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.