There has been a lot of debates lately about whether the American dream is still alive and whether corporations, focused on the bottom line and shareholder profits, are killing the American dream. While I do believe that there is a major problem created by the lack of social conscienceness in most private-sector companies, I think the real issue each individual needs to address for him/herself is what defines the American dream?

I grew up with the understanding that the American dream meant anyone, from anywhere who wanted to work hard could get a good job, get married, buy a house, drive a decent car and live happily ever after. Even though I was born to an unwed immigrant that lacked a college degree, and my grandmother, who helped to raise me never finished middle school or learned any English, I believed in that dream.

English is not my first language, and I did not come from a wealthy background, but by studying hard, at age 14 I won a scholarship to attend boarding school in New England. The gift of an amazing education, together with incredible internships and study-abroad experiences that were provided by my alma maters changed my life. By age 31, I was married and living the “American dream” with a solid law firm job, a nice house, a cool Mercedes, and a beautiful son. But there was this huge void in my life, and ultimately I forfeited most of the material things, and went in search of true happiness.

It has been quite a journey these past few years learning not to care so much about what others might think or expect of me, and instead finding what truly matters to me most. Letting go of certain attachments was not easy, and I realized that a large part of that problem was that the way we measure success as a society is so often tied to material things or our status at work. Yet all those things can so easily be lost, and will not matter at all once we are gone. My education, experiences and close personal relationships are the three things that can never be taken away, regardless of how the economy is doing, and thankfully what I have discovered is that these are the things that I have come to value most.

Ironcially, if my own marriage had not fallen apart, I suppose I could have become the poster-child for the American dream. Instead, I gave up the stupid rat-race and went in search of answers. Having lacked a solid supportive family structure my whole life, I realized this is what I craved most, and it is truly nothing short of a miracle that the strangers I reached out to just a few months ago have welcomed this long lost family member with open arms. Finding unconditional love, acceptance and understanding within my own biological family has re-defined the American dream for me– I truly believe it is what you make of it. Don’t allow others to define it for you, each individual has to define it and pursue it for him/herself.