Excerpt from The Mystical Backpacker

by Hannah Papp

Imagine we are sitting down to play a board game.The board itself is a representation of the world. Each of us gets one plastic piece in the shape of a person to represent ourselves as a player. We have certain credits to start: a life credit, a family credit, a shelter credit, and a food credit. We also have ten dream credits, fifty imagination credits, and one hundred emotion credits. As we move along the board, we hit points at which we gain age credits, money credits, education credits...and so on. We also lose credits. Some may lose their family credits right away. Some may lose their shelter credits as soon as they’re released from the hospital as newborns. Some may lose an enormous sum of emotion credits during a childhood trauma, and some may lose all their dream credits by the time they’re twenty. In this game, all of these credits can be regained, and even those who do not begin from a place of strength or privilege can be successful. We get the picture, right? The game is our chance to act out our lives as we would want to, rather than as we feel we should or as circumstances dictate that we must.

Now, imagine you can pursue any dream or imagine any kind of life for yourself. How do you spend your days? Where do you connect with your inner best? Who surrounds you? Who inspires you? Who do you inspire? In this game, you can choose any profession or lifestyle for yourself, but you can only realize that lifestyle when you have earned enough work credits and money credits to enable the fruition of the dream. However, in this game, any vision of your life is attainable. There is no profession or service that is not remunerated financially. There is no loss of love or approval from the people in your life. You are safe to make the choices you want to make.

It can be freeing to envision a life path when personal and material risks are not considerations. After all, the real world is not a board game with little consequence for victory or failure. Instead, the real world can be cruel to those who fail. But believe it or not, this game is the real world, even if it doesn’t seem that way based on the view from the sandbox looking out. With hard work, sacrifice, and persistence, every dream and lifestyle is attainable, especially if you’re open to variations on your original vision. If you are able to replenish your losses with gains, whether they are emotional, mental,
or physical, then you can have the nerve to commit to every goal and see it through to fruition. The word failure only has as much weight as you choose to give it.

This can be a tough reality to embrace. Let’s look at some examples of people who pursued their dreams against all odds and reached them as a result. Some of them are famous; some are known for their accomplishments. I share their stories not because fame, celebrity, and fortune are markers for success, but because they are people we all know; yet many of us don’t realize how far they had to climb and how many roadblocks they needed to circumvent in order turn their dreams into realities. We all know Louis Armstrong, famous jazz musician and vocalist. His popular rendition of “What a Wonderful World” is still played at every wedding you go to, can be heard in coffee shops and on movie soundtracks. Louis was born in an officially segregated America, in the Deep South of Louisiana, and was abandoned by his father and then his mother before he’d turned five. Raised by a grandmother and an uncle during this time, he was only a generation past slavery (his grandparents had been slaves), and his family was very poor. He worked as a paperboy, collected discarded food to sell, and hauled coal . . . all while still a child. Finally he was taken in by a family who bought him his first cornet. Despite such disadvantageous beginnings, when he died at age sixty-nine, he was one of the most famous jazz musicians of his time and remains as such today. He had played many of the most famous venues around the world,was in Hollywood movies, spoke out against segregation, and was the first black radio host for a sponsored national broadcast. Honorary pallbearers at his funeral included Bing Crosby, Ella Fitzgerald, Johnny Carson, and Frank Sinatra. During the last year of his life, he was quoted as saying, “I think I had a beautiful life. I didn’t wish or anything that I couldn’t get, and I got pretty near everything I wanted because I worked for it.”

Former President Bill Clinton did not start out his life with the appropriate board game credits to ensure his status later in life. His father died in a car accident before he was born, and his mother left him with grandparents to pursue a nursing degree shortly after having him. Once she returned to care for him, she married a verbally and physically abusive alcoholic. Bill confronted him, even as a young child, in order to intercept his mother’s beatings. Bill’s education was aided by scholarships, and he rose to become first a Yale graduate, then a governor, then a two-term president. Since leaving office, he has written bestselling books, founded a not-for-profit foundation involved in global philanthropy, and spoken worldwide for various causes, inspiring others to do good works.

Superstar talk show host, actor, and philanthropist Oprah Winfrey began life in rural poverty. Shuffled about and raised at different times by her grandmother, mother, father, and stepmother, she was
sexually abused as a child and at age fourteen delivered a premature son who died shortly after birth. What power of spirit and sheer determination of will would convince a child of such disadvantageous beginnings to pursue a career in television broadcasting? The first African American billionaire, she has inspired millions each day for decades. From building homes for disaster survivors to providing vehicles for children with disabilities, she has shown a generosity of spirit that has had a ripple effect on our country. Oprah’s Book Club encouraged millions of Americans to spend time reading again, not something one would expect a television personality to promote! Her charisma is such that advertising and marketing specialists coined the term the Oprah Effect. When Oprah endorses a product, it sells off the shelves.

These three examples of famous individuals are representative of countless other similar stories of personal, spiritual and material achievement that have occurred, are occurring and will occur
around the world. There have always been and will always continue to be people who dream a dream and then pursue it, regardless of what others tell them is or is not possible. And while the examples I highlight are of famous people, most people who achieve their dreams and live a fulfilled and fulfilling life of purpose do not become famous. As such, our perception is that this is an enigma of celebrity and not a celebrated norm. That is just not true. In all cases, we are free to create the life we envision. Think of The Pioneer Woman. For those of you who haven’t heard of her, she has a cooking show on the Food Network. But check this out: the reason she has the show is because she started a blog in 2006. Ree Drummond was a thirty-seven-year-old mother
of four. She was a housewife and homeschooler. She was a “nobody” living in the middle of “nowhere” in rural Oklahoma. Celebrated by her family and friends perhaps, but not by the world at large. Her blog now has over 22 million visitors a month. Why do people love her? People love her because she loves her life. She may be a homeschooling rancher’s wife living in the middle of nowhere, but it’s her destiny, and because it’s hers, she loves living it.

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