When I was 18, I wanted to open a restaurant.
It was a crazy dream I’d had since I was a young teenager and I was determined to make it happen.
During the summer after I finished school, while I was waiting to go to restaurant college, I got myself a part-time job at a retail store, to earn some money and also to get some sales experience.
In my first week of on-the-job training, I was pulled aside by one of the junior managers and told that I needed to ‘slow down’ because I was ‘making everyone else look bad’.
When I heard this, I was puzzled. I didn’t understand how my desire to work hard had anything to do with anybody else’s reputation.
You see, this was my first experience of what is known in Australia as the ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’. It’s a slang term that suggests that anybody who tries to rise above the ‘normal’ behavior of the crowd would have their head cut off, similar to a poppy that rose above the rest of the flowers in the field.
At the age of 18, I was stunned that someone would actually criticize me for having a strong work ethic. Yet, it seemed that as I continued on working towards my goals, this started to happen more and more.
Throughout the summer, over and over, people would tell me:
“Hey stop focusing so much on the future, live in the present.”
“Don’t push so much, try to relax and let things come to you.”
“You’re a bit obsessed about this, you need to let it go.”
One day I expressed my frustration to a friend who was a few years older than me, and he told me that it was just the ‘real world’, and that I’d better just get used to it.
It’s likely you too have heard this term ‘the real world’ before. But have you ever stopped to think what it actually means?
Similar to the Tall Poppy Syndrome, ‘the real world’ is something people will often tell you should accept instead of living by your own plan, or set of ideals.
It is a commonly held belief that there is a sobering, disappointing reality that you have not yet experienced, that is going to stop you living life the way you want to.
But when you really think about it, what is reality?
I believe that reality is nothing more than perception. It is a lens through which you choose to see the world; a point of view that you slowly convince yourself is somehow true.
This perspective has subtle shifts throughout your life, and slowly, it starts to shape how you act.
When I was an enthusiastic, 18 year old go-getter, my view of reality started to conflict with the reality those I worked with had chosen to accept.
It wasn’t that their reality was wrong, just that it was different to mine. They wanted to fit in more than they wanted to live life on their terms.
I realized as I grew older that for most people it is very important to fit in with their surroundings. All of us crave acceptance from those around us, and as we grow into adults, choosing to accept a similar reality to others is one of the ways we keep rapport.
When I was 21, I was approached by a chef who wanted to start a new fine dining restaurant, and he asked me to open it with him. By the time I was 24, I had accomplished my dream, and was ready for the next one. This was when I realized that I could shape the world to my view, and make something I wanted become a reality.
These early experiences taught me was that if you choose to accept the worldview of those around you, without thinking about whether you want to live a life like theirs, then you are living in their ‘real world’ and not your own.
I was very idealistic when I was 18. Now I am 38 and I think I am more idealistic than ever. That idealism and desire to live my own unique life has led me to travel the world, live in a different country, start my own business, and speak in front of thousands of people on stage.
I still have more to achieve and experience, but one thing I learned early on is that I can shape the world to my ideals, if I am persistent and give myself permission to do it.
You see, the real world is simply what you choose to see it as. You can shape it.
There is no right or wrong view, but deep down inside you know whether you are living the life you’ve imagined, or settling for the worldview of others.