I now realize what I think I want is not necessarily the path to happiness. As a 21-year-old Iranian man fresh off a plane to the U.S., student visa in hand, a life of privilege stretched before me. I soon found myself trapped in a cycle of materialism that left me bored and unfulfilled. So much for the American dream.
My dream of coming to the United States started at a young age. My parents traveled to the U.S. in 1997 and recorded video from their adventures to share with friends and family in Iran. I was only seven years old, but I often watched that DVD of their trip to the U.S. and dreamed about life on the other side of the world. I vowed to one day visit the United States myself, which was further complicated by how difficult it is for an Iranian to travel to North America.
In 2009, my personal growth exploded after I stumbled upon a book called “The Master Key System.” I applied the techniques described in the book to master visualization and shape my way of thinking. I visualized life in the United States on a daily basis. I thought about people speaking English around me and imagined the heat in Arizona, which was my ultimate target because I had family there.
I stopped dwelling on negative aspects of my current circumstances and began to focus on a positive: my desired outcome of a life in the U.S. I applied to continue my education in the United States and received a student visa in only four months — this sort of turnaround is atypical, and it only fueled my determination to realize my dream. After working diligently to line everything up for my journey, I found myself on a plane bound for Chicago. My dream was about to become a reality.
Living the Dream
I’ll never forget my first day on U.S. soil. I emerged from the arrival gate inside O’Hare International Airport and saw the red, white, and blue of the American flag. I was emotionally overwhelmed and unable to move for half an hour. I was in shock, struggling to believe that my biggest dream in life had come true.
This might seem insignificant to someone born and raised in the U.S., but it meant the world to me. It reminds me of an Olympian who has worked so intensely in pursuit of victory that she has not considered how it might feel. After years of intense training culminate in gold medals, Olympians often break down and lose control of their emotions.
My high lasted for the next six months, and it was intense. When I woke up every morning, I was able to relive my dream all over again. Slowly, that incredible joy began to slip away.
My experience is insignificant compared to the journey of astronaut Buzz Aldrin, the second man to walk on the moon. Aldrin struggled with depression and alcoholism after conquering his ultimate dream, which is a common theme among astronauts after interstellar travel.
I tried to make sense of my growing unhappiness and began to search for the joy I craved in the outside world. I used the same visualization methods that had served me so well before.
I attempted to fill this growing hole in my life with material possessions. My visualizations became crammed with luxury and superficiality, with each purchase only providing a temporary fix. I bought a Porsche 911, though the bliss of cruising around the Arizona suburbs in my luxury car soon faded. My materialism was running rampant, and I sought my next fix as soon as the novelty of the previous item wore off.
I realized the only way to truly feel fulfilled was by giving my life meaning. I got involved with the ManKind Project, a leadership class through PSI, and the Celebrate Your Life conference. These organizations and events have helped me reshape my personal mission, master my own fate, build relationships, and empower others.
I appreciate that most young men don’t want to skip the fast cars and finer things in life. But my new mission is now my reason for being; I see everything I do and every interaction as an opportunity to fulfill that goal.
Beyond the Superficial
My experiences have shown me the superficial aspects of life are only window dressing. By acting on a mission that is bigger than myself and trying to better myself as a human being while helping others, I have reaped much greater rewards. Here are a few pointers for experiencing fulfillment on a daily basis:
1. Shape your character and who you want to be.Who you are as a person and your moral compass are more important than the things you own. They provide the rails along which you can either reach your goals or change direction.
2, Understand that true fulfillment comes from within.Use your values to craft a mission statement that excites you. This statement will ensure you have the right tools and the proper motivation. Don’t seek gratification from outside sources.
3. Recognize that any goal is possible.Victory requires vision, purpose, dedication, and determination. Pursue your dreams, but remember that achieving them will not necessarily lead to fulfillment.
4. Focus on acting upon your vision for the world.A vision of material wealth can be realized with the right mindset if that’s your goal. But these riches ultimately left me feeling hollow. Don’t waste your life pursuing things that will only lose their luster.
5. Be self-aware to become the best version of yourself.Decide who you want to be 10 years from now, and write it down. Avoid writing a list of the things you want to possess. Focus on who this person is, what sort of activities he’s involved in, and how he creates value for others.
There’s nothing wrong with driving a fancy car or wearing big labels. The problems come when one tries to feel fulfilled by those material possessions. Once the novelty of those new toys wears off, you’ll be left looking for your next fix.
It’s important to dig a bit deeper into what’s truly important in life. Focus on bettering yourself as a person and finding worthwhile pursuits that fulfill your needs rather than plugging holes with possessions.
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