The one thing you can’t afford to skip if you want to make your dreams come true

My dream, hanging in my childhood bedroom

My dream, hanging in my childhood bedroom

6 years ago I made my dream come true.

I had been living in Romania for 18 years. I had a couple of friends, a boyfriend, and a loving family. Many of my friends were getting ready to go to college in Germany or Romania.

I was getting ready to hop on a plane and travel across the ocean with two giant suitcases containing everything I wanted in my new life. The destination: Ivy League.

Looking behind wasn’t even on my radar.

At 14, I challenged myself to dream big. I walked up the steps to our kitchen and told my mom I was going to go to Harvard.

She barely kept from laughing in my face.

I had barely entered high school and had most of the typical high school interests, plus reading (a largely untypical one in my school). I had quit every sport I had tried, was decent, but not great, at being a student, and was way too rebellious and stubborn to be able to keep my grades up.

That night, I got a long lecture on how hard I needed to work if I wanted to get anywhere and how I needed to go win myself some medals at international chemistry or physics competitions if I even wanted a chance at any random college in the US, all under the lens of “you haven’t shown even a semblance of hard work so far, so you better get your ass in gear.”

And get my ass in gear I did.

From organizing conferences to debating, playing bridge competitively, doing public speaking and working hard at speaking English like a native speaker, over the next four years I lived and breathed my dream of studying at an Ivy League school.

I argued with college interviewers over what I could and couldn’t do in college at international university fairs (I told you I was too rebellious and stubborn for my own good.) I stayed up late night after night researching everything I could about how to pass the SAT, how to write an admissions essay, and how to impress the admissions committee.

Eventually, I did make it to Harvard the summer before my senior year for summer school. I was thrilled, and I chose to study something everyone told me would be sensible to prepare me for the future: Economics.

Harvard was amazing. I found an instant best friend in my roommate, got to read all the books I wanted from the library, had no parents around (#bonus), and got to learn so much about living in the United States (hint: I loved it!)

I also spent my days practicing bridge instead of studying.

Why?

It’s a good question – one I have been asking myself since then.

The only explanation I have is that, (A), I got comfortable being there and a part of me forgot it was going to end, and (B), I hit my glass ceiling, hard.

Back then, of course, I knew nothing about all this stuff. All I knew was that I didn’t like economics (lesson #1: never compromise your own passions and interests for “what’s good for you”), and that everything else about being there was so cool that studying was just the worst thing I could do (lesson #2: don’t stop and dilly-dally when you’re so close to making your dream come true!)

When I got back, reality hit hard.

I tried to work hard, but still I procrastinated. I had to take the SAT twice (a 250-point increase the second time showed me what was really possible with hard work) and finished most of my essays a few hours before the deadline, in the middle of the night.

What happened was the typical glass ceiling scenario.

Yes, I knew that if I worked hard enough I could get somewhere big. Yes, I knew that I had potential.

But getting to Harvard and being there felt so scary, so big, so impossible – that I started sabotaging my own efforts. As much as I loved being there, I just couldn’t see myself belonging. Not the me who always quit everything. Not the me who was good at lots of stuff but not amazing at anything.

The people I met there were amazing. Me? I hadn’t won any international competitions in math, physics, or chemistry. I hadn’t distinguished myself in bridge or debate. I was just… me. A quitter. A procrastinator. A jack-of-all-trades-master-of-none. Someone who always seemed to fall short of what they could achieve.

Thankfully, someone up there was looking out for me.

On the day the results were supposed to come, I was up with my laptop in my lap at 5 am after a long, anxious, sleepless night. One by one I opened the e-mails to the Ivy League schools. And all of them said the same thing: We’re sorry, but… no.

Damn Harvard grades.

Until, finally, I open the last one. By then, I was already expecting the nice refusal.

Except, it wasn’t a refusal. An angel at the University of Pennsylvania had decided that I was worth a shot. That maybe I didn’t have the Harvard grades, or the competitive accomplishments, or the published books, but I did have creativity, initiative, and a lot of chutzpah.

That angel went on to become a dear friend, and I will be forever thankful to her for pulling me through my glass ceiling and teaching me that I am worth so much more than I think I am.

Fun story. What’s the point of this, anyway?

Today I’m married to an amazing man, I have a UPenn degree in psychology and economics (darn that economics, it kept following me!). I followed my passion to help other creative grasshoppers like me break through their own glass ceilings, and I get to have fun with my husband making the only natural deodorants on the market that last all day and selling them on Etsy.

This month I’ve been silent because I’ve been showing my husband around Romania. Together, we’ve been visiting friends and family, meeting people from all over the country, and studying and discussing the culture and customs.

Everywhere we went, people told me how lucky I am: to have left to study in the United States, to have found an amazing man to marry, to have the entrepreneurial opportunities we have here.

I always smile and say yes, I am very lucky.

Because I am: I was lucky to have an angel who believed in me without knowing me. I was lucky to meet an amazing man to love and be loved by. I am lucky that America makes it easier for people to go their own way rather than slaving away at a desk job for their entire life.

But there’s so much more to my life than luck. So much that simply can’t be gleaned by just hearing about my accomplishments. So much that must be imagined.

For four years I busted my ass and sacrificed sleep, friendships, and fun to make my dream come true. Then I left to a completely new country where I barely knew anyone and had to pay my own bills, adjust to new customs and habits (you have no idea how long it took me to learn to respond with a quick “Good, how are you?” to “Hi, how are you?”) and a completely new education system.

I found an amazing man, but I had to work hard to overcome my brash scorpio ways and break through my thick love glass ceiling. I was lucky to find a job, but had to work hard long hours to keep it, and didn’t go out with friends or watch TV shows all evening – instead, I spent my free time building the businesses so I could continue to make my dreams come true.

Glass ceilings are there because of years upon years of conditioning. They are not easy to break, nor should they be. The hard work you have to do in order to break through your glass ceiling in any area of your life is exactly what gives you the lessons and wisdom you need to succeed after it’s shattered.

Everything you have is, after all, only worth as much as the time and effort put in.

So when you are tempted to look at others and think they are so lucky? Look again, and find the cuts, bruises, and scars left by barreling their way through their fears with sheer terror – because they didn’t have a choice but to push through.

When you want things to be easier? Look back upon the glass ceilings you’ve shattered behind you and ask yourself – would you be where you are if it hadn’t been so damn hard?

When you start losing hope? Look back at all the ways you’ve made your dreams come true in the past, and realize that you are capable of so much more than you think you are.

What dreams have you made true by busting through your fears?

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Comments

  1. Your story is so amazing, Laura! But yes, it isn’t due to luck! Thanks for the extra shot of inspiration today.

  2. Rebecca Gruenspan says:

    So, I’ve always asked myself what hard work looks like…because I’m not sure it has to be the same for everyone. Does it always mean working through the night or getting up at 4am, does it mean working smart throughout your day and having a plan you follow, does it just mean starting from nothing and doing whatever it takes to make that nothing into what you want it to be? It’s a question I’ve often pondered. Great blog and thanks for sharing your story. And yes, fear…that stupid thing that continues to stop us in our tracks until we find the courage and strength to push through! 🙂

    • It definitely doesn’t look the same for everyone. I think it can also be different based on the time in your life and what needs to be done. In the end, we are the ones who decide what hard work looks like. As for fear… what I’ve found is that the courage and strength are always there, we just have to see them! Oftentimes it’s when we hit rock bottom that we no longer have a choice but to see them.

  3. I really loved this! Everyone has a unique story to tell. I’m happy to learn that you have an Etsy side-gig. That inspires me! I don’t know how some people seem to do so much in 24 hours. I forget to eat sometimes, because I’m so focused in my work. I think it comes down to organization and structure. Being one’s own boss is thrilling and amazing, but usually I’m so absorbed in completing tasks that I forget to take breaks!

    • Thank you, Melissa! Haha, I rarely forget to eat! It’s definitely not easy, that’s why I’ve been so passionate about productivity lately. It definitely comes down to organization and structure – and finding that balance (because I can’t take too much structure!) I agree, it takes a lot of work on my organization systems to keep from working all day and no longer having a life!

  4. I love this story. Sometimes we know ourselves well when we are young. It can be good to return to those early goals! Even if they don’t literally manifest as yours did, it is still a helpful guide. I thought I wanted to be an academic and I achieved that (book with a good press, Tenure Track Job) but it turned out not to be right for me. Entrepreneurship and thought leadership outside of academia is a much better fit. Took a lot of shattering of internal barriers as well as ceilings!

    • Devorah, admitting that the road you took isn’t right also takes a lot of shattering of internal barriers. Kudos to you for seeing that and putting all of your energy towards the new life you have created. I also thought I wanted to be an academic, but I quickly realized that I wasn’t cut out to have anyone else tell me how to spend my time. Entrepreneurship really is the only road for this stubborn scorpio. Thank you for commenting!

  5. Loved reading your story. The closing part about “So when you are tempted to look at others and think they are so lucky? Look again, and find the cuts, bruises, and scars left by barreling their way through their fears with sheer terror – because they didn’t have a choice but to push through” really stuck out to me! And I like the concept that we each have our own glass ceiling in different areas of our lives!

  6. Amazing post, thank you. I come from Poland and live in Belgium, and also get the ‘lucky’ thing a lot… and I also worked incredibly hard to make my dream come true. Now I am working on a different dream, and your glass ceiling thing is really speaking to me. Thank you.

    • Yep, I know Eastern Europeans who live in Western Europe get that a lot too. We seem to always be working on a new dream! But without glass ceilings to shatter life would be very boring IMHO 😉

  7. Wow, this was really incredible to read. I had no idea you were not a non-native English speaker from your posts in ULers. So glad that you told your story here.

  8. Laura, you are such a gem! This really hits home. Speaking with you, I would never know english was a second language for you! You have done and overcome so much in your short life, I am excited to see what is next! Xo

  9. “Everything you have is only worth as much as the time and effort you put in.” Yes! Great story, Laura.

  10. I admire you so much for being so driven at such a young age. I couldn’t even get my ass to a different city or a neighboring country, let alone a different continent. I’m so glad this worked out so well for you and that you persisted and made your dream come true.

    I’m not sure why you hesitated with publishing this, because all I can see in this is positive and it’s a really inspiring read.

    • Thank you, Nela! I never really had that many good friends in Romania. I never felt like I fit in there. By contrast, I felt like I fit in as soon as I stepped foot on American ground. It’s all just so different and just matches my personality so much better.

      I hesitated on this because there’s so much “tough love” in it. I’ve been told many times that there was a lot of luck involved in my story and that it made a huge difference. I’ve also been told many times that it’s not good to share my mistakes on my blog, and of course I try to share them but it still takes a while to get over that 🙂

  11. Thanks for sharing your story, Laura. We all have our unique paths – and they seldom are exactly what we expected them to be! I am so glad you kept pursuing your dreams and finally found your wonderful husband and your authentic life.

    • Thank you so much, Reba! You know, it’s such a confidence builder. Whenever I’m tempted to give up on anything I remind myself of how far I’ve come, and that always makes me feel like a fighter. It’s a big blessing.

  12. “Your dreams will come true when you give yourself no choice but to push through your fears” –> I needed that reminder today. Thank you so much for sharing your story and your wisdom.

  13. Thank you for sharing your inspiring story with us! It’s so easy to look at a successful person and see only how “lucky” they are but there is always lots of hard work and sacrifice that were put in to get there. IT’s a good reminder for me.

    • Thank you, Christine! I’m glad this resonated with you. Luck always plays a part (I personally consider myself a very lucky person), but luck can only do 1% – the rest is all hard work.

  14. Thanksalot. yes really i believe and luck is major stuff that is needed for all the hard efforts

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