So much of who we’ve evolved into as a society seems to be based on the allusive American Dream.
What’s the American Dream anyway?
I remember being fixated on this when I was an undergrad. Why, as a culture, were we/are we so obsessed with it? What exactly is the American Dream? Where did it originate, and who crafted it?
Turns out it was first mentioned in 1931 in James Truslow Adams’s book, The Epic of America. This quote may be a bit of a snoozer, but bear with me and take a moment to really consider it’s meaning. Here’s the quote:
But there has been also the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of a 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. No, the American dream that has lured tens of millions of all nations to our shores in the past century has not been a dream of merely material plenty, though that has doubtless counted heavily. It has been much more than that. It has been a dream of being able to grow to fullest development as man and woman, unhampered by the barriers which had slowly been erected in older civilizations, unrepressed by social orders which had developed for the benefit of classes rather than for the simple human being of any and every class. And that dream has been realized more fully in actual life here than anywhere else, though very imperfectly even among ourselves.
I’ll leave the whole of it for you to interpret, which may be challenging because you’re not privy to the context in this short writing, but for the purposes of this post, the American dream isn’t really about accumulating lots of stuff and money; there seems to be a much deeper meaning here.
So, when and how did this American dream get skewed and become that 1,000 pound burden for all to aspire to big houses, luxury cars, gigantic bank accounts and the stress of accumulating the most stuff?
Like that game we played as kids where you tell someone something and ask them to pass it around the circle, the message shared by the last person is often unrecognizable.
Have you ever considered this off version of the American dream? Has it been a burden for you? Chances are, it hasn’t. But the fumes of this message certainly linger for some in our current society.
I’m guessing many or most of you in college today know better. You’ve observed the mistakes of previous generations – your parents’ and grandparents’ – and concluded that it’s not all about who has the most stuff. Or, at least I hope you have.
As a college student, I’m assuming you’ve given this some deep thought, right? After all, you’ve signed up to reach for and secure something better for yourself and your current or future family. It’s why you’re in college.
Better than what, though? What are you searching for? What feeling are you after?
As far as I’ve observed and experienced, no one wants to spend his or her life scavenging for necessities. We all desire comfort and plenty of money to do what we want when we want.
It seems that the current generation flooding the workforce in unprecedented numbers, to which you probably belong, sees things a little differently.
Much of the data collected about your hopes, dreams, fears, habits, etc. suggests that (as a generation) you’re not as interested in accumulating stuff.
BAM! to the marketers obsessed with everything about you in their mission to lure you in and subtly lead you to a life of excessive accumulation.
Instead, many of you aspire to live lives filled with more meaning and a chance to live more fully NOW versus postponing all of this until retirement.
Experiences seem to matter more to you than stuff. We’ve seen the introduction of tiny houses and more compact cars, all designed with a healthier environment in mind and a life with less stress.
Your generation is probably the most heavily researched in history. Some of these researchers have come up with unflattering labels to describe your general focus and ways of being, which I refuse to entertain.
Every generation has something unfavorable to say about the upcoming generation. That’s expected, so I’m not buying into any of it about your generation.
I believe because you’ve come of age when things have drastically shifted in our society, it demands that you be very different as well. The Internet is in the front seat of this massive shift.
Many refer to you as digital natives, as your life is filled with some of the most impressive technology we’ve ever seen and many of you learned how to use and manipulate it at a very young age.
You’ve also listened to debates about our environment and watched as many in power argue passionately about whether there is a problem and what to do about it. So, you’re eager to make a difference in this area as well.
You’re also deeply interested and actively participating in a variety of movements for human rights – generally and specifically – across the board.
It’s not just about stuff for many of you, it’s about contribution, how you can make the world a better place, leaving it better than it was while you were growing up.
I suppose my point in this snooze-fest is to encourage you to seriously consider (if you haven’t already) whether the one with the most stuff wins or loses.
Your stand has everything to do with how you will approach your college journey.
While recently working with a student during a private consultation, she mentioned that many of her friends are just about finding a job that makes a lot of money.
Have these students not read the research about what their generation wants? Are they not aware that a primary focus on accumulating a lot of money will lead to their losing in other major ways, that by the way, will become painfully evident in the years to come?
While you’re in college, figure out who you are, what you deeply desire, what you really care about, and what you want to contribute, then set your sights on that.
The money thing is important, but it isn’t the key to winning. There are some viable, meaningful and more fulfilling alternatives that will contribute to a life where you can win on your terms, now and later.
Have you listened to The Robbi Crawford Show, a budding podcast for and about students? Listen on Soundcloud, Stitcher and iTunes and leave a comment so others can find the show, or share one of your current challenges and we’ll create a show about it! And, check out the show notes for each episode via the podcast website.