Living the Dream

I was raised to believe in the American Dream and the intrinsic value of hard work as a means to success. The current envisioning of the American Dream is, that by participating in society and the economy, everyone has the opportunity to get a good education and a good job and can become successful.  “.. a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position”.  James Truslow Adams   These days –  financial success depends more on what you do for a living, than how hard you work/how devoted you are at or to your job. How successful you are in terms of economic status is not just determined by your hard work in your chosen profession – its actually determined more by the profession you choose and the salary and benefits attached to them.  Of course, if you are a screw up then you’ll lose your job anyway – but reasonable competence in the corporate world guarantees you a fairly high standard of living with few – if any,  economic worries.   Certainly you can still be successful in terms of job satisfaction/personal happiness no matter what your career. But I am also equally certain that the janitor cleaning those corporate offices after business hours has substantially greater economic worries than the executive whose office he’s cleaning. And that doesn’t necessarily indicate that janitor is living beyond his means.

The Statue of Liberty front shot, on Liberty I...

The Statue of Liberty front shot, on Liberty Island. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Somewhere along the way we came to equate the American Dream solely with financial success –  ie  if we ain’t livin large, we ain’t livin the dream. I completely disagree with that mindset.  And I’ll tell you why.  In my opinion – every job is an important one. Every career path chosen not only validates our interests, but also identifies us to the world at large.  No job is too insignificant. Performing your work well should be the primary factor in satisfaction but I know that  many times it is not. (We don’t always get that “attaboy” or “attagirl’ from our supervisors. But we always hear about it when we screw up, right?) Anyway, I’m not sure what we can do to change the mindset.  But I can tell you that I am blue collar middle class.  I work hard,  and I feel good about what I accomplish – every day.

Perhaps it is a gratitude issue.  We Americans are a whiny self entitled bunch these days.  I have a nice house,  food in my fridge and freezer, most of my bills are paid or pending to be paid, I have shoes on my feet, a choice of weather appropriate clothing to wear each day, indoor plumbing, laundry facilities, health insurance, heat and electricity, and an automobile to get where I need to go, and at least a few dollars in change in my pocketbook.   If I had to guess – that makes me better off than probably 75% of the rest of the planet. Most people I know are at least as well off. Even most of the poorest of us are generally better off than most of the other people on the planet. We have access to housing, medical, food and clothing, transportation  – all the basics are met – or can be. And yet – complain complain complain.  Because we don’t have the 52 inch plasma TV, or the jet ski, or the Beemer.  From my perspective, why do we care?  Having a BMW doesn’t make me “better” than  anyone else (not that I actually have one) And if you are receiving assistance, why do you feel the need to have the large screen HD TV?  If you can’t afford to pay for it yourself, perhaps you might consider finding something that fits into your budget.  Are you meeting the needs of your family – 3 hots and a cot? Are you proactively planning for your children’s education or vocational needs? Planning for your retirement? Planning for your essential living expenses?  If you aren’t doing these things/cant afford to do them , there is no place for that HD TV in your home. The world will not come to an end if you can’t watch The Avengers in HD.  Get over it.

American Dream

American Dream (Photo credit: Robert Gourley)

More to the point, I strongly feel that the American Dream should be about what you can DO, not what you HAVE or can GET. The American Dream should be, was intended to be, about the pursuit of happiness. I can tell you happiness is not defined by what things you possess, but rather by interpersonal relationships and self esteem. We’ve lost sight of that, much to our detriment.  My ideas to increase our happiness quotient, and thereby put us on a path to achieving our dream:

  • Volunteer –  Helping others – without judgement –  and sharing our wealth/resources is one of the best ways I know to get people out of their boxes, develop a broader world view, and develop empathy.
  • Live within your means –  Understand that living is about relationships not about possessions. This is perhaps the biggest issue in terms of  achieving happiness.  We have to redefine it and tell ourselves it is perfectly OK not to “keep up” with our neighbors.
  • Learn and Practice proper Social Etiquette –  Learn how to behave towards others in such a way that they feel valued – no matter their economic status, they are a person with intrinsic value and deserving of respect. You WILL feel valued in return, trust me on that.  Because  “in the end, the love you take – is equal to the love you make.”

I don’t have any other ideas at the moment, but would love to hear your thoughts.  Feel free to comment.  Thanks.

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7 thoughts on “Living the Dream

  1. Donna, great post and you even quoted Paul McCartney! The marketing machine also defines what nirvana looks like. Unfortunately for the new spenders, they do not realize that buying a lot of things will not let you achieve nirvana. When you get experienced enough and can break this cycle of purchasing the newest sexy thing only to buy the newest replacement sexy thing in eighteen months, then you can find some personal freedom.

    As you note, people used to aspire to having a nice home (not the biggest one) and a nice job they enjoyed. The middle class flourished. Now, the middle class has been squeezed downward and the fortunate upper middle class is chasing this nirvana I mentioned and you defined. I love your recommended course of action. If we did those things, we would have a better outcome for all. Take care and well done, BTG

  2. The American Dream, as postulated by the politicians today, is dead. 70 percent of college graduates who got jobs since the recession hit are in minimum wage positions. 3 out of 5 jobs created since the recession are minimum wage jobs. While executive pay has risen 300+ percent in the last 20 years, the average workers compensation has lost over 2% in that same time period. The benefits of education, helping hand programs, and medical care are all being cut in the name of tax cuts to the wealthy.

    The hope of the “American Dream” the belief that if I just work hard enough, I can reach the top, I can become a top level manager or CEO is just that, a pipe dream foisted upon us average americans in order to help keep us in line.

    Yes, I am grateful for what I have, and I certainly have it better than many in the world. Thanks only to the luck of the draw of my birth. But for this country to be held out as one of great opportunity, as a thought leader, as a role model for the rest of the world, as having the best educational and health opportunities, equal opportunities, to name just a few, is a lie perpetuated on the average American citizen.

    This is a nation run by Plutocrats, who have no interest in the average American, only in how they can further line their pockets with cash.

    Proof is in the gun debate. Over 90% of american want gun control, including background checks, and making assault rifles and high capacity magazines illegal. Over 80% of NRA members feel the same way. The states of Connecticut and Colorado easily passed gun legilslation. Yet our “elected” members of congress are claiming there is no popular support for gun control? Isn’t it then obvious that they couldn’t care less about what we want, only what the lobbyists and gun manufacturers, who line their pockets, want.

    ‘Nuff said.

    • Thanks! The “dream” certainly needs to be redefined. It would be nice if we could wrest the power from the plutocrats, but sadly those of us with enough common sense to make a difference cannot afford to run for office. And if we accept help to do so – we then become indebted to said lobbyists and big business. We also must learn to accept that its perfectly fine to not be an executive.

  3. Thanks so much for the reminders of what’s important in life. Love the quote from Adams. The language from that era is so compelling. American dream? It has always seemed a piece of well-intended poetry to me. So much more important, as you mention, is what we do, not what we dream. If we put more emphasis in what we get done, we wouldn’t need to dream about that far-too-big TV. Wonderful post – great reading.

    • Thanks Marsha! You summed me up very nicely. the doing is indeed more important than the dreaming (even though thats where the doing probably starts) In the end, it is our actions that define us. “It’s what you do not what you say – if you’re not part of the future than get out of the way.” ~ John Mellencamp

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