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Have you ever dreamed of something and then later realized that is not exactly what you want?
I have many of those dreams throughout my past 30 years of existence.
At one point, I thought that I desired something so badly that I could give up almost everything that I had for it.
But later on, I found out that it wasn’t something I wanted in life.
Today I will tell you four of those dreams that I am kinda of glad didn’t actually come true.
The Wall Street dream
That first year in college, I was a young, naive, yet determined freshman who just traveled halfway across the world from Vietnam to attend college in America.
I had no family in the US. I came here with luggage full of pink clothes (my favorite color in middle school and high school). Let’s just say that my taste in fashion has changed.
Prior to coming to America, I had thought about what I wanted to study and what I wanted to be post-college.
I even wrote about that in my application essay.
I went to a college which is not far from New York, and many people studying the same major as me at the time couldn’t seem to stop talking about how to get a job on Wall Street.
After all, New York City was only a bus ride away, and the pay and prestige of a Wall Street job were (supposedly) good.
Almost every conversation that I had or heard revolved around how to get in touch with someone working for the largest investment banks (JP Morgan Chase, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley) and the biggest consulting firms (i.e. McKinsey, Deloitte, PricewaterhouseCoopers).
I didn’t go to an Ivy league school. I didn’t even apply to Ivy league schools because I knew I wouldn’t get in.
I didn’t have the perfect SAT score or the perfect GPA. I knew who and where I was, and I just rolled with it.
Landing an internship or a job at one of those big firms would be me being reborn and getting accepted to an Ivy school. I would make myself and my family proud (although my parents didn’t even know those companies even existed).
I was consumed with desire and determination. I read all the interview and case studies books I could get my hands on. I was preparing myself for job interviews when I was a freshman in college. It was never too early or too late to start.
However, one thing didn’t work out quite perfectly. I didn’t do so well in my Financial Accounting class. I even hoped to work at KPMG one day, so the thought of not being good at something I wanted to do for the rest of my life left me devastated.
One requirement for the Finance track in my college was the Financial Theory course which people told me would be much more difficult than Financial Accounting. It was daunting to hear.
That summer after my freshman year, I went back to Vietnam to do an unpaid internship at a regional investment bank and did not like the experience one bit.
My boss at the time, a Wharton-educated Chinese American lady who had worked on Wall Street for seven years expected me to show up at 8 AM and stay in the office until 10 PM or even later.
I got burned out fast after 1 month. By the time the internship was over, I knew investment banking wasn’t for me. I liked the sound of the prestige and high pay. I liked the big names that would make anyone go wow.
But I didn’t like the work. I felt miserable. That put an end to my investment banking dream.
I was glad I figured it out sooner than later and changed my career aspirations. I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I had done what I did at the internship for the rest of my life. I have to admit that sometimes I still wonder if things would have been different and made me happier had I stuck it out.
Maybe things would get better at an investment bank in the US. Maybe I would feel more motivated with a real pay. But I just didn’t want to continue down that path anymore.
However, sometimes the thought of working on Wall Street still leaves me wondering if I made the right choice. It was definitely not easy to land an internship or a job on Wall Street.
Plus, I graduated in 2009 in the midst of the 2008 recession. People in finance were getting laid off left, right, and center.
It wasn’t the right time for someone with a degree in Economics to look for a job in the field, especially considering the fact that I wasn’t an exceptional student either.
Related: When You Are Ashamed Of Being Poor
The PhD in Political Science dream
When I was in school, I loved getting good grades. It was like a drug that I couldn’t get off of.
Good grades to me at the time was how I could validate myself and seek approval from other people, especially my professors and my family.
Sometimes I also felt that my friends looked at me or treated me differently based on the grades I got in a certain class.
I don’t know if it was just an illusion I created for myself. But it just seemed so real at the time.
Having some electives for my major, I decided to take some Political Science courses to fill in the gaps. My parents are no politicians, and I had never dreamed of being involved in politics.
Compared to all the Chemistry, Biology, and Psychology classes, I just thought Political Science would make my life easier.
When I was in Vietnam, I watched CNN International almost every day to practice my English listening skills, and some of the content started sinking in without me even realizing it. I thought politics was kind of interesting.
As the story goes, I did pretty well in those courses, and I still have no idea why. I don’t even remember much of what I learned. I just remember being able to contribute to the discussion in class and getting good grades on exams and papers.
It made me so happy that I decided to pursue a PhD in Political Science, thinking that that happiness would last forever. But life is not what it seems. Taking college courses was totally different from deep-diving into all the political theories and methodology to test such theories in a PhD program.
I found myself drowning in the workload and was not at all satisfied with the grades that I got. I passed all the qualifying exams after my second year, but I just couldn’t bring myself to finishing the dissertation. The thought of writing research papers for the rest of my life and teaching college students just sounded mysteriously depressing to me.
Eventually, I made the difficult decision to drop out. I felt miserable before leaving the program. However, once I came to DC to start a new life, my life turned over a new leaf.
I felt so much happier and found the true cause that I was looking for. I was no PhD holder, but I was happier. And that’s all that mattered at the time.
Related: The Poor Life Of A PhD Student
The World Bank dream
One reason why I decided to come to DC was to be able to work at the World Bank one day.
I was one of the three finalists for a full-time position at the Bank but didn’t get an offer. I was devastated at the time since once again my dream didn’t come true.
I seriously wondered what I was good at in life and whether I could ever achieve any goals that I set for myself.
The job rejection was a blow to my self-esteem and belief in humanity.
However, I didn’t let it stop me from pursuing what I wanted to do. Mr. FAF was cheering me on and stayed by my side during that process.
When I got an offer from my current employer, I was ecstatic. I felt so happy they took a chance on me and gave me an opportunity to prove myself.
Later on, I found out that working in technical positions at the World Bank would require a lot of traveling, something I am currently not able to do just yet.
Our son is only three and a half, and he was away from us for more than a year. I want to use this time to take good care of him instead of traveling internationally half of the month.
We are also expecting our second baby soon. Until our children grow up and can take better care of themselves, I just don’t feel good leaving them at home with Mr. FAF to travel for weeks at a time. I will definitely revisit my dream of working at the World Bank in the future.
The “first love” dream
I’m not sure if I should even include this story in this post since everything I’ve listed so far seems career-oriented.
But I decided to tell you this story since it was indeed a previous dream of mine.
I didn’t really date anyone until after I started graduate school.
At that time, I was lonely in a new place and felt like I couldn’t fit in with other people in the doctoral program.
I put first love in parentheses since I still don’t know if it was love or a mix of emotions that I had at the time.
To make the long story short, I overlooked many of the red flags the guy was waving to me and believed he was the one.
It wasn’t until after we parted ways that I realized he was not. I couldn’t picture what my life would have been if I had married the guy instead of Mr. FAF.
Looking back on what happened, I have to admit the breakup was tough for me amidst all the academic chaos going on in my life.
However, I am glad my wish to marry him didn’t come true, and that I have found the love of my life – Mr. FAF – after all the turbulence.
I’d be lying if I say I don’t wish the dreams above (except for the “first love” one) didn’t come true. In other words, sometimes I still wonder what my life would have been like if I had been able to work on Wall Street, finish the PhD program, and work at the World Bank. I think I’d be able to wow a lot of people.
Those dreams might not have happened at the same time, but they could happen consecutively. I could then see for myself if I had wanted those positions or not.
Yet, at the same time, my lifetime is not unlimited. We all have to die one day, and I don’t know if I want to spend at least 10 years of my life trying to figure out what I actually want in life.
All I know is that I am now happy with a family that I love, a job that I like, a personal finance blog that I’m passionate about, and a financial trajectory that will land Mr. FAF and me in the millionaire club one day.
We can all ask for the moon, but it’s not a guarantee that we will be happy if we get it. I am a strong believer in having dreams and working hard for them. I will tell my children the same thing: Unless they work hard at what they want, chances are it will never happen.
Things might not have worked out for me the way I wanted. But I will keep having dreams and pursuing them to the best of my ability. Even if I don’t succeed, I will still know what I am not good at in life and will aim for something I’m actually good at and happy with.
And most importantly, I’ve realized that a lot of what I dreamed before has to to with prestige (the big name of a firm or an organization). I was seeking validation and approval from other people without looking hard at what I actually wanted.
Now that I am more mature and experienced, I know that driving a Mercedez might help me impress a lot of people. But if I am happy with a fuel-efficient and cost-saving Toyota Corolla, then I should just go ahead and drive it while pursuing more realistic and fulfilling goals.