A while back the question arose in a discussion, "What do you do when your life doesn't turn out how you thought it would?" The man who posed the question expressed that he had many dreams and hopes in his life that were unfulfilled and consequently he was living each day with regret and self pity.
I spent the next few days thinking about his situation. I think all of us have dreams we will never see achieved. Maybe bad health restricts us from participating fully in physical activities, or the death of a spouse eliminates some opportunities. Maybe infertility has caused us to put away dreams of raising children, or the need to help out the family financially has put on hold a desire to stay at home with the kids.
I realize I don't have the answer for all those who feel they are missing out in life, but here are three suggestions that have helped me cope with disappointment.
Develop a habit of expressing gratitude.
I have learned that when I am unhappy, it is usually because I am focusing on what I don't have rather than on what I have. Initially it might be hard to express gratitude for what we have when we feel deprived of so many things, but like any other talent, we get better with practice. As I kneel each day and express gratitude for my blessings, I have become aware of many that have slipped by unnoticed. Expressing gratitude each day also helps me focus on what is good in my life and that brings joy and peace.
Redefine your dreams.
Although it may be true many of the dreams I had at 20 will never be achieved, I have accomplished much I never dreamed of doing in my younger years. Perhaps a dream of seeing all your children married in the temple does not appear likely, but maybe you have taught and influenced other youth through teaching Sunday School. Maybe your dream of finding the cure for cancer won't happen, but perhaps you have been the means of helping heal broken hearts through service.
Make a list of what you have done, enjoy the satisfaction from that, and then make another list of what you realistically would still like to do and get up and start doing it. Sitting around feeling regret and sadness for what we haven't accomplished while refusing to move forward, will only guarantee that at the end of our lives we will still be sad.
Realize the fulfillment of dreams doesn't always have a time limit.
There may be dreams that realistically need to be let go, but just because we are middle aged, or even elderly and have not done all we had hoped, does not mean it still can't be done. Blind men climb mountains and ninety-year-old women have gone back to college. It may take longer than we expected, and it may not even happen in this lifetime, but if it is possible to do, we should not give up. Life for most will last quite a long time, and eternity is even longer.
Most of all, the biggest lesson I have learned in life is this . . . there is time to accomplish a lot; we just need to be patient and in the meantime learn to find . . . joy in the journey.