Unfulfilled Dreams: The Mountains You'll Never Climb

Although it's said that you must work hard to achieve your dreams, in reality, you often don't fulfil them. Indeed, there are some mountains you'll never climb. Accepting this fact is key to your psychological well-being.
Unfulfilled Dreams: The Mountains You'll Never Climb
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 21 December, 2022

You’re probably used to convincing yourself that you’re capable of achieving whatever you want. That’s because of the kind of society we live in. It tells us that we only need to make an effort, to wish and hope and we’ll get it. However, sooner or later, you reach a point where you realize some of your dreams remain unfulfilled.

We live in a culture where we’re told: “Nothing is impossible”. Consequently, accepting that there are goals that you’ll never achieve can be frustrating. Furthermore, what you don’t achieve can alter the vision you have of yourself, to the point that you start to see yourself as fallible or defective. In fact, linking your self-concept and self-esteem only to your achieved goals can often be really dangerous.

You can’t ignore the fact that the world today is becoming increasingly competitive. In addition, what you take for granted can suddenly come crashing down in the manner of a “black swan” (an entirely unexpected event). Therefore, you need to understand and accept that being successful or achieving your dreams doesn’t depend 100 percent on you.

Social pressure can cause you to have a negative view of yourself when you don’t achieve what others expected of you.

Man thinking about his unfulfilled dreams
There are dreams that you’ll never achieve, but you can replace them with others that you can.

What to do with your unfulfilled dreams

Everyone has unfulfilled dreams. In fact, the person who’s achieved everything on their list of life goals is extremely rare. This is completely normal. Indeed, realizing that many of the realities you once dreamed of as a child will never happen is something that most people go through.

However, this experience isn’t easy to accept. Even more so, if, for example, you didn’t meet the expectations that your parents set for you. This family and social pressure may mean you feel like a walking failure.

The University of Ghent (Belgium) conducted a study that claimed the Chinese culture, unlike the Belgian, tends to project great psychological pressure on their children when it comes to achieving certain goals. In addition, they discovered that:

  • Many parents, regardless of culture, have unfulfilled dreams that they hope their children will fulfill for them.

Beyond perseverance: when effort doesn’t translate into success

No doubt you’re familiar with Thomas Edison’s famous phrase: “Many of life’s failures are people who did not know how close they were to success when they gave up”. This message is both inspiring and true. Nevertheless, when it’s analyzed in detail and with the proper perspective, its meaning can be rather devastating.

That’s because sometimes, in life’s journey, you have to know when to give up so you don’t keep banging your head against the wall. In fact, knowing when to give up and take a step back requires courage and intelligence. Furthermore, although perseverance is a virtue that we should all cultivate, understanding when to stop and calibrate your perspectives is an excellent exercise in psychological well-being.

Obviously, you’ve been taught how wonderful it is to be successful. However, curiously, no one ever explained to you how to deal with failure. Nobody has given you guidelines to understand the experience for what it is. Just a stop along the way. A goal readjustment. A backward look so you can understand what happened and make new decisions by looking forward. There’s no need to be obstinate or to judge yourself as being weak or fallible.

Dreams that you don’t make your own often become splinters in the muscle of your self-esteem. They transform into unhealed wounds capable of damaging your self-concept. This isn’t right.

Unfulfilled dreams and adaptability

Many of your unfulfilled dreams are the clear result of external circumstances. You can’t control all the variables in your journey of life in the climbing of your own personal mountains. Chaotic factors always arrive that change everything. There are also limits that you find in yourself that force you to retrace your steps. None of this is the end of the world.

While perseverance and hard work are two valuable virtues, so are flexibility and adaptability. Knowing how to adjust your goals, self-regulate your feelings of failure, and start to manage your goals again are basic pillars for your psychological well-being. It’s okay if you let go of one or two goals. It only becomes a problem if you can’t propose new and better-adjusted ones.

girl in front of the road thinking about unfulfilled dreams
The ability to reorient your goals and expectations, after failing at something, is the best life tool you can have.

The mountains you’ll never climb allow you to discover new paths

There are some trains that will no longer stop for you. There are also certain mountains you’ll never climb. That said, in the midst of these circumstances, you’ll find new paths capable of leading you to wonderful new scenarios. After all, the path to self-realization is almost never a straight line.

Only those who look carefully and readjust their routes, end up finding true happiness. Unfulfilled dreams are just that, wishes from another time that no longer have a place in the present.

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  • Cohen GD. The course of unfulfilled dreams and unfinished business with aging. Am J Geriatr Psychiatry. 2001 Winter;9(1):1-5. PMID: 11156745.
  • Ryff C. D. (2014). Self Realization and Meaning Making in the Face of Adversity: A Eudaimonic Approach to Human Resilience. Journal of psychology in Africa (south of the Sahara, the Caribbean, and Afro-Latin America)24(1), 1–12. https://doi.org/10.1080/14330237.2014.904098

The contents of Exploring Your Mind are for informational and educational purposes only. They don't replace the diagnosis, advice, or treatment of a professional. In the case of any doubt, it's best to consult a trusted specialist.