Go to school, get a good education, study hard and get good grades, go on to college, graduate, get a job, get married, have kids, buy a house, and live happily ever after.
This path is recommended as the easiest way to “success” in America. Getting to the end of it is usually referred to as “living the American dream” and it is drilled into all of our collective memory banks from a very early age. But what happens when things don’t go according to plan?
What do you do when your school has a hard time keeping the A/C on when it gets hot, never mind providing you a good education? What do you do when your parents only have enough money to feed you 4 days a week instead of 7? What do you do when you get though college and are left with enough debt to last you the next 20 years? What do you do when you have a child and they are born with an illness that drains every bit of extra money you have?
Wait those are all extreme examples, right? Well what do you do when the rate of inflation far surpasses the amount of money you bring in every month? How do you handle dotting all the i’s and crossing all the t’s and still living check to check? What happens when you lose your job that barely gets you by, and do to your education background you are over qualified for nearly every job you apply for?
Unfortunately each of these scenarios are played out millions of times each day in the most prosperous country on the planet. Even in areas where it looks like everyone has everything together, people hide behind the doors of their fancy homes in fear of the next tragedy coming their way.
Is there a one size fits all solution to the problem, I’d say not hardly. We created this mess thinking there was a one size fits all path to success. We’re told if we’re not where we want to be in life, we simply need to work harder. Well I’ve seen some of the hardest working people around and yet they continue to struggle just to have the bare necessities in life, and I’ve also seen people who do next to nothing everyday and yet are some of the most prosperous people around.
So what’s the solution? I’m glad you asked. The answer is I can’t tell you, and if they’re being honest neither can anyone else. The reason is that everyone is different and needs to find their own path in life. As long as we chase the dreams of others and live by their definitions of success we will always fail.
One of the greatest joys of my life is watching my son develop and grow as a young man. I often just sit back and watch him figure things out and come to conclusions about things without any intervention from me. Now if he has a question or needs help, I’m never far away, but I’ve learned he has to figure out life for himself.
It’s amazing how much he’s like me when it comes to processing logic and fixing things. I see so much of myself in him it’s sometimes scary because many of the things we do alike were not taught, but just happen naturally.
As much as I would like him to follow in my footsteps as a software developer, I realize he has his own goals and aspirations. Right now we’re in the Lego phase where that’s all he wants to play with or talk about. Give him a set of Legos and within minutes he has created something amazing. I do everything I can to encourage this creativity because I know one day those skills will transfer to him being a great engineer who’s able to take raw parts and turn them into a work of art.
I often taught to people who are burnt out with their current job and ask what they would rather be doing. Many people I know with college educations are doing nothing related to the field their degree is in, but rather doing whatever it takes to keep the lights on at home. While there’s nothing inherently wrong with this, it makes me wonder why we spend so much of life working towards something we never use.
Sometimes I think it’s because we were forced into a particular path by things outside of our control like parents, peer pressure or life itself. I’ve worked enough crappy jobs in life to appreciate doing something I love everyday. Personally I think life is entirely too short not to. Some think this is all just cliche but doing something because you love it doesn’t necessarily pay the bills. If that’s the case maybe it’s time to re-access your bills.
The positive energy generated from being happy in life is priceless and has a way of effecting everything around you. Ask anyone who has it and they will gladly tell you there’s no price tag you can put on having peace of mind.
So how do you get started with doing what you love? First you have to figure out what that is. What are the thing(s) that if you could do them all day without pay you would? Nevermind how silly or trivial they might be, even the smallest things have the greatest rewards if they make you happy.
I’m not saying go out and quit your job tomorrow, but start making to plan to pursue what makes you happy. Include milestones along the way to give you small things to celebrate. Whether it takes you 6 months or 6 years you’ll be a better person because of it. The best investment you can ever make is in yourself, so instead of chasing everyone else’s dreams in life, how about you start chasing your own.