Once again I am on a business trip, this time I am visiting Texas. Yesterday I went out to dinner with a colleague in a local restaurant and we got into a conversation with our waitress - who happened to be on her first day on the job. The conversation lasted about 5 minutes, but we learned some very interesting thing about her which I wanted to share with all of you.
Our waitress, a nice woman in her late 20's, whose name I don't remember, is an Illinois native, but she lived in many places around the country, including South Carolina and now, Texas. She has a college degree in "culinary arts" and a passion for wine. Before moving to Texas, she was thinking of moving to California and to work in the wine industry but decided that this was too risky, and instead moved to Texas where she "has some family". Her dream is to go to Italy, travel the country and experience the culture and the people. I don't know this for a fact, but I got the impression that our waitress is not married, and I am pretty sure that she does not have kids.
My colleague and I were perplexed. I asked her why she's not chasing her dream? Why not go to Italy? Her reason: she doesn't have the money. My response to that was "why don't you go to Italy and work there?" After all, if she can be a waitress in Texas, she can be a waitress in Italy as well. She explained that she wants to go to Italy when she has enough money to experience the country and its culture without being worried about every dime she spends. In a different part of the conversation, she mentioned that the restaurant was paying her a salary of $2.25 / hour, not including tips.
I am not going to sit in judgement on a hard working waitress, but both my colleague and I were amused by her attitude. I am in my late thirties and my colleague in his early forties. Both of us traveled the world extensively, on tiny sums of money. Backpacking and hitch hiking our way across continents, when we were more or less the waitress' age. I didn't work during these extended trips, but I met many backpackers who did. And what better way to experience the land and its people than to live among them? We both recall those times as some of the happiest in our lives. For me these were times of adventure. Of freedom. Of peace of mind. Imagine waking up in the morning in a strange part of the world, for months at a time, with the only thing on your mind being the next big surprise that is waiting for you around the corner.
I compare those times to the life I lead today, tightly constrained by the daily necessities of raising a family and nurturing a career, and I marvel at the adventures I had. I am tempted to look at our waitress and wonder at the imaginary personal finance cage that she put herself in. Not pursuing your dream until you have the money!? "Break free", I want to shout at her. From my vantage point it looks like the barriers standing between her and her dream are all in her mind. But then I wonder whether someone with a different vantage point could say the exact same thing about me. Even though those cages exist only in our heads, the barriers we set-up for ourselves govern our lives.
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