When Their Dream is Not Your Dream

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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?


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?


"It's a dangerous business, going out your door. You step onto the road, and, if you don't keep your feet, there's no telling where you might get swept off to." - JRR Tolkien

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59 Comments on “When Their Dream is Not Your Dream

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  1. “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.

      You are definitely not alone, Paula!

    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. 🙂

      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 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 🙂

      So glad that this post helped brighten your day! And of course you can do whatever you want to – just go after it!

    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!

      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!

    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

      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!

    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.

      Thank YOU for such a great comment, Victoria! Always awesome to hear how people are making their dreams work.

    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!!

      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!

    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.

    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!

      I agree! Always keep dreaming!

    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.

      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.

    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.

      Yup, the message has certainly been misconstrued over the years. Now it’s all money = happiness.

    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

      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.

    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

      I preach all the time that life is short, so why put off the things you really want to do?

    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….

      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!

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