From the Balcony: Dropping a job, pursuing a dream

It was 11 p.m. Sunday when I asked myself the question so many people in our nation, and in our own community, have already asked themselves.

“Is the American dream personally failing me?”

Writer's block had me crippled for most of the evening. My regular schedule had been obliterated thanks to an all-day meeting scheduled for Monday.

My usual regimen gets me up at 5 a.m. to write the first draft of my column. I shower, ride my motorcycle to work, curse the texting drivers in their 4,000-pound SUVs, arrive at work juggling the first two hours of my day polishing my story and putting out fires in Corporate America, then I write my contribution to the In Theory column that is due at the same time, and finish the rest of my workday.

I ride home in time to eat dinner and carve a few minutes for my own personal agendas. I get through the rest of the week in much the same way, with most of my waking hours spent working, commuting and answering e-mails concerning business. It isn't until very late at night, if at all, that I get to make headway at the thing I'd really like to do — write.

And so I found myself on this fall evening, walking away from my computer to see if I could coax the power windows on my 1999 Volvo wagon to go up. Lately, the switch or some anonymous electrical part that makes the windows roll up and down has been malfunctioning. On the upside, the air conditioning in the car works — for about 10 minutes before it cuts out. So half the time, the windows do not roll down and the air conditioning doesn't work. Yep. Driving in my Swedish sauna on wheels has been a real treat this last, scorching week. I can't wait for the rain.

As I sat in the alley pounding on the switches, I considered my ridiculous schedule. “Why do I work so hard, yet I do not have enough reserve cash to just go get my car fixed whenever I want?” Is this what the economic experts mean when they pontificate that the middle class is being squeezed out of existence?

Before I answer that, let me admit that I am luckier than most. I have multiple jobs. I have health insurance. I pay my child support on time. And I do not have any bill collectors calling me. God knows there were times when this wasn't the case. I can remember when my daily routine involved cashing in my loose change to buy groceries for my kids, returning from the market to find a notice taped to my door to pay rent or quit, opening the door only to hear the ringing phone because bill collectors were wondering when I would pay up or die. I've experienced hard times, and in no way can I say that my malfunctioning windows and air conditioner could classify as dire straits.

So why make a big deal out of it? Because I've begun to wonder if my hard work is paying off. If my intentions are to become a successful writer, why am I satisfied merely paying my bills and hoping for a glimpse of the so-called American dream? Is it really failing me? Or am I using that familiar cry as a way to blame the system and avoid my own accountability in the matter?

To be brutally honest, I believe it's the latter. I can attain anything if I am willing to d-r-e-a-m.

If I am going to work this hard, I should love what I am doing. We all should. Corporate America was a great experience. It showed me what I don't want and thus provided me with an even clearer vision of what I desire. This is why I'm going to do something that most would consider crazy. That said, I believe real insanity is continuing down an unfulfilled path expecting to find true happiness.

I am going to quit my regular job and pursue a writing career. Well, perhaps the word “quit” is a little extreme. I'm not a teenage, part-time box boy at Market Basket anymore. I have acquired some common sense along the way — at least enough to formulate an exit strategy from the Fortune 100.

I'm staying until the end of February. I'm building my shamelessly self-promoting website. I'm using whatever extra money I have to get a resume crafted that will help me find gainful employment as a writer. I'm afraid the windows and air conditioner will have to wait. For now, I have something far more substantial that I have to fix. I have to get my life working again. I am going to vigorously exercise my unalienable right to the pursuit of Happiness. I'm beginning to see that that is the American dream. I think it is what too many of us do not believe is attainable.

One last question: I wonder what our world would be like if more people pursued it?

GARY HUERTA is a Glendale resident and author. For a little while longer, he is senior manager of communications for DIRECTV. Gary may be reached at gh@garyhuerta.com.

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