Following Your Dreams: Not for the Faint of Heart

Salvaging Your Dreams From the Death Grip of Reality


Published: March 2, 2011

Last summer, the woman I was seeing at the time brought me home to visit her parents. This was one occasion when my normally laid back demeanor gave way to a frenzied rush of preparation even the most devout perfectionist would applaud.

After two hours of small talk, during which my face reddened with nervousness more than I’d like to admit, I thought I had won them over. And then her father asked me what I’m studying.

I smiled politely and replied that I was studying journalism in hopes of one day becoming an editor of a women’s magazine.

“Journalism, huh?” he said with an amused chuckle. “You’ll be selling insurance for the rest of your life, if you’re lucky.”

It’s probably safe to say that the rest of the visit was particularly unpleasant. I’ve been no stranger to the journalism-is-dying horror stories discussed in classes, bleak reports of layoffs and magazine foldings and worrying family members afraid I’ll become a permanent resident of the apartment above the garage.

And I wish I could say I’ve never experienced a near stranger outright dismissing my ambitions as unachievable pipe dreams.

On a crisp fall afternoon last year, I took a trip to the Met to procrastinate on my overwhelming number of assignments. While gazing at a particularly indecipherable painting, a grandfatherly man approached me and proceeded to introduce himself.

After sharing a few lines about our love for the museum, he asked me the million dollar question.

“Journalism,” I said, fingers crossed behind my back in hope that the next words out of his mouth would be those of encouragement. It was to no avail: I left the gallery dejected after a nearly hour long speech about how I’ll never find steady employment. But apparently, this man believed I’d make a wonderful teacher, despite my having no desire to be one.

Sometimes I feel as though I’ve been telling people I’m going to make a career out of walking the tightrope in a circus troupe.

But despite the risks and general disapproval of my chosen career path, I won’t give up. I’ve invested so much of myself into my work. Writing is my connection to the world. It’s not only what I do but a part of who I am.

I’ve wanted to be a writer ever since I could put a pen to paper and form sentences. I still have the notebooks filled with the stories I wrote in middle school. I’ll admit that I was no protégée: my so-called masterpieces revolved around evil babysitters and crushes that ended in heartbreak.

Almost all of you know what it’s like to be in your element, whether it’s on the football field or in your own little makeshift studio creating art out of recycled car tires. Remember when you were praised for it?

From high school teachers to my parents (pre-college), the message, though cheesy and sentimental, was reiterated time and time again: Follow your heart, work hard and the rest will fall into place.

I’m doing just that. When I got to college, I decided to put my passion and skills to use by taking up journalism. And that’s when the criticism began to flow in. If I had a dollar for every time someone told me to take up accounting instead, I could afford my dream apartment in Manhattan and have money to drop on fruity little drinks at the Plaza Hotel every night, all while working an unpaid internship.

If I put everything I’ve worked for into a box somewhere to make a miserable mess out of unsuspecting people’s taxes, maybe I’d be the homeowner with a yard and a dog that society expects me to be. But I wouldn’t be happy.

When I see students walking through the halls with absolutely miserable looks on their faces, I take one look at the load of worn math books in their arms and know that’s the reason.

I’ve decided long ago that I’ll live my dream or end up living on fast food, but I’m not giving up. Ever.