From Roaches to Riches: My Story of Creating the American Dream

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My family immigrated from Pakistan to New York when I was 6 months old. They barely spoke English and had just the clothes on their backs, but they believed that the odds were in their favor for a better life. America was known as the land of opportunity, after all. When they got here, my dad found work at a newsstand on a New York City street corner and my mom babysat the neighborhood kids. We lived with eight other people in a one-bedroom apartment in Elmhurst, Queens.

We eventually moved to New Jersey, and my parents, along with my sister, brother, and grandmother, upgraded to a two-bedroom apartment in Edison. I remember as a 9-year-old finding roaches in my cereal, sharing a twin-size bed with my sister, and envying all the other kids who had sneakers that actually fit them — whereas we had to stuff our shoes with tissue paper so that we could grow into them.

Growing up, I recognized my parents’ struggle and their determination to give us the best life possible. My parents worked their butts off, but it wasn’t enough, so we were on welfare and Medicaid, and received food stamps. But they loved (and continue to love) us tremendously, so they always threw us birthday parties and went above and beyond to make sure there was food on the table, a roof over our heads, and that we looked presentable.

Fast-forward 38 years later, and my life looks very different from my childhood.

Today, I sit here, incredibly comfortable, typing away in my pajamas, after having had steak and red wine for dinner on a weeknight, in my beautiful house in one of the most prestigious neighborhoods in New York, situated two-and-a-half blocks from the water. I eat what I want, I buy what I want, and I’m blessed with two kids who will never have to worry about food, insurance, or their clothes. Their biggest worry will be what sports to sign up for and where they want to go on family vacations.

How did I get here?

Here are the top 3 lessons I’ve learned along the way that have helped me create a life that I never thought was possible growing up:


I was made with grit in my soul. My circumstances as a child fueled me to work extra hard and never give up. Whatever the goal, I would keep going and going, bit by bit, until I reached it. And then I would set the next goal. This is how I’ve lost weight, gotten promoted over the years, and even started my own coaching business. My favorite saying is, “If it was easy, everyone would do it.” I’m not everyone and I don’t give up because I’m the type of woman who hits her goals. And this mindset is also available to you no matter what is actually happening in your life. You can use it to fuel the wildest dreams that only you can bring to life.


I knew as a young child that education was the currency of our times, and I made sure that I did everything in my power to do well in school through the years. My parents never had the opportunity to go to college in the U.S. because they were doing their best to make ends meet. I was the first one in my family to take the SATs, figure out the FAFSA process, and graduate from a university. I graduated with high honors in my major and secured a job at a Fortune 500 company before I even graduated college. My parents had zero input or guidance on what schools I should apply to, how to pay for my education (I ended up paying on my own for whatever costs financial aid didn’t cover), or even where and how to look for a “real job” outside of college. The day I received the offer letter from my employer, where I ended up working for over 15 years, was one of the happiest days of my parents' lives. This was the moment they had struggled for all those years, when their daughter would make more money than them.

Dream Bigger

There will be times in your life in which good enough is good enough. The people you surround yourself with will make a difference in how much you believe in accepting things or if you should dream bigger. I always surrounded myself with people that had more than me (education, experiences, material things), and, as a result, I was able to learn and grow much faster. And, whatever my goal, these people encouraged me to dream even bigger. So, whatever you think you want right now, multiply your dreams by ten, a hundred, a thousand, then start working on achieving that goal. I could have settled for a good enough education, relationship, or house. But, if I had done that, my life wouldn’t be where it is today. Always push yourself to go do the thing that feels scary.

Wherever you are in your journey, whatever your story may be, you have a lot of life to live. Go live it, go make your dreams come true. You’re the only one who can. You got this.

What dreams are you ready to turn into reality?

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Written By

Syeda Neary

Syeda is a human design life coach. She helps you build a life you love and enjoy with confidence in alignment with your Human Design. See Full Bio

CircleAround will make financial distributions to benefit current Girl Scouts: the next generation of trailblazers who will CircleAround after us. So CircleAround for inspiration, and CircleAround the leaders of tomorrow. CircleAround is owned by One GS Media, a subsidiary of Girl Scouts of the USA.

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