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.”