How to Demolish Your Dreams to Heal Your Dreams

Photo of Owl Street Studio Team Member C.J. Campbell
September 16, 2021
by C.J. Campbell

Most days, marketing yourself (especially all by yourself) feels like digging out of a buzzword avalanche.

For today’s self-marketer, jargon and hash-tag-ready phrases constantly surge over your head, phrases like: social media marketing, content marketing, market research, value propositions, brand awareness, customer engagement, and “building your tribe.”

These phrases mean well, but (more often than not) they block out the horizon and erase your direction. Why? Because this constant jargon landslide buries you in...choice.

With so many marketing choices shouting at you from the menu, how in the world are you supposed to pick just one? Much less, if you are able to pick a single one, how in the world do you know you picked...the right one? But, instead of fending off an avalanche and facing down a menu, what if you did something completely different? What just took a different path?

Before you start to sort through all the marketing choices, what if you went back and sorted through your first choices? What if you went all the way back to: is this project? this dream? this startup? this nonprofit?...even right for me at all?

I’m C.J. with Owl Street Studio and, today, instead of giving you another jargon avalanche of marketing tips, I am going to share with you how to walk away from the entire dangerous mountain side. Today, I’m going to show you how to demolish your dreams to heal your dreams.

Demolish Your Dream Through Empathy

I know saying “demolish your dream” rails against all common advice. Today, Instagram, TikTok, and Youtube constantly shout at us to “never give up,” “chase your dream,” and “ditch the haters.” But, do any of those talking heads really know you? Do any of them really have any idea about your life situation, your resources, or your support systems?

We all know how “one-size-fits-all” doesn’t really “fit” all. So, what’s the difference with “one-size-fits-all” advice? One-size advice doesn’t fit either because it’s missing something huge. It’s missing empathy. So, if you really want to “chase your dream,” start giving yourself what those advice videos don’t. Start giving yourself empathy.

To really build your dream, you need to be kind, understanding, and empathetic to yourself. Yes, you may be passionate beyond all measure for your new project, but maybe you just don’t have the support network right now to pull it off without burning out.

You may have more tenacity, stick-to-itiveness, and grit than Michael Jordan, but maybe right now what’s most important is tucking your kids into bed, not working away in the garage. Vice versa maybe the best way to support your kids is this new business, but skipping your market research, rushing into your launch, and draining all of your savings might cause more harm than good.

To start giving empathy to yourself, step back and imagine talking to yourself just as if you were talking to your closest friend. And imagine your best friend explaining everything about their dream project and explaining everything going on in their life right now.

Would you tell your friend this project is a safe thing to do right now or that they have realistic expectations? All of us have had to give tough love to someone else, but often we forget to give tough love to ourselves. Vice versa again, all of us have comforted a friend, but often we forget to comfort ourselves.

But stretching and extending empathy to yourself allows you to give yourself both tough love and soft love, both a strong tap on the shoulder and a strong shoulder to cry on.

How My Dream Got Demolished

And, I get it, you’re probably thinking, “What the heck do you know about me, my life, and my dream? You don’t know me at all.” That’s true. I don’t personally know you. But I do know failure. I know exactly what it’s like to pour all of yourself into a dream just to watch it collapse, cave-in on itself, and bury you alive. For me, it was getting my first book published…

I achieved that goal, but then almost immediately life circumstances forced me to make an impossible choice. I had to make the gut-wrenchingly painful stop, to stop my book deal, to stop writing, stop public speaking, stop everything.

When I finally realized my dream was done, I laid on my friend’s couch in utter dismay. It took over 7 years of fighting tooth and nail, day-in and day-out to get my book published, and now it was all over. Instead of writing a personal memoir, I felt as though I’d written my own personal failure.

I’ll be honest, the first tool I used to dig out from under my fallen dream was vanilla-flavored vodka (with grape soda). But, my cocktail invention (I called it the Grape Screw-over) didn’t get me anywhere (I know, not a shocker). So I had to find another way out. And I did. Eventually, I reached for empathy.

Holding empathy for myself was the only thing that allowed me to survive that time of my life. Through empathy, I was able to see myself through loving eyes and tell myself the things I didn’t want to hear but knew I needed to hear.

Empathy allowed me to tell myself that, “yes, instead of building-up enough business experience to be ready to fully manage a book deal when it came to me, I rushed into things, trusted people who weren't trustworthy, and signed everything away without even knowing it - until it was too late.”

Empathy also allowed me to say to myself:

“You didn't have the same kind of support system that other people do. You were doing all of this on your own. You didn’t have family, a spouse, or a partner to lean on. You didn’t have a mentor or an angel investor to back you up. You didn’t have a college professor who magically saw your raw talent and took hours out of their schedule to (montage-style) help you practice and refine your craft. And you didn’t have a best friend who was a wiz kid lawyer who could have spotted a bad contract a mile away.

You (all on your own and through sheer force of will) honed your craft, connected with people, built a following online, networked like crazy, and gathered so much recognition that a book deal came to you. Sometimes, crappy things happen, even to those who work hard. But, that doesn’t make you worthless. You didn’t deserve this. This wasn’t all your fault. And, it’s ok to cry for as long as you need to. I’m so sorry.”




I know that’s a lot to take-in. But, I write all of that to illustrate what I said before. Extending empathy to yourself allows you to give yourself both a strong tap on the shoulder and a strong shoulder to cry on.

Demolish the “You” in Your Dream

Along with empathy, one more thing helped me survive my dream cave-in: understanding how much of “the real me” was actually in my book. First, what the heck is “The Real You”?

Are you a parent? A sibling? A partner? A spouse? A boss? Is the real you defined by your relationships? Your social status? Your gender identity and expression? Is the real you your creative pursuits? Your personality traits? Your zodiac sign?

I believe the “real you” is all of those things, plus many, many more. I believe that all of us, as Walt Whitman put it, “contain multitudes.” I know this idea may sound a little “woo-woo” for some of you (and that’s ok). But, regardless, on a pragmatic level, understanding you are multiple identities and concepts allows you to let go and to see more clearly.

For example, for the longest time, I fought giving up my writing - not because I was “sticking it to the haters” but because I thought I was my book. I thought if I don’t have my book I don’t have anything anymore. I thought if my book died, I’d die. This desperate clinging clouded my judgment and led me to making poor business decisions. And those decisions eventually led to the very thing I feared most. They led to me losing my entire book.

If I had realized sooner that my book was just an extension of me and not the entirety of my personhood and identity, I wouldn't have felt so desperate to succeed. I wouldn’t have felt as if my book’s success was a fight for life and death. In other words, if I could have separated myself from my writing, I would have relaxed a little.

And relaxing (even just a little bit) would have led me to see more clearly. And that would have led me to making smarter business decisions. And then that would have, most likely, led to what I so desperately wanted: my book to succeed.

How to Demolish the “You” in Your Dream

So, to unpack the “real you” and to see how much of “you” is in your project, make some lists. Start making a list of what you believe makes up your core identity. Are you loving? Are you creative? Are you frugal? Are you extroverted? Are you a Gryffindor?

Next, start writing down the relationships that are most important to you. Your kids? Your parents? Your community? Your Discord friends? Your dog? Your Owl?

Then, write down what personal values you couldn’t live without/could never compromise on. Maybe for you, it’s fairness and equality? Maybe it’s loyalty and dedication? Maybe it’s traditions? Maybe it’s novelty and change?

After you’ve made all of these lists, step back. Step back and ask: “if I were to stop this dream project right now, how many of those list items would disappear?” If you’re like me, you’ll be surprised at the answer. Because the answer to your question is “not very much.”

Letting my book go hurt deeper than I can put into words. But, after I crossed through that pain, I discovered that my core identity, relationships, and personal values didn’t go anywhere.

Though my book stopped, I didn’t stop being a storyteller. Though my writing stopped, I didn’t stop loving people and being fascinated with their stories. Though my platform stopped, my passion for bringing about change in the world didn’t stop. Though my work stopped, social justice work still needed to be done. Though my book was done, I wasn’t even close to being done.

Stepping back and realizing you’re not just your project empowers you to be resilient and takes you from insanely chasing your dream to gently walking towards your dream.

Heal Your Dream Today

At Owl Street Studio, we believe that all of us should be able to live our dreams, follow our passions, and live a good life all at the same time. We believe all of that because I’m not the only one here who’s failed. All of us have climbed and climbed and climbed after a dream, just to have the whole mountain side collapse on top of us.

And, trust me, I don’t wish anyone’s dream to ever be demolished. I don’t wish the pain I went through on anyone. But, sometimes, like Faulkner said, you have to “kill all your darlings.” Sometimes, you have to destroy what you want to actually reach what you want.

But through giving yourself as much empathy as you would to your closest friend and through separating the real you from the “you” in your project, you can traverse this paradox and make it through to the other side. By understanding yourself and by being kind to yourself, you don’t have to lose your dreams. Instead, you can heal them.




And, if you ever need any help, we’re always here. Whenever you want, you can schedule your free starter meeting below.

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