According to most experts, having a defined goal or vision is one of the single greatest determining factors for success. It makes sense, really: Without a defined goal, we have no solid way of making decisions that are focused and cohesive. Since every decision that we make in life is cumulative, being lackadaisical with our decision making will, more often than not, leave us unfulfilled and floundering. Conversely, holding a vision that isn’t entirely or even partly our own can be damaging as well.
For evidence of this, we need look no further that the United States. For nearly the last 75 years, from the moment we are born, we are told that our goal or vision should follow a simple trajectory: School, college, office job, nice car, marriage, mortgage, and 2.5 kids (plus maybe a dog or cat). We are told that, “without a college degree, you won’t succeed,” with the unspoken being, “Only this path will make you happy.”
Up until recently, very few have questioned this path, even going so far as to finance the American Dream on credit and massive amounts of debt. Since 1950, the number of undergraduate degrees awarded has grown to nearly two million in 2019, up from a lowly and approximate 4300. And while there is nothing wrong with this formula if it is what you really want, this seemingly simple trajectory has risen in tandem with depression and anxiety, with both affecting at least 1 in 10 adults.
Even a rudimentary look at the current state of our nation will tell us that something has been fundamentally off. While we are encouraged to consume and buy and learn, we have lost sight of what really matters. We use people and love things. We spend an average of 11 hours per day consuming media and swiping through Facebook and Instagram. Housing has gone from an average of 950 square feet in 1950 to a massive 2500 square feet today, all the while the average family size is nearly half of what it was.
Given these numbers, it is no wonder that so many within my generation and younger are looking to alternative paths and visions for their lives, opting to travel full time, forgoing college to work in blue collar and other positions, and choosing alternative housing options like tiny houses. Minimalism is on the rise, in a direct backlash against the indulgences seen in the last 75 years. Additionally, new technology and a mobile economy has lead to many individuals finding alternative careers on YouTube, as freelancers, and as artists, with side-hustles being one of the most common trends in our day.
With the drastic changes in the form and function of our economies and greater opportunities than ever before, many of us in the minimalist community are beginning to ask the question: Is there something more than what we have defined as the American Dream? Our vision of what is normal is changing, and a revolution of creatives and entrepreneurs is being sparked. Many are beginning to write their own stories, undefined by the old modes of functioning. I truly believe that we are entering into a generation that largely has no desire to be penned within what has been the status quo.
As someone who used to lay awake at night and dream of living out of a backpack, I wonder where I would be now, in my early thirties, if I had listened to my 13-year-old gut (the one that had no inclination toward the university system and wanted to be a writer/rockstar/actress) and skipped the college experience. While I can look back fondly on time spent with friends, professors, and the amount of work that went into earning my bachelor’s, I often regret ever taking on student loans – especially considering that I graduated just after the economic downturn of 2008.
If I am honest with myself, my decision to go to college had more to do with a lack of vision than with a desire to find a career. It was what you were supposed to do in order to find yourself (this was painful to even write). In the years leading up to graduating from high school, I had suffered through both personal and emotional challenges, leaving me unsure of who I was and what really mattered in life. And while I am grateful that my plans for rock-superstardom didn’t even come close to fruition (thank God that His plans are bigger than my own), I wish I had understood that, underlying all of my dreams, was a strong desire to influence and connect with people in a meaningful way, one that went beyond 9-to-5 and water cooler conversations. My true motivation was living a life that had far reaching purpose, something beyond what was considered “normal.” It is a life hard-pressed to find if you are drowning in debt.
If you are reading this, and find yourself wondering, “Should I go to school,” or “Should I buy the house,” or any other should, ask yourself where you want to be 5, 10, or even 30 years from now. If that thing will keep you from your ultimate goal or prevent you for forging strong bonds with people, forgo it for something that will aid you on your journey toward what really matters. Do not base this on what others tell you or envision for you. Base it solely upon the gifts, talents, and desires that God has placed within you. Nothing material – not even a college degree – is transferrable beyond the grave. Be thoughtful, patient, and wise along the journey. While you will inevitably make mistakes and, if choosing an alternative path, face seemly insurmountable obstacles, there are great rewards in long-suffering and perseverance. And, with the exception of death, there are very few instances where you cannot change course along the way and write your own story.
I am writing my own story.
And it isn’t too late for you.