Redefining the American Dream
“I’m a physicist, and I used to work in Silicon Valley.” he said, munching on a sandwich at my favorite coffee shop here on Kauai.
“How long have you lived here?” I asked.
“Oh about 5 years. I bought a business from a man who spent his whole life building it.” The physicist looked content, like a cat in the sun. “I asked him when I bought it, ‘What will you do now?’, and he said he’d travel ’some day’, but he was so stressed about everything he died a year later, never having traveled like he wanted to.”
“Yes.” He chuckled. “Can you imagine that? Not living, but working, working, working! And then POOF, you die.”
I couldn’t imagine it now. I could before, in New York, when all I did was work and remain frustrated at the adventure magazines I subscribed to.
I stared off into the sun, enjoying being blinded by it for a moment, appreciating that I could be blinded by it for a moment; I had working eyes. I sat silently in gratitude.
“And what do you do?” The physicist asked.
“I run a company that does brand advising and web design / development for small businesses.” The words rolled off easily; I’d said them hundreds of times.
“Oh, well that’s great. You can help a lot of people on this island.”
I thought about that and smiled. I’d met so many people on island and off with amazing ideas they never did anything about. Here and everywhere, there was always a far smaller percentage of folks willing to walk through their fears and shadows, to take it all on, to follow their dreams.
“It depends.” I said “Sometimes people don’t want to take the next step.”
“They don’t believe in themselves?”
“That, or they allow their current financial situation to speak for the rest of their lives, deciding this is how it will be forever.”
“Well that’s just not true.” He laughed, a tomato flopping out of his sandwich onto the ivory plate.
We were both immigrants, from different countries, different eras, but we both came from nothing, knew what having hand-me-downs was like and just decided to do what we wanted to anyway.
I reflected on how little that stuff affected me as a child. I had dreams, huge ones! I knew I’d do what I needed to to make them happen.
With time, I learned to be affected by circumstance, position, money. I became scared to leave a comfortable job in order to follow my other dreams, having achieved what I wanted for a time. Then one day I snapped. One day I couldn’t look at the adventure magazines anymore. I could no longer hate the happy, tan people in the kayaks, flowing down rapids in Colorado. I couldn’t hate them for their joy. There was something fundamentally wrong with that.
“Perhaps people forgot how to live.” He said, reading my mind. “Perhaps we weren’t taught by our parents?”
“Maybe they didn’t know either. They just wanted to put food on the table.” I added. He nodded.
The struggle cycle is one of the saddest “realities” of our world, and what most don’t realize is that it’s all a matter of perspective.
Truth be told, I never felt richer than when I was laughing with my family on those hot summer days as a child on the Black Sea, peeling potatoes in my underwear with my sister and cousin, never having more as a family than just enough. We didn’t care; we were together, and we loved each other.
Of course our modern culture – and it’s no longer just isolated to the “American Dream” – tells us we need MORE. It tells us we are never enough; we don’t have enough; that the TV is old, and in order to be happy, we need the new one. The new one costs SO MUCH, and then we put it on a credit card and go back to a job we don’t want because we need to pay off a TV we didn’t need.
The worst part of it is that we are also regularly told that we can’t do it. We are often scared by the media, propelled into fear by the next potential war and kept separate by stories that simply aren’t true.
And of course it affects people and their dreams: “I have a great idea, but I can’t do it because ______.”
The good thing about navigating out of that maze is that I don’t buy into disempowering stories any more.
I’ve worked through so many of my own fears and boundaries that I know anything is possible. I’ve also worked with so many people from so many disciplines and businesses that have made their dreams come true, while coming from NOTHING, that I am a firm believer that a hard, smart work ethic along with faith in oneself are the magic ingredients of success – however you define success.
“So where to next?” I asked the physicist.
“Oh, I’ve been all over the world. I just enjoy working harder than I ever have on this tiny green island. It’s really a magical place. You should do a local class here.”
“i think I will.”
“And if they don’t believe, just tell them your story.”
“I think I will.”
So what do I think you need in order to start a business you’ve dreamed of?
Courage, curiosity and the willingness to learn. The rest, I’ve found, the universe will provide for you.
Here’s to your journey!