In my family, following our dreams isn’t just a cliched motto. It’s a religious truth, a way of life.
My father was an immigrant who came to this country with a few dollars in his pocket and a dream of a better life. He worked from the ground up to put himself through college and became an accountant in Los Angeles. The second he discovered that being an accountant made him unhappy, he quit his job, moved across the country to Georgia and opened a car repair shop. To this day, it still stands as the friendly neighborhood reminder to the city of Hephzibah that cars don’t last forever. And my father still stands as my hope that dreams come true.
My mother, on the other hand, was a dancer when she was young. She was accepted to one of China’s sole dancing academies, only to be turned away when they discovered my grandfather wasn’t Communist. My mother, after being unable to find more work as a dancer, married my father, moved to America and lived a fairly content life raising my siblings and me. Still, in my proudest moments when I have crawled a little closer to my dream, her joy is often tinged with envy, as she tells me she never did and never will have the chances that I have.
My dream has always been writing. I was a meek high school junior dealing with a lot of frustration and anger until the day my English teacher told me I should publish a personal narrative. The reception to the piece hooked me onto writing and made me realize that stories can form mutual understanding between the most different of people. I’ve been pursuing it ever since.
Yet as the rejection letters to my writing applications rolled in this summer, I began to question the validity of all my parents’ lessons. Maybe at one point, following our dreams was a possibility. In this day and age, when everyone is trying to follow their dreams, often some variation of the same one, there is no room for an individual to feasibly make their dream reality. And I began to wonder at what point I should give up trying to write and start looking for a “real job” — maybe as a teacher — to which my doom so inevitably called.
There seemed to me to be two extreme perspectives on the matter. One could consider those who surrendered their dreams pragmatists, forced to let go out of necessity. On the other hand, one could also call them mercenary, selling out when the going became a little too hard.
Here at Penn, we’re all too familiar with the concept of selling out. We all know that Whartonite — that “snake,” as we fondly call them — who could have been a million other things, but chose to do something they didn’t enjoy for the money. At Penn, we are all multi-something. Many of us consider ourselves artists, musicians, inventors, who just have to go into finance or accounting because we don’t believe we can support ourselves being creative.
With all this conflicting information, I wanted to know, definitively, where the line between practicality and selling out lay. How difficult must circumstances become before giving up is no longer an evil, but wisdom itself?
I asked everyone I knew for their thoughts. The answers varied enough to make my head spin. The single conclusion I could come to, as much of a cop-out answer as it may seem, is that only we can decide these things for ourselves. Where the line lies between practicality and selling out is different for each person. It is a question of personal identity.
We have to agree with ourselves what sacrifices we can make without compromising who we are. We have to balance between what we need to survive and what we want to achieve. It is a lesson in navigation that comes with growing up and maturing.
For me, I will feel purposeless and empty unless I can share stories with the world. It doesn’t always make me feel happy, but it makes me feel less alone. I feel like I’m doing something to create a better world, and, moreover, to be a part of it.
I must always be writing, whether it’s short stories or sales ads. I owe it to myself and my mother, who pushes for me every day to be the woman she could not be.
And even if I am just Gatsby staring at the green light at the end of the pier, reaching out for something I can never grasp, I am satisfied. Because at least in reaching for that green light, I never betrayed my ideals of who I am or how I should be.
AMY CHAN is a College senior from Augusta, Ga., studying classics. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. “Chances Are” usually appears every other Thursday.
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