What Journey’s Arnel Pineda Can Teach You About Achieving the American Dream


Imagine for a moment …

You’re a short, little guy. 5’3″ to be exact.

You couldn’t have weighed more than 130 lbs, soaking wet.

You’re Asian. And you are going to be the voice of a foreign band — one which is half-way around the world from home.

You did not have it easy growing up. Your mom died from rheumatic heart disease. Your dad sold everything in the house to pay for her medical bills. And in the process of paying for your mom’s hospital bills, your family was 6 months behind on rent.

The landlord got fed up and kicked you and your family out. You’re homeless. But what could you do? You couldn’t let you mom go without a fight.

Your dad doesn’t have a job. Your 3 brothers don’t have anything to eat. Someone has to wear the pants in the family, and you decided that you were that person.

When you were 13 years old, you didn’t want to burden your family anymore and struck out on your own.  You quitted school, wandered the streets, and tried to send back whatever money you could to help your family.  

For 2 years, your modus operandi was pure survival. You slept on the streets, parks, and friends’ house. You picked up cans, bottles, and caps to earn a bit of money for food. You even took on odd jobs here and there, but work was very hard to come by. And as a result, there were multiple days where you went to bed hungry.

What do you do? How are you gonna survive? How much longer can you keep on going like this??

A Real Story from the Harsh Streets of the Philippines

The above scenario is not a make-believe, empty, theoretical scenario on survival. No, it is the life of Arnel Pindea — the lead singer of an American Rock ‘n’ Roll band, Journey.

Young Pineda did not take the easy way out and give up on life. He did not turn to the government for a hand-out. (His home country, the Philippines, is not exactly the friendliest to beggars and vagrants.) He did not turn to schools for an education.

Everything he needed to know, he learned it on the cold, mean streets of a third-world country.

But I’ll tell you what he did …

He stayed true to his life’s mission. He pursued his craft like a true artist. Like a man who has one goal and one love in life. He sang his little heart out for decades.

The 1980’s came and went. He kept on singing.

The 1990’s came and went. He kept on singing.

The 2000’s came. He was still singing.

Life is kinda funny. It is unpredictable. You never know what tomorrow brings. But there is one certainty:

When you show up every day — for years and years on end — doing what you love to do, life will reward you.

In 2007, Journey was looking for a lead singer. Neal Schon turned to the internet for an answer. He watched videos after videos after videos of singers … in an attempt to find the right lead singer.

On the other side of the world, Pineda kept doing what he does best: sing. Little did he know, a loyal fan posted videos of the dedicated singer’s work on YouTube. And as life would have it, Schon stumbled across the videos. A little Asian guy from half-way around the world caught the band’s attention.

Journey got in contact, and Pineda flew in to the states for an audition.

By 2008, Arnel became the lead singer of one of America’s most famous Rock ‘n’ Roll band.

Who can imagine that a 13 year old street kid from a third-world country would one day become the voice of America?

And to this very day, he is still singing.

Don’t Stop Believin’

I came across Pineda’s story when watching the documentary, Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey. After watching it, I was sooooo fired up. This is the most American story I have ever heard in a long while.

Finally! Here is an example of someone “making it” based on their own grit, tenacity, and skill. A story of someone who did not quit and achieved his dream. His success did not come from who he knew (absolutely no one), what degree he had accumulated (none whatsoever), or his background (just another dirt-poor guy trying to survive).

But like a true artist, he kept at his craft. Even when the world threw obstacles after obstacles in front of him, he kept pushing forward. The longer he endured, the better he got at what he did. He was so good, the world could no longer ignore him. He won … despite the crappy hand life dealt him.

Now I ask you … When the odds are stacked against you, when the universe seemingly conspires against you, what do you do?

Do you quit your dream and your passion, because they don’t pay off right now?

Or …

Do you keep going forward — one heavy step at a time — even if you don’t get your reward for decades to come?

Don’t Stop Believin’ in Las Vegas (2008)

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  1. Brother,
    I can relate to this story as many people in the third world happen to go through this. My Father is one fo those people who had to drop out of the 6th grade and work for his family because his Dad passed away in a fishing accident. SO he had to drop everything and his childhood to provide for his mom and younger siblings so he also became a fishermen for one of those big companies.
    Working in Engineering the man worked and earned a good living to support Mother and siblings back home. I remember he would tell me how poor he was that he would take other people’s used shoes and wear them. It was a hard life for him as i could tell when he told us about it the impression on his face told me a lot. But like a man he did not shed a tear about it.
    When he came here he literally walked off the ship with the clothes on his back and $500.00 dollars in his pocket and never came back. He worked odd jobs and made some money to send home. He used to tell me how he would sleep in a rented room with only a mattress on the floor. He would tell me that he had to keep carving out his life in America. But as time progressed he got a better job and made more money and his life in America got better and better.
    Having immigrant parents tend to instill that passion to become someone in life! Whether you are working for yourself or for someone else. The fire is there! He needed what he had to do as a man for his family. He continued to send money to his family until his mom died.
    It goes to show that anything can be accomplished in life. We just have to do it and continue to do it day in and day out and life will reward you with your piece of the pie!
    It is just so depressing when people think especially young people that they can live life without any scars.
    Great Post Alex!

    • Alex Ding says:


      Your dad’s story is really inspiring. I have a tremendous amount of respect for people who come from nothing but make something for themselves. For example, I befriended a couple who runs a Chinese takeout store. They came over not too long ago and now they are employing Americans. It really should be the other way around, because those born here have all the advantages. But that couple works harder than anyone I know and more than made up for their starting position in life..

    • J, that’s a pretty epic story. True, immigrant parents will want you to do better than they did. Carving out your own name is one way to get there, heh.

  2. A, this is truly the sort of story that I relish at 5am. It keeps the fire roaring, and it keeps the rest of us hustlin’ towards that vision of ours.

    Keep showing up, they can’t ignore you forever, can they?

  3. Never thought that a Filipino was the lead singer of the band. That seriously surprised me!

    “Do you keep going forward — one heavy step at a time — even if you don’t get your reward for decades to come?”

    That’s a strong question, Alex. I don’t know if I still have the tenacity of Arnel but as long as I’m aware of my decision to keep going forward, I’ll gladly take as many heavy steps as I need to reap the rewards.

    • Alex Ding says:

      Hey Wan,

      Good to hear from you. I think to keep on going forward, even though there is no external reward in sight, you must love what you are doing. The process got to be its own reward. Keep on steppin’.

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