The Real American Dream

 

Once upon a time I woke up and realized the American Dream was staring me right in the face.

It was real.  It was attainable.  It was more alive than ever.  And hardly anybody knew what it was.

Years ago, about the time when a bustling America had lost everything in the Great Depression, a freelance writer named James Truslow Adams, started spouting off his thoughts on hope and freedom and coined the term The American Dream.  For Adams, the American Dream was simple.  He just wanted his country to be a place where "life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement".  A place where anyone could have a chance to achieve their goals regardless of class, religion, or politics.  A place where anyone could discover a happy and fulfilling life.  This idea has always been at the heart of America, but America has often had a tough time living up to it.

Back when Adams was around, not many people had an opportunity to participate in the American Dream.  White men were welcome to it, but pretty much everyone else had to sit around and wait for change.  Women, minorities, the handicapped, the homosexual, the mentally ill, and even children really had no chance of partaking in the American Dream.  America wouldn't let them.  The country simply wasn't ready to live out it's grand vision.

Fast-forward to today and things are quite different. The "American Dream" is available to more people now than ever before, and that's a great thing.  Yet from all the complaining, you would think the American Dream has gone backwards, that it's deflating and its time is up.

No, No, No people.  The American Dream is just getting started.  It might not be what you thought it was, but the Real American Dream is very much alive and ready for all of us.

 

Life, Liberty and The Pursuit of Happiness

What do you think the founding fathers and Mr. Adams had in mind when they envisioned a land full of opportunity and a higher quality of life?

Do you think it had anything to do with manicured lawns and hybrid vehicles? 

Do you think the American Dream really has anything to do with your mortgage and your paycheck?

It doesn't.

The American Dream has nothing to do with wealth, or success, or keeping up with the Joneses.  That might be your dream or your bank's dream, but that was never America's dream.

All the American Dream has ever promised you is the opportunity to maximize your potential.  A chance to venture on your own personal quest for health, happiness and fulfillment, and America has promised that it won't stand in your way.

I know many of you may disagree.  Many of you may say, "Whoa kid, wait a minute.  What about my taxes?  What about the layoffs?  What about having to pay for basic health care 'til my wallet bleeds?  How do I get anywhere in this crazy country when everybody is trying to hold me back?"

Well, you deal with it, same as anything else.  America never said your dream was going to be easy to achieve.  All it said was you'll have the chance to achieve it.  And really, whose holding you back?  America is full of 15 year old millionaires, homeschooling RVers, and SUV driving soccer moms.  On any day you can see thousands of people doing exactly what they chose to do that day.  Comparatively, America is easy.

I remember living in China and having dinner with a 75 year old school principal who had just returned from Italy.  It was the only trip he had taken in his life.  He recalled the pasta tasted like medicine and noted that the 10 years he had waited for a visa just to travel outside the country was not worth it.

In most places the American Dream is a literally a dream.

There are people and families, from numerous countries, that risk their lives everyday to sneak into America.  But I don't see many Americans risking their lives to move elsewhere.  We go when it's safe.  And we go knowing we can always come back and start again.

That is the Real American Dream.  Not the debt or the house on the hill.  The American Dream is knowing that you can try and try and try - and try and try some more - until you find your way.  The American Dream is opportunity despite your place in life.  It is a promise that says, as long as you don't get in your own way, you can do whatever you want.  And there's a lot of people out there who would risk everything for a taste of that promise.


Create Your Own American Dream

I can not think of one instance in my life where my country prevented me from doing what I desired.  Sure, sometimes I have had to jump through some hoops, but that happens everywhere.  Rarely have I felt I couldn't work, or be creative, or expand my beliefs, and the few times I have experienced such feelings or setbacks, it was my own fault.

Somehow America started believing the American Dream meant that if you get a job and go to work everyday, then you will wind up with a big house, shiny car and a happy marriage.  Somehow America forgot that "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness" doesn't suggest a free path to royals and riches.

I live in a small condo in Boston, MA - America.  I have the perfect wife and kids.  I have a good job working with teens and not making a lot of money.  I ride my bike to work.  And I have dreams of traveling the world with my family for the rest of my life.  I am living the American Dream. 

It doesn't matter if I ever travel or not.  It doesn't matter if I lose my job or make millions.  America never promised me any of that.  All it promised me was an opportunity.  An opportunity to dream as hard as I want and pursue my goals, and that's exactly what I have gotten from America.  All the rest is up to me.  I can create my own American Dream anytime I want.


This post was just a small part of a great group collaboration from a bunch of other families who are trying to live out their own versions of the American Dream.  Make sure you go give them a look. 

 

Break Out of Bushwick - Good Morning, America, Let's Occupy Wall Street!

Livin On The Road - To dream a little dream of ... travel

New Life on the Road - Living the Australian Dream

Family on Bikes - What is the American Dream?

Around the World in Easy Ways - An American Dream Fairy Tale

Fullness of Life - The Global American Dream

 1 Dad, 1 Kid, 1 Crazy Adventure - The American Dream

 A King's Life - Redefining an American Dream

Raising Miro - Erosion of the American Dream

Bohemian Mom - The Illusion of the American Dream

A King's Life - Livin' the not-so-American Dream

 Family Travel Bucket List - Bye Bye Miss American Dream

Thanks so much for visiting us at The Great Family Escape.  Our family is learning how to turn our dreams into realities and we love to share and learn with others.

You can follow us on FACEBOOK and TWITTER.  And if you want, get all our posts delivered to you via email by SIGNING UP HERE.

 

 

 


33 Comments

  1. Brandon Pearce

    Great perspective! It's so truhe that the opportunity to live your dream, whatever that means to you, is the promise the of America... whether you actually achieve it or not is completely up to you. Thanks for the insightful post.
    Brandon Pearce recently posted..The Global American Dream

  2. Beautifully written! Thank you.

  3. Definitely a great perspective. Love the positivity! I both agree and disagree... I've worked with too many kids who have had opportunities pushed beyond their reach by American programs such as No Child Left Behind. Will some of them dream big and get what they want? Sure, but many of them won't- they certainly aren't given a toolbox or even a blueprint by the American government! That said, I wanted to go to school for art history, so I went! Sadly, when I wanted to continue to get my masters, I wasn't allowed to take out any more student loans. I was forced to get a job. Thing is, it shouldn't be this hard. Every person should be allowed an affordable education- the best education. And the same health care as the wealthiest individuals. We have rights stripped from us.

    But again- I think perseverance is important- and we're certainly allowed that in this country!

    Bravo- great post yet again, Justin!!
    Melissa Banigan recently posted..Good Morning, America, let’s Occupy Wall Street!

    • I could talk about this all day Melissa and have a great time doing it. So keep firing away! I love it. And it helps us all get better.

      There are so many levels.

      The bottom line is how you want your money spent. You could live in Denmark and get what seems like free everything, but Starbucks will cost you $9 and you car will be taxed more than 100%. Services cost money - period. Healthcare is not free anywhere. It may seem free, and it may be more expensive in the US, but it is not free anywhere. Send everyone to work and raise our taxes 15% and we will have free healthcare as well.

      I work for state funded after-school program for abused, neglected, mentally ill kids. My program cost each kid, for 4 hours a day, over $30,000 a year. This is paid 100% by the state. And the services work. As well, every child and family i work receives 100% free health care, tutoring, mental health care and dental. In all, each of the kids I work with receive about $150,000 worth of free care each year. Many get stipend checks from the government as well. That sounds like pretty wealthy healthcare to me. It's a lot more money than I get. And you know what, it is necessary. These kids and families wouldn't make it a week without it. They need help and they get it, but it is up to them as to how much they want to use it to tackle their dreams.

      The bottom line is that it IS this hard.

      Do you know how many people in the world have a college degree, not even a masters, but a standard BA.

      About 7%. That's it. And yet we Americans complain when everyone doesn't have one or we have to work for one.

      Success and having the ability to do what you want in this world is very, very hard. We tell our kids it is easy, "Sure, you can be anything!" But it is VERY HARD! And it always has been. America still makes it easier than most places.

  4. Love the idea of making your own Dream.

  5. Wow, Inspiring isn't even the right word. You have lit a fire under me :)
    Allison Waken recently posted..Fort kit - gift idea

  6. Love this. I've been thinking something similar for years.

    While I appreciate her thoughts, I mostly disagree with Melissa. Yes, many of us will not have the resources to properly achieve our dream. But this article is about possibility and dreaming, not necessarily X, Y, Z methods of achieving. It's a choice.

    Further, while disadvantaged kids might not be able to get a loan to start a business - they might start teaching classes in their home. Or offering seminars. Or learning to be a consultant with no office overhead. Just like you might not be able to get a PhD, but could start a blog and become an expert on teaching Art History to kids.

    It's not always about the dream verbatim. Sometimes it's just the possibility.

    To me, the American Dream is:

    * No debt - That's why we don't own a house, our car is paid for, and no student loans. We love living in a great rental house in a fantastic urban neighborhood with all the amenities for less than what home owners spend.

    * Choice - I can quit or take a new job anytime I want. Not that it's easy with the economy and being 6 1/2 months pregnant, but I have the ability to make that choice.

    * Options - Much like choices - we have options. We could move tomorrow, go to Italy, start a new business, take a class, take a walk, learn to cook better, pick up a new skill, start a new blog, redefine our lives.

    * Mobility - We both have jobs where we can work from most anywhere within reason. We're about to take a two week 'working vacation' to catch up with friends and family without taking time off from work.

    • Wow! Great Comment!

      Look at what you have pointed out.

      No debt, choice, options, mobility - Do we all know how difficult these things are for most of the world to even consider achieving. We are fortunate - and I love your ideas.

      Money is not the problem for disadvantaged kids, it's leadership. Disadvantage kids most often lack leadership in the home and need someone to come along and give them a boost. If that can be done, anything is possible for them.

      Thanks Susan! Great Website you have!

  7. "America never said your dream was going to be easy to achieve. All it said was you’ll have the chance to achieve it." Totally agree. The entitlement mentality is hindering our nation and its growth. If you want something, you have to take action and GO for it. No one is to blame if we live a lack-luster life except ourselves. Great post!
    Susan recently posted..Bye Bye Miss American Dream

    • It is Susan. Everyone seems to have an excuse at times, myself included. But excuses for what. Some people have legitimate crap thrown their way in life. Stuff they didn't ask for. Not me, all my bumps were little. America has never stood in my way.

      Thanks Susan. Go for it!

  8. This was a great post, really enjoyed it. Such a good perspective. It is so easy to get caught up in the bad components of what it has turned into but I think it's important to stay positive and remember that they are still possibilities. Individuals changed the meaning of this phrase:)

    • I think we did change it Mary. It wasn't some God-given right to become rich and get a big house. It sounds so stupid when I hear people say they have a "right" to own a house. I don't remember that being in the constitution. They were never handing out houses at immigration.

      We made the American Dream something it is not. It is not some promise of greed and excess. It is a promise that you can capitalize on your efforts and abilities in whatever way you wish - that's all.

      Glad you enjoyed it! Thanks!

  9. I love this post! This part really hit home for me: "All it promised me was an opportunity. An opportunity to dream as hard as I want and pursue my goals, and that’s exactly what I have gotten from America. All the rest is up to me. I can create my own American Dream anytime I want."

    That is so true. I've lived in countries where people don't have that opportunity. I'm fortunate that I do.
    Nancy from Family on Bikes recently posted..What is the American Dream?

    • Thanks Nancy! I am so glad we did this post. It gave me a sweet reminder of I have and what I can do.

  10. So true! Since when did the "American Dream" become about STUFF?!
    You're right...the true American Dream is the "opportunity to maximize your potential"...whatever potential that may be. For some it is traveling, for others it is becoming a successful business person, for others learning or perfecting artistic crafts, etc. But buying a big home and a new car? That's not "potential"...that's just STUFF! I think you hit it on the nose!

    • Yep. The stuff is not the dream. But I suppose people wanting to own a bunch of stuff and having the ability to do it is a big part of America as well. You can do what you want - sink your ship or sail it - that is the American Dream.

      Thanks Guys!

  11. Hello Justin,

    You have some good points! But I think living the dream is better than dreaming it :)
    We have a dream to travel Australia and we are doing that! We are living a dream where we no longer have a mortgage - we have sold off everything that was keeping us stuck in our life.
    Living the Real American dream means a lot of different things for a lot of different people! I guees what makes you happy means that you are living the dream
    Cheers
    Lisa
    Lisa Wood recently posted..Living The Australian Dream

    • Oh, don't get me wrong Lisa, I really want my dream to become a reality. I couldn't agree more. Live the Dream.

      I think what you guys are doing is great and we are on our way to following in your footsteps. But in America their is often the assumption that you you should just "get" the dream by right. I was just trying to point out that the ability to have an achievable dream and shoot for it is what the American Dream really is.

      Thanks!

  12. Great post and very well written. I agree with everything you said and yet disagree. True, we are only "promissed" the opportunity and it is up to each of us to maximize that opportunity. However, it seems that many systems in America work against our success. They create obstacles and hurdles that make success illusive. Thanks for sharing a refreshing perspective.

    • Thanks!

      Systems of government are deceiving. Certainly some countries do certain things better than others. But what programs are you speaking of specifically?

      It all really depends on what you want from a governement. Other countries have very high tax rates and choose where your money goes, sometimes productively, sometimes not. America allows people to choose a bit more than some other countries, but often that is not what people want.

      Plus America has 50 states all with different rules and laws. That is alot of choice.

      I think what makes it so hard sometimes is the choice. It's often easier to have goevrnment just decide for you. I know in my state of MA anyone making less than 55,000 a year can get subsudized insurance for a very low rate. And anyone under say 30,000(and I am estimating) gets tremendous
      healthcare. This si just one example, but I think sometimes it seems worse than it is. Americans have grand expectations I think.

  13. Great post. It really is amazing. In America you can pretty much make life whatever you want it to be. It was amazing though watching the lead up to this post when you mentioned the American Dream on Facebook and there were so many comments on debt and obligations. I think the Great Recession has been a Great Re-Orientation. People (myself included) are realizing the American Dream is not a big mortgage and a big house.
    Clark Vandeventer recently posted..Could you travel for 10 years straight?

    • I agree Clark. So much of the focus has become debt, but it is all a choice. We can look at the debt and complain or we can look at ourselves and do something about it.

      It has always been true that many of can do whatever we want.

  14. Wow! Such a totally different take on this. So happy to have read it. :)
    Lainie Liberti recently posted..Erosion of the American Dream

    • Thanks Lainie! I have always seen you as living the American Dream, wherever you may be in the world!

  15. Oh, The American Dream, the Israeli Dream. When we told our family and friends we were leaving the life we loved to travel the world; most of them freaked out. The idea of letting go of great, fulfilling jobs and a home; community we loved; a school we established; we something they could not comprehend. We've just finished up our fourth e-book coming out in October. One of them focused on how to best create YOUR dream, and how to tell people in way that won't create too much damage. Turns out Justin, that when you tell others of your dream; it often threatens them, challenges their own way of life. Sticky stuff. But not sticky enough to keep us (and others) from living out those dreams, right?
    Great article! Gabi

    • I would say that achieving a dream is hard, and people, including myself, don't like to be told they aren't doing enough to get it done.

      What you guys are doing is fantastic and I can't wait to see the new book.

      Whether people are ready for it or not, I think by following our dreams we are encouraging the best life has to offer. And that is always good.

      Thanks Gabi!

  16. Wow--I love this! I teach Advanced Reading and American Culture to ESL students at a 2-year college in NJ. I'm going to have them read this as a homework assignment or something. I think it really shows the concept of the opportunity being a major part of the dream, but also that there are no guarantees beyond that. Glad I found this!
    Lisa @chickybus recently posted..Sunflower in Full Bloom, Dominican Republic (Photo of the Day)

    • Thanks Lisa. Sounds great! I was an ESL teacher as well and teach here in the US for now. Be great to interact with your class. And yes, opportunity is huge, but you still have to go get. Their not giving fulfilled dreams away for free!

      Glad you pointed this out to me because I had like 6 grammar errors in the post! that would have been great for the ESL guys as well!

  17. Nate Beaver

    This opened my eyes and made me rethink my designations and problems and made my major problems seem small and puny. importunity brings risks, in Africa people are more happy because their more grateful for what they have and don't worry about what they don't.

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