“The poor man is not he who is without a cent, but he who is without a dream.” ~Harry Kemp
We’ve all been there. You’re having a great time playing a game with your friends, and then all of a sudden, things start to get tense.
What started out as fun turns into a fierce competition, as everyone is desperately trying to collect gold coins, red flags, or whatever happens to be the game’s currency.
To an outsider, it would be clear that we are all playing a game. Just like the kid with the tallest stack of red coins, the adult with the largest home and fanciest car receives the admiration of his or her peers.
Originally invented to simplify the trading process, money has long surpassed its intended purpose. Of course, we all need money to survive, but it doesn’t end there.
Money has long been a status symbol. It is precisely for this reason its appeal is so difficult to resist.
Our social status and income level are closely intertwined. We’ve even coined the term “socio-economic status.” In this society, you simply cannot have high status without the money to back it up.
Okay, so what’s the problem? Why do I say all this as if it’s a bad thing?
Because it comes at a price. A very high price.
As we strive to win this game that society wants us to play, we give up on something that matters a lot more than money and prestige. We give up on our dreams.
MISSING THE MIDDLE GROUND
The chain that locks us down to jobs we hate has two ends. On one end stands wealth and status. At the other end is fear of poverty.
Of course, we all need food to eat and a roof over our heads. Now here’s the catch: If you dare to dream even an inch outside the status quo, society is quick to assume that you will be an utter failure, left with nothing to pay the bills.
For example, say you always dreamed of being an actor. When people think of actors, they think of Angelina Jolie, Nicolas Cage, or other stars. “Actors make a killing, but hardly anyone makes it!” they may tell you. Indeed, hardly anyone becomes a star.
You see, without even realizing it, they are back to wealth and prestige. But what they forget are the many working actors who are not world famous, who nevertheless make enough to support themselves while doing what they love.
Another common misconception is that in order to pursue your passion, you must quit your job immediately. Doing so could indeed be a recipe for disaster. You see, pursuing your passion is a process. Many quit their jobs only after their passion can support them.
Society tells us that wealth and status will make us happy, while simultaneously scaring us that pursuing our dreams will leave us penny-less. Both of these are fallacies. There is a middle ground: Your passion can support you, if you’re willing to give it a chance.
I was born with the heart of an artist. I dreamed of being on stage as a singer or an actress. I wanted to express myself through music, dance, and writing.
Despite these dreams, at the age of 18 I had an entirely different plan. I was set on becoming a manager at a software company.
I worked hard to get into a prestigious computer science program, and for my first internship, I landed a position at well-known firm. I was overjoyed. It looked as if my plan was working out.
But, a couple of months into the internship, something completely unexpected happened: I found myself hating my life. I don’t mean just my job. My entire life felt empty, meaningless, and downright painful.
I would wake up early to go to a job that bored me. Then, I had to spend most of my waking hours effectively tied down to a chair, staring at a computer screen. I was a slave in the free world.
By the time that this dreadful internship was finally over, I was so broken down that I swore never to do this to myself again.
It wasn’t easy to figure out what to do next. It took the next ten years to go through layer upon layer of fears and insecurities. I started out with such a rigid perception of what is “normal” and “acceptable” that I had a very long road to travel.
Three years ago, I finally took my first singing class and started to write. I couldn’t begin to tell you what a difference this has made in my life. Every morning I jump out of bed, eager to start the day. My work excites me, energizes me, and brings me a deep sense of personal fulfillment.
For the first time in my life, I no longer feel a divide between myself and my job. All that I do is an extension of who I am.
But then, I go out into the world and interact with other people. People who wish that they didn’t have to work. People who sacrifice their lives for a handsome paycheck. People who have forgotten their dreams.
WHY WE LOSE TRACK OF OUR DREAMS
How did this happen? When and where did we lose track of our dreams?
If I were to come up to a person with a passion for pursuing their dream, and ask them, “How much money would it take to get you to forget about pursuing your dreams?” they would surely send me away. Nobody would knowingly sell their dreams.
But there is something else, something more powerful than money that can make us give up on our dreams—that is, our sense of self-worth. Without realizing it, we end up giving up our dreams in an effort to feel good about ourselves.
Society teaches us that you are what you do. We are bombarded with this message from childhood. We are constantly asked, “What do you want to be when you grow up?”
Combine this with the clear connection between status and money, and the formula is complete. We work at jobs we hate in order to attain high social standing, so that we can feel good about who we are.
The trouble is that our dreams rarely line up with what society happens to consider prestigious. And so, in an effort to reconcile our ambitions with our need for approval, we replace our dreams with what society wants us to do.
And if, during a moment of clarity, we decide we no longer care about wealth and prestige, then they get us with the fear of poverty. “Do what we tell you, and you will be rich. Disobey, and you will have nothing.”
That’s when most of us give up and forget about our dreams altogether.
But I don’t believe that it is possible to completely lose our dreams. Like a precious jewel that accumulated years of dust, our dreams are waiting to be uncovered from beneath layers of fears and insecurities.
Taking back our dreams is the first step to building the life that we want—a life that is true to who we really are. It may seem intimidating at first, but if you find the courage to reclaim your dreams, they will light the way to a meaningful, fulfilling life