When Their Dream is Not Your Dream

Dream your own dream

It was my last semester of graduate school, and I was sitting in on what was supposed to be a motivational seminar about working in the hospitality/tourism industry. I’ve listened to my fair share of inspiring speeches over the years, and was really looking forward to this one since it had to do with both my major and my personal interests.

But, as the seminar went on, I could feel my heart sinking.

The guy up on the stage was giving a speech full of personal tales and struggles. But his struggles all involved climbing up the corporate ladder in the hotel world.

The more I listened, the more I was sure that I wanted exactly the opposite of what this guy was talking about. I actually got angry that I had to keep sitting there, listening to him go on about success and money and all those other buzzwords that my parents and teachers and the American media have been bombarding my brain with since I was young enough to understand what they meant.

American Dream

You see, the “American Dream” is still alive and well in my home nation. The idea that you may not be born rich, but if you work hard enough your whole life, you might eventually, one day, become rich. It’s why “climbing the corporate ladder” is still a thing. Everyone imagines that they will eventually end up at the top.

Nevermind that this “Dream” is totally unattainable for most people; the top rung of that ladder will be forever out of reach for the majority of Americas.

But we are culturally conditioned to keep reaching for it anyway.

Keep reaching

I was raised believing that I wouldn’t be happy until I was “successful.” And I would never be successful until I made lots of money.

In America, happiness is equated with money. Not with family or personal accomplishment or a zeal for life. It’s all about money.

I’ve always been aware of this. My dad pressured me starting in high school to “get a good job.” You know. Doctor. Lawyer. Pharmacist. Something that would make me a fat paycheck. Because I certainly would never be happy without a fat paycheck.

Money is happiness?

I eventually discovered, however, that the things that made me happy were not things that would ever make me rich.

I loved words. Reading them and stringing them together and sometimes pulling them apart again. I knew by the 10th grade that I wanted to be a writer.

This was a huge blow for my dad because how could I ever be happy (i.e. how could I ever become rich) as a writer?

Discovery

Well, I’m here to tell you that I DID, in a roundabout way, become a writer. I don’t write books or magazine features or even newspaper stories. But I do get to be my own boss and write about something I love each and every day.

I’m definitely not rich after following this dream. I have student loans and credit card debt and way too many destinations on my travel bucket list. My bank account has never become acquainted with large sums of money or hefty paychecks.

But you know what? I am SO happy.

I’m here as proof that your dream does not have to be “their” dream.

Amanda Williams, happy travel blogger

I meet people all the time, in all corners of the world, who went against the status quo to follow dreams different to the ones society expected them to want to follow. The former monk in Thailand who decided to become a tour guide and leave the monastery. The former doctor in Eastern Europe who fell in love with farming. The former corporate lawyer who would now rather eat soup on the streets of Vietnam than be in a courtroom. And the ever-growing group of “digital nomads” who eschew the idea of corporate jobs and cubicles in order to have the freedom to live and travel as they please.

It may seem impossible to follow a dream that everyone tells you is stupid or unattainable. It may be really terrifying to think about giving up the assumed stability that goes along with a corporate job and money in order to go after something you’re truly passionate about.

But I beg you not to give up. The REAL unattainable dream is the one America tells us to chase — a dream that all 300 million of us are supposed to want at the same time. (Seriously, how did that ever make sense to me when I was younger??)

Dream your own dream

Your dream might not be their dream. But that’s not a bad thing.

In fact, I think it’s better to have a dream that’s slightly different than everybody else’s — because it makes it that much sweeter when it comes true.

Dream your own dream. And define your own happiness.

——

What’s YOUR dream? And how are you following it?

 

59 Comments

  • Ken Kai says:

    Dream.. I used to live it. Pretty nice acting and modeling career.. But that came crashing down for me after I was blackmailed all the money I earnt in Asia.

    A hard but great lesson for life. Might try it out again, but the internet world is something that I am quite heavily involved in as well. We shall see! Great post Amanda
    Ken Kai recently posted..What To Do In Seminyak Anytime Of The Year

  • I can totally relate! We are both from Ohio so I can imagine we have similar upbringings. Most of the people I love back home are chasing that dream but I will say, some of them really want it and love their lives so to each their own.
    Rachel of Hippie in Heels recently posted..My Best Friend Got Married: Rachel & Ian

    • Amanda says:

      Oh, definitely. I know plenty of people who want the corporate job and house and 2.5 kids. And there’s nothing wrong with that! But we shouldn’t be forced into accepting that as our “dream” if it really isn’t!

  • This is so true. But even leaving aside the ‘dream’ of getting to the top of the financial world, there’s a feeling that what we all ought to be reaching for is ‘stability’. Sure, it’s always good to keep a little spare cash in the bank, just in case of emergencies, but there’s a fine line between stability and monotony. Sometimes it can be good to rock your boat a little. Great post, Amanda!

    • Amanda says:

      Too many people let that desire for stability keep them back from a lot, though! I hear people say all the time, “Oh, I’ll do this or that when I pay off my student loans” or “when I get a better job” or “when I move next year.” We humans are very good at justifying procrastination when it comes to chasing our dreams. 😉

      BUT, I totally get it. It’s scary to put yourself out there, knowing that you might fail! It’s much safer to just seek stability and hope it doesn’t turn into monotony.

  • Love it! It’s all so true. Although right now I’m toying with the idea of the future and this looming home base I know that would make me happy, there is still so much of the world to see. The last way I want to spend my twenties is tied down to some job which a hate every day and gives me no free time to really enjoy my life and my passions. Being home has really brought both into the forefront of my mind and I’m still wondering how I’ll one day balance both.

    You rock, keep inspiring others Amanda!
    Jessica of Curiosity Travels recently posted..The Truth About the BEDA Program

  • I just found your blog and absolutely love this post! I’ve been working for the last 3 years out of college climbing the proverbial corporate ladder. Within my company, I see a clear path to the top setup in front of me. However, it’s not my dream to attain it and get there. I know I’ll never be happy because when I look up at any other job within the company I see nothing that remotely interests me. So, this September I will be up and quitting my cozy cubicle life to move abroad and teach in Spain. I want to travel and see the world. It’s hard leaving behind that stable paycheck, but I’d rather leave begin a comfy paycheck than my dreams.
    Mike of Mapless Mike recently posted..10 Things I’m Looking Forward to in Spain

    • Amanda says:

      Well I’m so glad you did find my blog through this post, Mike. You sound like you’re well on your way to inspiring others with your own story! I love hearing about people who figure out what will make them happy and then go after it.

  • Great post. I hear that stuff less as a New Zealander because the American Dream is … well American by NZ standards 🙂 and there is not quite the same push. But people still think I’m relatively crazy. When I did a visa run in Hong Kong everyone kept Face-booking me asking me if I was on my way home, or saying that I had to come visit them and show them my photos. It was kind of hard to tell everyone that I wasn’t coming home yet – not by a long shot.
    Zoe @ Tales from over the Horizon recently posted..2 Most Important Things to Stay Safe as a Solo Female Traveller

    • Amanda says:

      I think leaving home for an extended period of time is almost always viewed as kind of strange by friends and loved ones. And if you’re a perpetual traveler/blogger? Yeah, I think it’s always going to be weird to a lot of people!

  • Great post. It is such a weird idea that everyone should want the same thing when we are all individuals. Happiness is attained in different ways and you have to do what makes you happy. I don’t care about earning lots of money either, I am rich in experiences – just wish my Mother understood that!
    Katie @ The World on my Necklace recently posted..Mount Desert Island: Maine’s Maritime paradise

    • Amanda says:

      I love the “rich in experiences” phrase – that’s how I feel, too!

      But yeah, happiness is different for different people. I’ve met people in developing countries in other parts of the world who have very little money or material possessions. But there’s no arguing that they are HAPPY.

  • Great post Amanda! My upbringing was never really focused in that way but from young age I had a lot of freedom to do whatever I wanted, if that makes sense. While my family never pushed me towards a career job it was me who wanted it. I enjoyed the fact that I had better education than others in my family and very much aimed for a proper career (whatever that is). Now though, I find myself wondering why did I want a career exactly? I am not sure that I know. So I am slowly but surely exploring other options and I am loving the possibilities!
    Annika – Live Laugh Explore recently posted..Highlights of Victoria, BC

    • Amanda says:

      I think a LOT of people have similar experiences to yours, Annika. But not all of them would be brave enough to explore those other possibilities… so kudos to you!

  • Wonderful post and great insight!! I always wondered how we were all going to end up as CEOs… who was going to work for us if we’re all at the top? 🙂
    Rika | Cubicle Throwdown recently posted..How to Become a PADI Scuba Diving Instructor

  • Nick Paton says:

    Yay for you! I’m currently on the same quest and while I’m not 100% sure travel writing is my dream job I know that travelling and writing about it is the best way to help shed some light on what it might be. Keep doing your thangggggggg!
    Nick Paton recently posted..Photo Essay: Trekking the Markha Valley

    • Amanda says:

      Thank you! I don’t think I’ll be doing this forever. Well, I’ll probably be traveling forever, but I may eventually settle into something that’s less of a time commitment. But, for now, this seems very right. And running this blog has opened so many other doors for me!

  • Renuka says:

    This is a wonderful post. I can relate so much to this. It happens here in India also. Money and success mean happiness. It’s hard for people like us to convince the world around us that ‘success’ is not just about becoming a doctor and earning a lot of money. Success is personal happiness – it is achieving what you are made to achieve – it could be something as simple as mothering someone, writing a book (which is not simple), learning dance or music – it could be anything that’s your passion.
    Renuka recently posted..Monasteries In Sikkim And The Curious ‘Me’

  • kami says:

    I remember we had a similar conversation when you were in Poland and I still believe that what works for some people doesn’t have to be a dream of others. The most important thing is to realize what you want to do with your life, stop listening to others telling what you should do and just focus on achieving your goals. If it’s a corporate world rat race – it’s fine, if it’s travelling the world – it’s ok too! Not everyone has the same dreams and people need to realize that.
    I’ve heard so many time from my parents that I could have a better job that would give me a higher salary. But I don’t want to. I really enjoy my current job and it gives me the chance to travel the world too so I’m in a win-win situation. Fortunately my parents understood this too so I don’t need to listen to the same conversation anymore
    kami recently posted..Reasons to visit and fall in love with Cieszyn

    • Amanda says:

      YES. Everyone’s dream SHOULD be slightly different.

      That’s great that your parents have more or less accepted your lifestyle now. Mine have too, for the most part. I think my dad is actually secretly really proud that I’ve more or less started my own business.

  • Dalene says:

    I do understand where it comes from – the whole American dream thing (it’s a Canadian thing too.) 🙂 It goes back generations to our families who had to live through the depression, etc. Money did mean happiness in many ways because it meant more food to eat, etc. And that gets passed down, and then again. But it’s up to the individual to break the cycle, and that is where we all are responsible for ourselves! Not everyone recognizes this though…
    Dalene recently posted..If Anyplace Could Make Us Settle

    • Amanda says:

      I get where it comes from, too. My grandma grew up in those Depression and post-Depression years, and I know a lot of her frugality (that she learned from her parents) was passed down to my dad. But you’re so right – we have to be responsible for ourselves and our own dreams!

  • zoomingjapan says:

    I was born and raised in Germany and I can totally relate to what you’ve written.
    After graduating from university (MA, so I was in my late 20s), I moved to Japan. It was suppposed to be a 1-year adventure, but I’ve been here for almost 7 years now.
    Back home people are asking me: “When will you find a ‘real’ job?”
    “When will you start a career? You’re already over 30!”

    I don’t care. I stayed because I liked it here. I stayed because I fell in love with this country and travelled to each and every corner. I was never much into travelling prior to moving to Japan. My interests have changed a lot and what made me happy back then, doesn’t make me happy now.

    The thing is … and I’m sure I’m not the only one … if you live your dream and you’ve done it for almost a decade, then your dream might be something else. So, I think it’s also important to have the courage and start from zero YET AGAIN.

    I’m at a very difficult point in my life right now, because I know I want a change, but I have no idea what to do, no dream I could try to achieve. So, I’ll just change a lot of things in my life, I’ll move again and just see what will happen.
    Yes, it might be risky to give up on everything once you’ve settled down somewhere, but if you feel you need a change, if you feel you’re not completely happy, I think it’s almost always worth it.
    Even if you fail, you might get out of it with a lot of great life experience.

    Thanks for this awesome post. ^__^

    • Amanda says:

      You are so right – it’s totally possible for a dream to change or morph into something completely different over time. The dream you have at 20 probably won’t be the same one you have at 30! But there’s nothing wrong with that, so long as (like you said), you have the courage to start all over again.

  • Excellent post Amanda! I agree totally that one dream does not fit all. I conformed to the sterotypical ideals of life a long time ago, met a man, got married, bought a house and we contemplated kids. The next thing we did shocked everyone we know, we sold our house for a nice profit, put our belongings in storage and took off to live in London and travel for two years. We spent every last cent, had the time of our lives and have never looked back. My dream is simple, be true to myself, do what I want, when I want and don’t let anything get in my way. But most of all be happy!
    Jen Seligmann recently posted..Things to do in Krakow

  • Red Hunt says:

    Great post….I’ve had the same struggle in the fun vs money battle, as I originally was on the big business path. It took a while to figure out that happiness comes from many things, most of which aren’t related to money! Keep on having fun and following your own dream….
    Red Hunt recently posted..Hiking Along the Lycian Way to Oludeniz Blue Lagoon

    • Amanda says:

      No need to worry about me continuing to have fun/follow my dream! 😉 Now that my eyes have been opened to the possibilities, there’s no way I’ll go back to the generic American Dream!

  • loved this! I say each t their own on THIER dreams but one thing is for sure. Travel certainly changed my priorities as well. One thing I tend to think is that people spend all this time chasing a career and the big bucks but they never have the time to enjoy it. Life is short, you don’t know when its your last day so enjoy it now, not work TOO hard you don’t have a present, incase you don’t have a future.

    There was a great speech made by Jim Carrey and in it he finishes after an example of failure by his father by saying “you can fail at the dreams you don’t want, so you might as well risk fail at the things you do want” 🙂 great article
    rebecca kroegel recently posted..Little Becky smokes her first Joint In Amsterdam

  • Kira says:

    I can relate completely. I’ve found the most disheartening is not only being surrounded by people with a different dream, but being told your dream is too dangerous or worst of all, impossible. Thank you for the post! Loving your blog atm

    • Amanda says:

      Having other people put down your dream (or even worse, telling you that you’ll fail) is terrible. Don’t let them get you down, though! Your dream is just as valid as theirs.

  • Rebekah says:

    such a great post. I always thought the American dream was that you can do whatever you want if you work hard enough….but now it just seems to be about being rich. Sad.
    Rebekah recently posted..Chinese Farmers Markets

  • Michelle says:

    I always wanted to work in medicine and I’ve always wanted to travel. So for the better part of my ‘career’ I’ve worked per diem. This has allowed me to basically make my own schedule…take time off when I want to travel for long periods of times and earn enough money to support my travel goals. I’ve even been able to work/volunteer in medicine in other countries which is the best of both world. Most of my co-workers don’t understand. It’s inconceivable to them that I don’t want the ‘security’ of a full-time job. My reply is ‘you’re idea of security is my idea of bondage.’
    Last year I was accepted into two graduate school programs: one was medical school, the other was nurse practitioner school. I choose the NP route because I could not imagine spending the next 7-10 years [school + residency] on travel restrictions. My ultimate goal is to work in practice 6 month out of the year and travel and work outside the country the other six months. I don’t know if this is possible or even probable, but that’s what I’m shooting for.
    Thanks for the post. I get a lot of grief for going my own way. It’s so nice to find that there are others ‘out there’ who feel the same way.
    Michelle recently posted..Out and about at…Georgia Aquarium and Zoo Atlanta

    • Amanda says:

      You are definitely not alone, Michelle! I think your plan sounds like a smart one. You could maybe even look into becoming a traveling nurse? One of neighbors did that, and it allowed her to basically make her own schedule and travel a lot.

  • Andrea says:

    The fact that you’ve figured this out early in life is awesome! Espceically since it’s so difficult to unload all of the financial burdens and responsibilities once you’ve gone down the other path and realized after the fact that there’s not much for you there! (Ask me how I know…lol!)

    The more of us who keep dreaming the better!
    Andrea recently posted..Newsflash :: the planets aren’t aligned

  • I combined the best of both worlds. I basically work hardcore hours and make tons of money freelancing, then I peace out and leave the country for months at a time. It’s worked well for me so far.
    Candice @ The Let’s Go Ladies recently posted..Make-Out Cafes, Cuddle Couch Dining and Photoshop Photobooths: Misadventures While Dating in Japan

  • Katie says:

    I can agree that the dream is very much alive. Many people think we’re crazy because we don’t want to have kids (yet, anyway). I also find that even the people I know who managed to land a corporate job and make 6 figures (in my city of Cincinnati, that’s a pretty good amount), also manage to somehow spend what they make. So money=buying loads of crap you don’t need=happiness? haha! Loved this post!!
    Katie recently posted..Diving Biowreck – Bali

    • Amanda says:

      I SO know what you mean – it seems like no matter how much money people make, they find ways to spend it (and often STILL aren’t happy). Keep living your dream, Katie!

  • Victoria says:

    Ha! Ha! Ha! Wonderful post Amanda! I think we’ve all fallen into that trap.
    My parents wanted me to study law. I managed to get them to allow me to study political science instead. Tick for me.
    I used to be a project manager and live in London. I had a great time, made pots of money, but grew bored. Bored, I tell you! Then I moved to Berlin and became a corporate trainer on less money than you would think, but wonderful hours. Tick for me.
    I travel a lot for leisure and pleasure and because I live in Berlin. I don’t need to work godly hours in order to do so. Tick for me.
    Married creative type instead of corporate type. Tick for me.
    Had my only child as a water birth. Very tick for me.
    I’m writing what I want. I’ve always dreamed of being a teacher and a writer. Ticking all the way, following MY dream.
    Thanks for writing this post Amanda.
    Victoria recently posted..If you’re going to dance the night away – Do it in Berlin!

  • Sarah Bown says:

    Really enjoyed this read 🙂 It is definitely frustrating to live in a world where your dreams go against the expectations of society. I think this has become especially hard for 20 somethings who are being afforded more opportunities than ever and are therefore expected to go out there and grab them all and become millionaires by 30. Because that’s why Mrs Roger’s son next door did. The standards are getting higher and higher and the age at which you should accomplish it is getting lower and lower… how did we end up here? Great read
    Sarah Bown recently posted..What To Do When Your Excuses Run Out

    • Amanda says:

      Such a great comment, Sarah, and I couldn’t agree more. In generations before ours, people were getting married and starting families in their 20s. Now you’re doing something wrong if you’re not trying to become a CEO before 30. It’s really out of control!

  • Ali says:

    I love this post, Amanda! The American dream is such a weird thing. Following your own dreams, even if they don’t lead to big piles of money, is definitely the way to go. I’m so glad you’ve found a path that makes you happy!
    Ali recently posted..Be Proud of Your Accomplishments

    • Amanda says:

      I’m really glad I have, too! I’m at a point now where I’m not worrying about money all the time, but I also have a lot of freedom and flexibility to do things when I want!

  • I am having the shittest day and this was just what I needed to cheer me up and remind me that I can do what I want to- I just need to believe in myself a little harder sometimes. Thanks Amanda 🙂
    Sammi Wanderlustin’ recently posted..Where Will Your Adventures Take You?

  • Kim Lopez says:

    Amanda, this post speaks to me in so many ways!!! Like you, and everyone else in America, I have also bee bombarded with this “American Dream” ideal. But also like you, I have no desire to waste my youth climbing a corporate ladder of a job that I hate. I’ve spent the last 10 years working for places I hated, and pushing through while being miserable because it’s what I knew I had to do at the time. But, after my job closing 5 months ago, I realized I don’t want to waste any more time being unhappy, and doing things just because everyone is telling me it’s what I should do. All I have ever wanted is to be control of my own life and do things that make me happy. And it’s soooo comforting to see that there are others out there who want the same thing, and want to break away from convention. Makes you feel happy that you’re not so alone in it. 🙂

    • Amanda says:

      You definitely are not alone, Kim! And I think there are an increasing number of people in the US who are now starting to push back against the “American Dream” ideal. Life is way too short to chase after someone else’s dream!

  • “I eventually discovered, however, that the things that made me happy were not things that would ever make me rich.” So true and freeing once you realize it. I’ve been struggling with my own happiness and living up to expectations (as an American = school, job, marriage, house, children, etc.) Its so nice to know I’m not alone in going off the beaten track to make myself happy.

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