The Transplant Trap #1: The Default Dream: Are You Wasting Precious Time and Energy Chasing the Wrong Passion?

The transplant trap
The Transplant Trap #1:  The Default Dream: Are You Wasting Precious Time and Energy Chasing the Wrong Passion?
Moving to a big city often seems like step 1 to achieving your dreams – but are you sure that's what you really want?

This is Part 1 of the The Denizen Society's Transplant Trap Miniseries, a three part guide to helping you build a better life in a big city. 

The Transplant Trap: Why It's So Hard to Make it in the Big Bad City

Unprecedented career opportunities. Extravagant social experiences. Pretty people, pretty much everywhere. A constant pulse of energy buzzing throughout a community of like-minded, young and hungry go-getters. And hell, maybe even a shot at fame. The big city can be a glamorous and exciting place to live, no doubt, but it can also be one of the most difficult environments to survive. Unfortunately, too many transplants who dare to brave the long, exhausting pilgrimage to this so-called “lifestyle Holy Land” are eventually forced to surrender their pursuits and retreat back home with their tails tucked between their legs (we’ll explain why in just a bit).

But the good news is, it doesn’t have to be that way. In this series, we’re not only going to breakdown the three biggest traps that we see transplants fall for when they’re hustling to make it in a big city, but we’ll arm you with our most effective tools, strategies and resources for combating them so that you’re not only capable of surviving this hostile metropolis, but mastering it.

Now let’s get started…

The Default Dream: Are You Wasting Precious Time and Energy Chasing the Wrong Passion?

Getting a chance to pursue a dream is one of the main reasons people move to a big city. To chase a “passion” or fulfill a “calling” or… is there a less cheesy way of saying this? Anyway, you get the picture. After all, the city is the place where infinite possibility, untapped potential and – did we mention irrational expectations? – are in endless supply.

Now sure, not everyone who moves to a big city has some grand plan. And perhaps there are a select few whose vision quest consists of nothing more than: “Start dating hot d-list celebrity and get own spinoff reality show.” But the truth is, most transplants who have the chutzpah to pack up their lives and embark upon the endeavor to the intimidating city, are actually quite deliberate about their goals and committed to their passions. Whether they’re in the market for their very own hit series on AMC, jockeying for that GQ Creative Director position, or trying to get funding for a start-up that delivers fresh underwear to a dude’s door steps every week, one thing's for certain: They're wholeheartedly committed to finding that career that's going to change their lives forever.

Unfortunately, admirable as their pursuit might be, many of the aspiring hustlers who flock to the big city are doomed to failure because they're making one very crucial mistake: They’re chasing the wrong thing. In this post, we'll breakdown the Default Dream and teach you how to identify its symptoms so that you can finally stop second-guessing your career trajectory and avoid potentially wasting valuable time and energy pursuing a vocation that will not, or cannot, ever make you happy.

What I Learned from a Bitter Beer

A few weeks ago I met up with a good buddy for some lunch beers at a local bar near my office in Downtown LA. We do this every friday, sort of our weekly ritual to breath in the freedom of the forthcoming weekend. Anyway, I bellied up to the bar and quickly scanned their extensive menu of craft beer. When my eyes landed on the letters I.P.A I closed the menu, signaled my selection to the bar man and carried on with my recap of the prior night's festivities. It wasn't until about halfway through my beverage that I had a realization. I was not into this beer. It was far too strong for my taste buds and it overwhelmed by palate. It was just too… hoppy.

Suddenly my world was tipped on its head and I found myself in a downward spiraling existential crisis, questioning my lifelong relationship with beer. Did I ever love IPAs? Struggling through the intensity of each sip. Shocking my taste buds until I couldn't tell the difference between my fried chicken sandwich and the craft paper that it was wrapped in? But after a few frantic moments, I finally came to terms with the fact that perhaps I hadn't been honest with myself. Maybe I never liked IPAs to begin with and maybe I'd been enduring a lot of pain and sacrificing a lot of pleasure because of it. Now perhaps this was just a case of naturally evolving palate preferences, but maybe it was something else entirely. Self delusion? A mindless reaction to a budding beer trend? While I'm not sure I'll ever know (nor do I particularly care), this conundrum is quite similar to one that many transplants face when it comes to settling on a career path.

The Typical Transplant Career Arc

Follow us along this completely hypothetical scenario for a moment, would you. There you are, at the point in your life when you've finally figured it out; you've determined what you're meant to do with the rest of your days on this planet. A doctor? A sports writer? A video game designer? You make a decision, set your sights and strap in, determined to do whatever it takes to make that dream a reality. And so you move to Los Angeles, or New York, or Chicago, where you settle down, dig in your heels and prepare for the grind. You slowly and deliberately begin to chip away at your goals; constantly struggling, always sacrificing, but you endure.

But eventually you begin to feel tired. You become bitter, resentful and angry. You're not seeing results and you're starting to lose faith and question your chosen path. Soon after, you begin to lose the vigor that you once drew from your craft. The liveliness and excitement that used to run rampant throughout the day begins to dwindle until you're left with nothing but uncertainty and doubt. If you’re lucky, this is when it happens. This is when you strike the realization that maybe – just maybe – you're pursuing a career path that you're no longer passionate about; that you’ve invested years of time, tons of energy and gallons of sweat equity into something that doesn't, and never will, make you happy. This is the bane of the Default Dream.

Why We Fail To Recognize The Default Dream

But why does this happen? How do we end up here, sitting dumbfounded at the bar, sipping on some glorified hop-bomb that we have zero interest in drinking? You might be inclined to chalk it up to the natural evolution of your preferences; something that you used to be passionate about, but have since grown away from. Unfortunately, though this is certainly the easiest answer to come to terms with, it’s rarely the accurate one.

In reality, most Default Dreams are the direct byproduct of more nefarious external influences. For instance, excessive praise from our parents, teachers or friends can weigh heavily over what career we feel most inclined to follow. Or maybe an over-glamorized depiction of a career on TV or in the movies (all you aspiring sports agents who watched too much Jerry Maguire know what I’m talking about). Then of course, there’s the often over-prioritization of fame, prestige and money that can draw us into a Default Dream. All effective, all lethal.

But regardless of how these Default Dreams start, one would assume that we'd eventually figure it out – that at some point, we’d all have that IPA epiphany that I had at the bar? Yep, you guessed it, that’s not true either. There’s another force at work that’s entirely devoted to preventing us from seeing the light: The Ego.

Have you ever been in a conversation with a stranger at a party, just waiting for them to ask you that one simple question? You know what we’re talking about: “So, what do you do?” Ahhh, it feels good to have an answer to that question doesn’t it? A career that we can identify with. A dream that we’re chasing. A calling that we, and only we, are equipped to answer. Unfortunately, the euphoria that wafts over us when we respond to that question is precisely the thing that keeps us from ever addressing our Default Dream. The problem is, it feels so damn good to be committed to something and to have a “thing” – a sense of direction or a purpose – that we never stop and take a moment to check back in and really ask ourselves if we still are, or ever were, truly drawn to the craft itself.

The problem is, it feels so damn good to be committed to something and to have a “thing” – a sense of direction or a purpose – that we never stop and take a moment to check back in and really ask ourselves if we still are, or ever were, truly drawn to the craft itself.

We never ask ourselves, “Do I really want this IPA?”

Securing Certainty About Your Career Trajectory

Alright, time to level up. At this point, we know that it’s all sounding a bit hopeless, but the good news is that all you've got to do to avoid this first trap is muster up the courage to take an honest look at your career trajectory and determine, once and for all, whether this is the path that you’re supposed to be on. Once you can do this, a massive weight will be lifted from your shoulders because you'll finally know whether you just put your head down and keep chugging along, or if it's just time to open up your mind to other opportunities.

Below we’ve outlined a few questions to help you get started. Try to answer them honestly and don't be scared or anxious, be excited, because this is your chance to secure a sense of certainty in your path that most people will never find.

PERSISTENCE: Do you have a desire to perform this activity repeatedly? Is it something that you rarely tire of? In the grand scheme of your life (think macro), is this something that naturally finds its way – in some form or another – back into your life over and over again? If so, what is it about this craft that you find so compelling? What part keeps coming back to you?

ORIGINS: What motivated you to pursue this craft to begin with? As we mentioned, Default Dreams are often the result of our socialization and upbringing (external influences), rather than inherent connections or natural inclinations (internally driven). Be honest, what really got you going down this path to begin with? It may take some time, but really think back.

RELATIONSHIP: Do you have an inexplicable or illogical connection to this activity? Yeah, this sounds a bit weird at first, but try to look beyond the physical execution of the craft itself (beyond the writing, music or wood working), is there something deeper that you connect to? A sense of fascination or wonder that the craft allows you to access? This is a good sign.

AFFECT: How do you feel when you work? Sure, even passions come with struggle, but as a whole, do you feel enlivened and enriched after a good session? Real passions have the power to bring about a strong revitalizing presence that’s awfully tough to find elsewhere.

Alright, that should be enough to get you started. Treat these questions as conversation starters and the beginning of an internal investigation, not hard and fast qualifications that MUST be met. The answers may not come immediately, so be patient. Whether this has given you a greater confidence in your current career direction or has brought to light some potential self-inflicted occupational deceptions, you’ve at least brought some awareness to the conversation. And awareness, my friends, is the Default Dream’s worst nightmare (yeah, I went there).

For a more thorough breakdown of the Default Dream Test, get The Denizen Society's free Transplant Trap Minicourse HERE.

Shane Martin is an avid Primer reader and founder of Lean Mean Creative Machine, a design and marketing agency based in Los Angeles.

  • Rob

    Thanks Shane, nice article. I too don’t like IPAs – took a beer drinking course to understand why, too hoppy for me.

    Anyway, one alternative idea is that (most) everyone need a job and a steady income to support the other things that they enjoy in life. E.g. drinking with friends, holidays, a family, sports, hobbies etc.

    In my experience, people either work a job that pays relatively well or a job that they really enjoy / are passionate about. I’d say very few people get both (for the simple reason that really enjoyable stuff like looking after nature is wanted by so many people they can afford to pay little). So a decision is needed between those two things. But I think articles like this, suggesting that there is a dream out there for everyone if only they can find it, can add to the disillusion to some extent. e.g. “why can’t I find my own dream? what’s wrong with me?”. A healthier approach for many people would be to accept that the world needs workers in routine jobs, they’re providing an important service working them, even if they are boring (but still pay the bills).

    A further, local point that I’d like to make for the UK. These days it seems that jobs are mainly located in areas with very high property prices (e.g. London, London commuter belt, the other cities of the UK). Young people will probably never be able to afford these if they work a job that they’re passionate about but doesn’t pay well. So there’s that to consider too…

    • yeld


      I think most people who are in a job that they enjoy and are
      paid well did not get there by happy accident. They simply learned to
      love the job that they had. That’s not to say that they hated the job
      before that, but I don’t know anyone who loves his/her job AND is also
      paid well who didn’t have to move up the ladder or transform their role
      over time into something that he or she enjoys.

      • DC

        I also think this is true. If you absolutely hate your job, you will not be very good at it because there’s no motivation. And if you’re not good at it, you won’t make it very far up the ladder.

    • DC

      I also hate IPAs. Give me a stout or a scotch ale and I’m one happy man. Anyway…

      It’s all about the trade-off. Some people are perfectly fine working a boring job with great pay because they have the weekends off. Others would rather struggle from paycheck to paycheck, but love what they’re doing from 9-5. You need to figure out your priorities, and neither one is necessarily better than the other. The person working the boring job might snap at their midlife crisis and think they wasted their life chasing the dollar. The person following their passion might eventually get tired of the financial struggle and “settle.” There are pros and cons to each.

      There is also Scott Adams, the creator of the Dilbert cartoon, who said that he doesn’t believe in following your passion, but rather following your skill set. I believe he has stated that the success of his cartoon fueled his passion for it, but not the other way around. So that’s another way to look at it.

      Personally, my opinion is that if someone knows what they want out of life then by all means they should try to go get it. There is no reason to live with regrets. So while I am young without any major responsibilities, I will continue to pursue my dream career — and this article was great because it just solidified that my justifications for pursuing it are in line. Maybe it will work out, maybe it won’t. But at least I tried. And if I had a family that I had to support, and I wasn’t able to do that chasing my pipe dreams, then I would sacrifice and “settle” for them because that is part of being a good lover and a father.

      I think a lot of people believe they need to pursue their passion as a career right out of the gate. There is absolutely nothing wrong with doing something just as a hobby on the side until you are able to build the skills necessary to become successful at it. Sometimes you need that final push which comes with quitting your 9-5 cubicle job, but worry about that when the opportunity arises. In the meantime you can still pay your bills and gain valuable experience in a fallback career.

      • Shane Martin


        Glad to hear that this solidified your path a bit. I’d encourage you to keep checking back in every 3 months. Ask yourself the same questions, see how your priorities have changed (if at all).

        And I think you’re spot on when it comes to feeling obligated to pursue this right out of the gate. That’s particularly so in a big city where the cost of living might as well be considered a “family” in terms of financial obligations. In my course I talk a bit more about the “dual career strategy” which is sort of a model for helping to cope with that pressure.

        Great input DC.

    • Shane Martin

      Hey Rob, thanks for the comment.

      The short answer is… you’re right, sort of. I’m not sure everyone is meant to have a passion, let alone be fortunate enough to have that passion generate an income that can support their lifestyle. Some people are just fine keeping their work and their passions separate.

      What i’m suggesting is just a different approach. Some people DO want to have a career that they’re passionate about and my belief is that if you’ve got that drive, you can figure out how to build a profitable business from your passion (which is where we seem to disagree).

      That said, this article really isn’t about convincing anyone that they should be pursuing a career that they’re passionate about (though that is something I do believe and a topic I cover more extensively in another course), rather the article is more geared toward those people who already believe that they are pursuing a passion-based career trajectory and helping them to make sure that they’re on the right path.

      Lastly, i’d agree that “very few people get both” when it comes to money and fulfillment, but I don’t think that’s because it’s impossible, but because most people think it’s impossible. Like I said, that’s a topic for another discussion.

      Thanks again,


  • Kyle Ingham

    Great post–totally spot on, and I love the IPA metaphor. One thing I would add is that when you’re considering other career paths, it’s a good idea to actually TRY something else, even if you’re not sure it’s “your new beer.” Especially if you have a lot of inertia in your current career, sometimes you end up researching and considering but never pulling the trigger on something new. But if you can get out there and try something different–even it’s the wrong thing–it can help you triangulate the right thing. Worst case, after your experience you might just validate that you like that IPA more than you thought…

    • Shane Martin

      Well said Kyle, action is a huge part of all this –especially when it comes to exploring other avenues. To me the process finding the right path is roughly something like: 1) Explore internally (what are your interests and hobbies, what qualities are attractive about those things). 2) Research other career/business opportunities that might involve those qualities (where you’ve got to get creative) 3) Experiment with each of those opportunities (that’s where your stuff comes in) 4) Refine your original ideas and hone down a little based on your experimentation.

      Good stuff, thanks.

      – Shane

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  • Noe Garcia

    great topic here. btw how did IPAs become such a big trend recently?
    They’re horrible. Anyways. Anybody see that show on esquire network
    “Lucky Bastards” those guys figured it out. In my opinion the questions
    you should be asking your self is What do I want my life to be like, and
    What do I gotta do to get it? Then you do it. ANYthing else is just settling.

    • Rt1583

      The same way bacon became such a big trend…the internet.

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