Because the only thing worse than creating something that’s a failure is failing to create.” I agree! I don’t remember many of my dreams these days, but I remember having a lot of dreams about missing the final, because I woke up late. And then I would wake up still thinking I was a student in school that had failed.

  12. OH GOD THE IMPOSTOR SYNDROME FEELS.

    I left campus to write my thesis and then stalled out on it for about two years. I’m FINALLY finishing the stupid thing and I have to do my defense via Skype in a couple weeks and I’m probably not going to be able to sleep for several nights prior.

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