What’s Your Story?

Here it is, the last day of September, 2013, the 9th year of my project. The greatest television show of all time is over (that is, until I sell 10 Cities / 10 Years to HBO) and I have been in Boston long enough to begin to feel at home. I haven’t found “my bar” yet, but a frat boy tried to beat the shit out of me, so I feel like I’m where I belong.

Boston Pana

Each new year brings into my path a plethora of strangers who will learn about what I do for the first time. Inevitably, I run down the list of cities I’ve lived in (“Charlotte, Philly, Costa Mesa, which is in Orange County, San Francisco, Chicago, Nashville, Seattle, New Orleans and now here.”) and try to explain how I came up with this idea (“It started out as a joke…”).

Meanwhile, as they learn about my life, I discover theirs: Their career aspirations, their dreams, their pasts, their ex-boyfriends and names of failed bands; the way they live. Every year is a reboot, a chance to meet new people and delve into their backstories. Admittedly, with a lot of people, my story becomes the center of attention for a while, but once that initial fascination subsides, almost everyone is all too happy to tell me about themselves.

That’s the connecting thread between basically every single person. We all just want someone to ask us about us. Whether we’re the type of person who can blather on, unprompted, for hours, or we have to be badgered to even speak a sentence, ultimately our favorite subject is ourselves. It’s the topic we know best, it’s the subject that we think about most frequently. We can pretend otherwise, but in the end all we want is for someone to ask, “So, what’s your story?”

My Moleskine

Dream Big

For a little over 8 years now, I’ve been traveling the country asking that very question. Granted, after hearing about what I do, a lot of people are almost apologetically ashamed to discuss their own life trajectories. They admit to having never moved from their hometown and only having ever briefly visited other states or countries, or they tell me how they still don’t know what they want to do in life. They’re embarrassed to be normal.

What they don’t understand is that I feel like I have far more in common with them than I do with the European backpackers and Pacific Island hoppers. I’ve never left this country (Tijuana doesn’t count), I’ve worked menial jobs, food service or retail, a little bit of construction and yard work, and at the end of the day I wonder (worry) about how I’m going to make ends meet. I’ve got gargantuan ambitions for my life, but in the heart, who doesn’t?

10 Cities / 10 Years is not about some guy named Lyttleton. And it’s not about being a writer. It’s not even, really, about traveling. It’s about what once would have been called the “American Dream,” though in this global age, I think more appropriately it should be called the “Humanist Dream.” The idea that the pursuit of one’s passions should be limited to the borders of one nation is so regressive it’s Precambrian.

Self-fulfillment through the realization of personal goals and narcissistic ambition is, in an ideal (one might say, naive) world, the ultimate right of Man. It shouldn’t be restricted to the rich or the well-connected, nor should it be the sole domain of those with a college education or access to a high-level internship.

However, it should and always will be the possession of those  with oversized ambition and drive.

At every job I’ve held, there’ve always been coworkers who talked about their aspirations, whether artistic or traditionally professional, and over the year (or less) I’ve known them, a picture of who they were came into focus. Some of them I fully believe will one day make their names in their desired field, and the rest will settle for whatever path offers the least resistance. Are there mitigating factors outside of an individual’s control that can change or obstruct their path? Absolutely. The unknowns are a bitch.

But a remarkable few will push through every obstacle. They’ll keep pursuing their dreams until nothing’s left but a pile of bones.

While I loathe cliche platitudes more than almost anything, sometimes they broadly paint a profound truth in bright neon colors. For instance: “Shoot for the moon, because even if you miss…” (Ugh, I can’t even finish typing it; look it up). It’s so treacly a sentiment that it sends me into diabetic shock, yet the underlying kernel of truth inside it cannot be denied. When you have tremendous ambition, you may fail to achieve your pre-determined goal, but it’s likely you’ll achieve something equally as impressive regardless.

Don’t worry. When Thom Yorke sang, “Ambition makes you look pretty ugly,” he was being ironic.

I have 11 more months in Boston, and then 1 full year in New York City in which I hope to be exposed to the unrealistic, impractical, foolish ambition of countless human beings. If only 1 in every 100 people I meet fulfills or exceeds their dreams, I will still have spent time with some of the greatest members of my generation.

So, tell me: What’s your story?