The skyline of New York City is visible from every hill in my hometown, and stands tall over us as an ever present entity. All of the lights, bridges, and skyscrapers—constructs of concrete and steel—blend as one into the symbol of opportunity. As a kid I would often stare off into the distance at the skyline and imagine one day I would be working in one of those buildings, maybe the top floor of the Chrysler building, or a corner office of a Wall Street icon.
Like many other millennials my age, a corner office on Wall Street embodied the epitome of success.
We were told to go college then become professionals, hedge fund managers, and nine-to-five office people. Growing up, I was surrounded by doctors and lawyers, so the natural instinct and subsequent conditioning was to pick either one, go make a bunch of money, and live happily ever somewhere in suburbia.
Success was a well laid out path trudged by those before.
The blueprint for us, used repeatedly for generations, was set at our feet. Achieving success was as easy as following that blueprint.
The problem however, is that the antiquated blueprint has become obsolete in a world that vaguely resembles itself from a generation ago. Our generation has broken the mold, and cast the success blueprint into a pile next to the Compact Disc and VCR.
We are children born of the late ‘80’s and early ‘90’s, products of the dotcom and tech boom. Entire frontiers of new industry and revolutionary ways to make an income are right in front of us. Techies in Silicon Valley have replaced Charlie Sheen from Wall Street, and “entrepreneur” has became a word meaning more than someone who is too lazy to get a real job. It is a viable way to earn a living, avoid tuition debt, and make a name for yourself.
Another profound change my generation is experiencing is the soaring tuition of college and graduate school.
My father graduated from Rutgers in 1968 and paid $400 for a semester of college. I paid much more than that for just a semester’s worth of books. Want to go to college, then law school today? $300,000 is roughly the price tag, and unless you come from money it will be a debt you will be paying off for the rest of your life.
That all but guarantees I will have to slave away in an office somewhere for the next forty years just to pay off that debt and support myself. I was always a creative type who was never interested in the corporate world. I like the idea of working for myself and being my own boss, master of my own destiny. I like writing, music, and art. But nonetheless, the blueprint to success was laid out for me. It was explained and passed down like any other cultural tradition, and so, I tried to follow it.
Like trying to fit a square peg into a round hole, it just didn’t fit.
I went to college, studied political science (I still question how much of a science it is), did well and graduated. I floundered on taking the LSATs because my heart was never in it in the first place. I worked a few internships, and hated every minute of the rigid structure, high stress, and corporate environment.
At 22, I decided to reject all of that and take the biggest risk of my life up until that point. While the blueprint for success changes, the American way of taking risks is timeless. I decided to follow my passion and become a writer. I endured the “that’s cute, you can write while you figure out what you want to do with your life” remarks at family functions and on bad dates. I often kept myself up at night wondering if I was making the biggest mistake of my life.
But, I fell back on another truth as American as apple pie: perseverance.
I started by getting one of my articles published in the Santa Monica Daily Press, a local newspaper. Then I got a weekly column for the Good Men Project. All the while I had been churning out short stories and poetry on my own time. “Just write, write, write,” my mentor would tell me. That collection of short stories and poetry has turned into a finished book called Thoughts that will be published this February. I am currently working on the life story of Chris Luera, 3-time world champion fitness athlete, and have other book ideas in the works. I used to worry I was making the biggest mistake of my life, now I worry that I won’t be able to keep up with all the work I have on my plate.
Facebook and Microsoft weren’t built in corner offices of skyscrapers; they were built in garages and dorm rooms. Everything you need to be successful is at your fingertips. So to my frustrated millennial’s, who feel like square pegs in round holes, I say this: if doors aren’t opening for you, build your own damn door and walk through it. Find something you absolutely love to do, something you would gladly do for free, and go find a way to make money doing it. That’s the blueprint for freedom.
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