Where should We Create our Dreams? Please, Not at the Malls

- May I ask you a question?

I turned to the voice and saw a skinny male student. His hands reached forward. It was the break in an event that I spoke at. As my energy had just raised a little, I smiled and refused gently:

- Do you want to ask after the break so that everybody know the answer too?

He paused, but then insisted:

- But this question doesn’t relate to today’s topic…

- Okay, go on then.

- Can you summarize in one sentence the qualities a person must possess in order to be rich and successful?

By the timidity of his voice, I guess this action took some gut for him. His thin body, old jacket and worn-out sandals signaled that he grew up in a humble family. In fact, so do most students in the event. They grew up in the country side, where their parents farmed or sold cheap groceries for a living. I immediately understood where this question came from.

- Good question. I will answer after the break. I think others should hear it too.

I replied him. No one had ever asked me this, but I knew what would I say, and this might be the best advice I can give them, more than any wisdom in building connection – the topic I was brought here for. Because if they didn’t get this, the beautiful act of connecting with others would become distorted and manipulative. So when the event resumed, I began:

- During the break, one of you brought me a question. He wanted me to summarize in one sentence what it takes to be rich and successful.

My words dropped the room silent. An intense intrigue roused in the audience. I was speaking at the University Economics and Business after all. In front of me were 50 young, aspiring businessman and woman. I continued:

- Even though it isn’t related to today’s topic. The question is so important that I will answer in front of everyone now.

I saw some smiles. Their shoulders leaned forward, waiting.

- I’ve thought a lot about this recently. For me, in order to be successful. And I mean truly successful, when your sanity and happiness are still with you. It takes a heart and a gut that dares to let go of richness and success altogether. 


The audience’s reactions varied. Some went completely blank-faced. Some looked at me with disbelief. Some gazed at me with a smile, so did the boy that gave me the question. I was glad. And I didn’t stop. I shared about my family’s struggle to make ends meet when I was a child; about how I grew up desiring money and richness. I let them know that self worth had been falsely measured by net worth and how common this distorted paradigm was in every society, especially in Vietnam. And I told them that this could not stand, this must change.

True sense of success comes from doing what you love. So love that it becomes your passion. So passionate that it leads to 10,000 hours of practice. And so many hours that you achieve mastery.

This is it. Really.

You may not be able to afford a Lamborghini or designer outfit. But why do you need them while you can claim something 10,000 times more precious? Joy – Peace – Happiness – Meaning and Purpose.

For this, you need to be free from both the fear of losing possessions, and the hope of acquiring possessions. Until then, you are still not free to truly live.


The other day, I dropped by a mall for some lotion - early winter had made my skin very dry. I hadn’t gone to the mall for a very long time though. Malls have become the new town centers, haven’t they? I dislike malls.

They do a really good job at making their guests feel either superior or inferior. They are also professional at “materializing” the minds. Plus, they are adept at infusing inadequacy, and a false definition of self worth.

In the mall, there were boys and girls who reminded me of the students I met at that event. I doubted that they could afford any items in these stores. Nevertheless, they wandered around, eyes gazed at the outfit displayed artfully behind glass window. How dreamy they looked! They must have imagined themselves wearing these outfits, these shoes, these gadgets. I knew. I used to too.

I wanted to run toward them, and hugged them, and let them know that this was not the place where dreams should be born. They should go home now, to their tiny rooms, to their old wooden desks; and – if writing brought them joy more than anything in the world – take out the blank papers, and pick up the fountain pen, and write their soul out, and write for 10,000 hours.

Couple this read with other articles on the topic of simple living at Minimalist Monday

Come back next Monday for more wisdoms and practices on the art of simple living

- - -

It takes many hours of “heart work” to bring you Life Written. Let me know that I’m doing something right by:

  Thumbs up Life Written page

  Connect with me 

  Subscribe to Life Written RSS