Day 590: No More Following Your Dreams

“I quit,” I said, my black leather carrying bag already over my shoulder. I’d imagined this scene for years, a triumphant take-this-job delivery followed by my supervisor’s wounded expression.
His face barely registered emotion as he said, “Go tell human resources.”
I worked for a respected social policy research organization, where Barack Obama had applied for a job before he was president. For seven years I’d sat in a windowless office and formatted reports in Microsoft Word. I sauntered to human resources like a movie inmate on his final walk of freedom through Shawshank prison.
Forty-two and single, I was jumping without a net into the potential person I was meant to be. I’d watched Larry Smith’s famous TED Talk about following one’s passion, and enrolled in an advertising portfolio class. I was determined to rebrand myself as a digital copywriter.
“Good for you,” my father said. “We’re meant to take risks. Read ‘Start-Up Nation’!”
That was the book I bought him for his 70th birthday. It reinforced the stereotype of the Jewish genius by chronicling how a culture of irascibility and entrepreneurship made Israel the most innovative country on earth. It was a drug for my dad. A retired production engineer in New Jersey who’d racked up patents for his inventions, he saw himself as the Ashkenazi Thomas Edison. He mentioned the book whenever I complained about my work.
I was thankful for his support. My position was supposed to be a pause from a lackluster music career, not a destination. I read Suze Orman and tried to make myself indispensable by revitalizing the publishing department’s production process. Proactive, I joined my company’s social media committee, where I sat in meetings for endless months. I updated my LinkedIn profile and résumé with the words “deliverables” and “timelines.” Yet my duties didn’t grow, and recruiters never called. I was stuck in the land of the typing dead.
“This’ll be a new beginning,” my father said. “Time to make things happen.”
Denied unemployment benefits for resigning, I contacted a pro-bono legal organization. They appointed a lawyer who believed I had a strong case for collecting on appeal. I imagined rising like a phoenix from a pyre of word processors.
Then my advertising class ended.
“No one will hire you with a spec portfolio,” a well-known recruiter who’d been recommended to me said. “You’ll have to work for free.”
I was disappointed. I hadn’t expected a welcoming party, just an entry-level spot. I had a friend who wrote junk mail at a department store. How hard could it be?
Over the next few weeks, I tweaked my online portfolio and attended networking events. I tried for secretary spots, traffic coordinator positions, and email content writers. Temp agencies said administrative jobs were going to career admin assistants. Full-time recruiters, who quoted Malcolm Gladwell and Thomas Edison in their LinkedIn updates, kept redoing my résumé.
Changing one’s career in a tight economy, without the proper pedigree of internships and connections, was like trying to audition for a famous pop band in midlife without an instrument.
“Everything will work out,” my father said. “You’ve got what it takes.”
Five months after my grand exit, I won retroactive unemployment benefits but was still jobless. I started to panic and attended résumé workshops, where I agonized over every bullet point. In my dreams at night I begged my boss, who’d put me on probation three times, for my old job back.
Broke and ashamed, I asked my parents for money and tapped my 401K to make my Cobra payments.
I’d believed that resigning at 42 was the acknowledgment of unrealized potential. Now I thought it was the delusional move of a man child who’d missed out on the party.
Nine months in, with my unemployment payments finished, my parents’ assistance exhausted, I responded to an ad on Craigslist for doggie daycare. Afterward I stood behind an Upper East Side apartment building while a pack of canines ran back and forth over an Astroturf yard.
“You can’t let them bark,” the business owner said. She wanted a six-month commitment after a trial period.
I nodded eagerly as the dogs yapped, woofed and defecated. I scooped, threw rubber balls, scolded and cajoled. They howled for my boss as she squeezed through the building’s back door and went inside.
Her jarring text arrived on my cell a minute later.
“I’m sending you home early, David.”
I missed word processing.
Between anxiety attacks, I decided to try Starbucks. Its lengthy application process seemed fit for prospective NSA employees. A Starbucks recruiter recommended I approach managers onsite. At the fifth branch, where I was able to get a manager, a young Latino, he looked straight at me — a white, middle-aged guy — and said, “You want to work here? You look like you should be a doctor.”
Despondent, I visited my parents in Jersey and told them I wanted to jump off a roof. They put me in the car and rushed me to the hospital.
“You were right to leave that job,” my dad said as the nurses escorted me to intake.
I no longer agreed. I stepped outside of the box to access my latent achiever and start a new career. Instead, I emptied my retirement fund and entered the psychiatric ward.
For a week I sat in group therapy sessions with addicts, self-mutilators and suicide attempters. Before I left, the head psychiatrist spoke with me in her office.
“David, I’m not sure you belonged here,” she said.
After a year of being turned away, it was the first statement of rejection that made me smile. - Salon

There is a dream. This dream was given to many, but achieved by few. This dream was manufactured to give hope, to make you believe that anything is possible if you want it enough. Maybe there was a time and a place where this was true, but that time is not now and that place is not here.

The dream was designed, manufactured, packaged and sold door to door, home to home, TV screen to TV screen. You bought the dream at the full price, not even knowing what that full price was, is or will be. You spent your time and energy thinking about the dream, thinking of how you could make that dream a reality. While you were doing this, you were not paying attention to the reality that is happening all around you. You did not see that everyone else is trying to do the same thing - well, not everyone.

The sales pitch for the dream told you that you could do anything, be anything, so long as you want it enough and work hard. You believed the sales pitch. Every time you reached for your dream and grasped only air you told yourself you should try again, that next time you'll do better, be better. When you felt low you would look at all the people who reached for their dreams and grabbed a hold of them, thinking of this reinvigorated you, made you feel like you could do anything. While this was going on you did not see that while there are many whose dreams come true, there are multitudes more whose dream do not come true, and then multitudes more than that who dare not even to dream.

The problem with a dream is just that: it is a dream. It is a pretty picture that you bought into, that you invested your awareness into. When you spend your life chasing after a dream, you miss all the things that are real, all the things that are happening around you. Your focus remains so absolutely on your goal that you do not even consider what may be outside your sphere of awareness. You fail to see the things in this world that are real, the things that must change because allowing them to continue is equal to committing the offenses yourself.

Does ignorance absolve you? Does the blissful chase after your dream remove your responsibility to the world, to your fellow man? The only consideration I shall give here is the following: If this was the case, if every person who is blissfully ignorant is then absolved of any responsibility, who is left to change the world?