02/22/2014 09:09 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2014

The Word We All Love...That Makes Us Miserable

Recently, I found myself in the not-always-so-enviable position of finding a new apartment.

The good news? Before long I stumbled on an amazing option. I silently high-fived myself for finding this residential gem... with its beautiful garden and unbreakable new appliances.

What a find! I thought.. it's my dream home!

And then I got word that, actually, it wasn't available. I was crushed.

But don't be! the rental agency said. We've got another option for you! And this one isn't just beautiful inside, but has an incredible view of the city to boot!

I immediately checked it out and breathed a sigh of relief at finding my actual dream home. Even better!

And then I got word that, actually, it wasn't available. I was crushed. Again. But worse.

We do this to ourselves all the time. We go in search of things in work and life with a fixed image in our head of what we want, the ideal image we must have, and we promise ourselves that we won't settle for anything less.

We can clearly picture it all:
  • Our dream job
  • Our dream home
  • Our dream spouse
  • Our dream vacation

And then one of two things happens:

1) We find it, get our hopes way, way up... and don't get it.

Everything else is weak by comparison. And when we accept another alternative it's not good enough because it's just not our dream. It's second best. And we're so disappointed.

And we're not happy.

2) We find it, get our hopes way, way up... and get it. And we celebrate! And we anticipate how perfect it will be! And then... it isn't. And we're so disappointed.

And we're not happy.

We tend to think the reason we call something a "dream" is because it clarifies our big, lofty goal and helps us achieve it.

The truth behind that word? A "dream" is just that... an illusion. It's imaginary. It can't be real because it can't be perfect.

Because nothing is.

Only something living in our imagination -- whether sleeping or awake -- could possibly fulfill the huge weight and promise of a word like "dream." And we don't live in our imaginations.

In reality the word -- when used this way -- just sets us up for heartbreak.

  • It sets us up to turn down options that aren't perfect, but may be right for us.
  • It sets us up to compare everything else to something unattainable, which means nothing else is as good as what we want.
  • It keeps us from imagining the other opportunities we might consider simply because they don't match a fixed illusion in our heads.

Now, allow me to clarify a few things before you get all mad at me.

Don't-Be-Mad-Clarification #1:

Am I saying you shouldn't dream of things you want in life, of goals and people and situations you want to achieve or meet or live? Am I saying you shouldn't strive for the best possible outcomes?

Of course not! Dream big. Feel free to create an image that inspires you. But stop before you make that single image everything... and decide that nothing else will do. The image is meant to excite you to reach goals and feel good. But the actual outcome could be different... perhaps even better.

Dream of a big thing, but know it might not be the big thing. And get excited about all possibilities.

Don't-Be-Mad-Clarification #2:

Am I saying that you should settle for something that's not good for you? For a partner that doesn't make you laugh or a job that makes you miserable?

Of course not! Dream big and get as close as you can. Make sure you achieve and obtain things that will make you happy, things you want and deserve.

But just know that nothing is perfect, especially life. There will be ups and downs. And know that some of your best moments might come just as everything seems like it's falling apart.

That's what I finally figured out when I actually finalized my new apartment. And, I have to say, it's pretty amazing.

But you won't catch me calling it our dream home. Because I know life just doesn't work that way. And, let's get real, chances are one day one of those shiny appliances will break.

This week...

Dream big, but know that life is your reality.

Know you can -- and should -- aim high. Just don't get stuck on one image of what that high must be. And recognize that there will be some lows along the way.

The good news is, it's all part of the adventure. And since you won't be setting yourself up for disappointment, the adventure might turn out to be even better than you ever dared dream.