What Happens When a Dream Dies?

Yesterday, I officially laid a dream to rest.

It had been comatose for a while, I merely pulled the plug, to draw an analogy.

Around this time last year, I had the opportunity to realize my dream of opening a cooking school. It started five years ago, after attending numerous cooking classes and feeling like I wasn’t really learning anything, that I felt I could do it better. So I went about making the dream a reality: I went to culinary school then got experience teaching at Epicurean until it closed down.

Meanwhile, my day job was killing me. Literally. Killing. Me. There I was, in the best shape of my life, running marathons (okay, at that point it was just the one), and I was waking up with chest pains. Suddenly I felt like Phoebe in the bizarro Friends episode where she was a lawyer and had a heart attack in her 30s.

So I quit that lousy job, doing everything in my power to stay classy and not flip off my bitchy boss with both middle fingers.

The original plan was to take time off and write. Write the memoir I had been working on for three years, finally finish it. Hey, maybe get working on the screenplays I had put aside for a few years. It was high time I put my creative side front and center, and not let work or a social life get in the way for once. I had won some money from a game show and it would be enough to live on for a while.

Easier said than done, as I found myself in a kind of “hangover.” A depression even. That lousy job had taken so much out of me that I only got a chapter done in a week. And even then, I was spending another week revising that chapter. But at least I was writing. And I was going to writing class and working on assignments so I felt I was making some kind of forward movement.

But what about the cooking school? The universe had been dropping some hints about this for a few months- which I won’t get into now, that’s another blog for a slow news day. So on a lark, I decided to check out Craigslist and bam! There was a space to sublease, at a reasonable price, and the landlords turned out to be one of my favorite chefs from culinary school and his wife.

And there was the game show money, which was enough to get me started. The stars really did line up to make it happen.

Despite making a careful plan to start slow, building a business – especially a cooking-related business – costs a LOT of money. Those racks, those stainless steel worktables, ovens, cookware, knives – NOT cheap. It was clear that my seed money wasn’t going to last six months, so I started freelancing at my old career to get some more capital in.

I got about four hours of sleep every night, but it didn’t matter. When you’re making a dream come true, you don’t need to sleep.

A few months later, the unthinkable happened: I finally got my dream and realized I didn’t want it.

I never thought that owning a business was going to be easy. I expected and prepared myself for a few hard years ahead of me. But when it came right down to it, I didn’t like much of it.

I realized that I hated dealing with customers. Especially stupid, demanding customers. I’d always been surrounded my a lot of smart people having worked in the tech and interactive business since I got out of college. So it was striking to experience first-hand what “real people” were like. And trust me, I’d been in advertising and entertainment too, and I know what stupid and rude look like.  But the daily encounters of it was a real eye-opener. You’d be surprised how many calls I got from people asking how to sign up for classes, when instructions were clearly spelled out on the Web site, with online payment availability. When the customers started getting indignant, or demanding, it took every ounce of self-control not to make them feel like the true self-important, entitled idiots that they were.

On top of it, my landlady was a psychotic raving bitch. I only tolerated her because her husband is one of the nicest, most talented chefs I’ve met in the business.

And I was exhausted. Bone-tired. I hardly had time for a social life, save for my weekly poker game, which I kept going to for my sanity. The problem with the food business, and this kind of food business, is that I’m working when everyone else is off. My nights and weekends were no longer mine. When I had to cancel a class due to not enough enrollment, I was actually grateful. And it’s never a good thing to be glad not to have to work when it’s your own business we’re talking about.

I like to think that I’m pretty good about responding to signals when the universe sends them to me. Even when they’re harsh.

First, I got into a major car accident on my way to a class one Saturday in June. The car was totaled, and worse, my back was hurt. Which is something you can’t have when your work calls for being on your feet for about 8 hours. Cooking is hard labor.

Second, my landlords were vacating the space. They said I could move my school to their new location once they find it but they’ve been too busy with other projects that school space had to be put on the backburner.

It was nice to finally have some free time. Time to rest, catch up with friends, watch TV. Time to just sit, let the back heal and not have to be anywhere or do anything. With the business in full swing, I never had enough time. I was always running around, trying to get something done or bought, answering calls or e-mails, running back and forth between home, school and wherever it was I was freelancing for a dayjob.

It was also time to think.

It occurred to me that I was so busy trying to build something but I didn’t even have time to ask myself what I was doing it for. I didn’t even have time to date, to meet anyone. All my friends having babies made me sad that the only baby I had in my life was this thing I thought was my dream. And it hit me: I didn’t want to wake up three, five, ten years down the road to have this business built up but no one to share it with, and no kids to build a legacy for. What’s the point, right?

It became clear what I had to do and my heart broke.

Working so hard to make a dream come true and watching it die: it hurts. Feeling like a failure: it hurts. Feeling lost: it hurts. Not having a sense of purpose: it hurts. Not having a reason to get up in the morning: it hurts.

It took me a while to work out the feelings of failure and being lost. I started to regret spending all this money on a failed experiment when I could have put money down on a condo. I wanted to kick myself for wasting time when I could have been writing. I started seeing a life coach to make sense of the mess I felt my life was in.

After a lot of soul-searching, I’ve realized that I can’t regret any of it because it was an experience I needed to have. There were lessons here I needed to learn. If I didn’t do this now, then I will always hold it up as some kind of dream-to-end-all-dreams kind of ideal.

At least I’ll never have to wonder and ask myself “What if?” I had to remind myself of one of my life mottoes: Never regret the things you do, just the ones you don’t.  I have the satisfaction of knowing that I had this goal and did everything I could to attain it.

So last night I deactivated the Facebook and Twitter accounts and announced on my website that the school is closed for good. It will take a while to fully close the chapter as there are taxes to pay in April and equipment to liquidate. But I have mentally and emotionally moved on.

So what happens next after a dream dies? You make new ones.