It all started about three years ago when I moved to the Upper East Side from Murray Hill. I just graduated from a challenging graduate program at New York University and I was ready to take on the “real world.” After six straight years of academia, I was hoping to have a better idea of what this “real world” was like and I chose to start my new journey on the Upper East Side.
The first few months after graduation were difficult and I still did not know exactly what I wanted to do with my life. I felt lost and confused. Even in a huge city like New York with endless possibilities, I needed a sign that I was moving in the right direction. Then one day when I walked out of my five-story walk-up, I saw three simple words that hit me like a ton of bricks. Written on a dirty, old twin mattress slumped against the curbside were the words –
Become Your Dream
Alongside that powerful phrase was a picture of a fish jumping out of its tank. Tears immediately swelled in my eyes. How could three simple words have such an impact on me? Maybe because I was finally that fish taking a leap of faith and jumping out of the tank into the world? Months passed by and I did not see the words again - but I never forgot them. Then about six months later when I was having a hard time at my first job after graduate school, I saw those three beautiful words on an old Ikea dresser –
Become Your Dream
This time, however, the name De La Vega was written next to it. I immediately went up to my apartment and Googled “Become Your Dream De La Vega.” To my surprise, James De La Vega is a famous artist in New York City who has been spreading his thought-provoking words throughout the city for many years – first in East Harlem and now with a museum in the East Village. I was even more delighted to discover that in 2005, De La Vega painted a mural of his iconic words and jumping fish on a brick wall located in my very own Upper East Side neighborhood. Thankfully, this mural is still around and can be found on East 95th Street between 1st and 2nd Avenue for locals to visit and draw inspiration from its beautiful colors and message.
I can honestly say that ever since I saw my first “Become Your Dream” three years ago, I have a more positive outlook on my future and I am taking the necessary steps to reaching my true potential. A few months ago, I met De La Vega for the first time and told him how his words changed my life. He asked me why those three words aroused such emotion in me. I told him it meant so much because the real world is not always easy and I am discovering that everyday – post graduate school. There are so many people, places, and opportunities that it is easy to lose yourself and – most importantly your dreams – in the chaos of everyday life and particularly in a city like New York. Seeing those three words pop out of garbage cans and juxtaposed in the middle of a busy street really makes me stop and reflect what I want out of my life.
Unfortunately, I do not have photos from my first encounters of De La Vega’s message three years ago, but I recently began making a scrapbook of every “Become Your Dream” I find on the Upper East Side and have over 50 photos in my collection. De La Vega himself does not write every “Become Your Dream” I stumble across but, rather, it is people just like me who are inspired by his words and want to spread the message to others.
I urge everyone to visit East 95th Street and witness De La Vega’s Upper East Side treasure. It will inspire you to jump out of the tank and “Become Your Dream.”