Growing up in California, I didn’t understand our economic situation. Sure, I noticed that we never bought anything expensive, that Maximo [my older brother] would mention the Ku Klux Klan was in nearby neighborhoods, and that my mom would comment on how mean people were to her when she gift-wrapped presents for people at Macy’s. We were constantly bargain hunting and using a lot of coupons, trying to do everything on the cheap, and almost never went to restaurants.

My parents also found a way of creating illusions of vacations when we visited family. Unfortunately, not all of my memories from these trips are pleasant. I won’t forget being kicked out of a restaurant and being called spics, and all of the other times when we were pulled over, with my parents being super polite to the policemen and all of us kids being scared in the car.

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Within this time frame, Mom got pregnant again, this time with my little brother, Benjamin. Unfortunately, Dad’s PhD scholarship ended, and what little money we had before was gone. We always lived paycheck to paycheck, and Dad felt he had no other choice but to return to Nicaragua for work, but Mom refused to move back there again.

Image used with permission from Dr. Esther Zeledón.

Where was our American Dream?

We had been sold the idea that in this Promised Land of Opportunity and Equality, all we needed was hard work and ganas to thrive. But it turns out that equal opportunity is a myth, and even with highly educated parents working non-stop, all we could do was stay afloat. And here’s what shocks me the most: despite systemic racism and persistent inequality, as Latinos, we continue to buy into the bait-and-switch of the American Dream.

For many years, I did, too. I worked harder than anyone, graduated at the top of my class in high school, got degrees from elite universities, got married before 30, and had a wall full of awards from work. I got the dream salary, the 5 bedroom house, 2 kids, the Director title, and a full household staff. I had followed the blueprint of the American Dream, obtained it, and by any measure, I had surpassed expectations. But here’s what it got me: anxiety, depression, and a profound feeling of misalignment. It definitely didn’t bring me happiness or fulfillment. My accomplishments felt hollow because they didn’t align with my values or my purpose.

We don’t talk about it enough, but here’s the thing: purpose matters

Image used with permission from Dr. Esther Zeledón.

It’s your core as an individual and the unique value that you contribute to the world. The American Dream instead provides a formula that assumes we are all homogeneous beings, as though there was a universal definition of success and a pre-defined path to achieve it. But if that path clashes with your purpose, that’s how misalignment happens, as it did for me and millions of others.

It’s an epidemic, and its costs are massive. Recent studies show that up to 80% of Americans don’t know their purpose, suggesting potentially massive levels of misalignment. Among Latinos, this translates to over 4 million of us suffering from severe depression every year and higher levels of suicidal thoughts. Chasing the fixed metrics and rigid timelines of the American Dream, whether you achieve them or not, is literally killing us.

Image used with permission from Dr. Esther Zeledón.

We need to throw out the traditional American Dream and change the narrative

As individuals, it starts with deep introspection about your purpose — your unique gift to the world and how you solve problems — aligning your daily actions to that purpose and building the resilience tools to keep advancing when times get tough.

As a Latino community, creating a new dream where we all thrive together starts with changing our conversations. No more chisme. No more asking, “When are you going to get married, lose weight, have kids?” Instead, at Easter and Christmas this year, ask the people who matter to you, “What are your biggest dreams? How can I help you reach them?”

And in the workplace, it means fostering spaces for creativity and innovation and valuing the voice and vision of each individual. Rather than replaceable cogs, see each team member as a unique problem-solver, get to know their values, and tailor appreciation and recognition to each individual.

And make no mistake: This movement toward a purpose-driven life is how we become limitless.

This is how we become more engaged, productive, and ultimately fulfilled. This is how we build community and begin to change the world for the better.

Excerpted from the book “Creating Your Limitless Life” by Dr. Esther Zeledon.

With a commitment to inclusivity, Dr. Zeledón has transformed the lives of thousands worldwide, bridging gaps across communities, corporations, and countries. Drawing from her unique experiences and insights, she has crafted a powerful formula for balanced success and brilliant productivity, empowering everyone to envision and manifest their limitless life.