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.
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.
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.
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.
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??)
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?
You are definitely not alone, Paula!