Has The American Dream Changed?

I was sitting on the beach in Mexico today with my family when a sixty something year old man approached me.

How is this a vacation if you have to work?” he asked.

Caught a little off guard I said, “This isn’t work, this is fun.”

But you’re reading with a highlighter and taking notes,” he replied.

I’m doing research about a subject I love. It’s a project I’m working on for a client, and I’m at the beach with my family, how is that work?”

Well, I put in my time. I did my 30 years, and NOW it’s time to reap the benefits,” the retired man said.

He retired two years before and after a long, tough career, he was enjoying life for the first time. I asked what he was doing now and he said, “Nothing, nothing at all.”

I started to think about that for a while. It would bore me to no end to slave away for forty years to then retire and do nothing. And what if during all that hard work and sacrifice, something happened, and you were never able to do the things you once could have, but put aside for the big reward at the end?

The “Americana Dream” has been to plug away at school for 13 to 20 years, get a job at a large company, work hard, buy lots of stuff, and then reap the benefits in retirement after thirty to fifty more years of work and sacrifice.

This typical lifestyle involves consuming lots of things that usually cost more than current income, resulting in excessive debt. Things like homes, cars, education, furniture, and home electronics. These things usually provide some immediate satisfaction. And then after the immediate pleasure, many expensive purchases result in debt financing that’s usually more stressful than the pleasure of the new purchase.

This forces people to work even harder and longer to buy more things to maintain the initial high that comes from acquiring new stuff.

This revolving door of purchases and never ending work is not much different than the drug addict chasing his next high. There’s no end to it, and the long term consequences can be overwhelming.

At some point, most people ask themselves, “Is it worth it?” Soon people feel trapped in a rat race working so hard to pay for things that no longer bring them more joy than the pain caused by working to pay for them.

To justify this seemingly endless cycle, we’re told the sacrifices will pay off when we retire. But will those sacrifices really pay off?

In the book Linchpin, Seth Godin said, “The old American dream was to keep your head down, follow instructions, show up on time, work hard, suck it up, and you will be rewarded.”

Is that old American dream still true, or has the American dream changed?

Will you be recognized for your hard work and sacrifice? If you believe the answer is yes, the follow-up question is, will the sacrifice be worth it?

I believe in hard work, and I work harder than most people I know. I also believe in sacrifice, but is it possible that with a mindset change in today’s new world, with advanced technology, and the global economy, you can enjoy more today, while still preparing for tomorrow? Is it still necessary to “suck it up” and wait for the reward in the end?

Is it now possible to do what you’re passionate about, so work is no longer something you have to endure? Is it possible to blur the lines between work and pleasure to the point you no longer feel the need to suck it up and then escape in retirement?

What if instead of sucking it up for forty years, you mixed your income generating time with doing the things you enjoy? What if you consume fewer things, invest in more experiences and learning new skills that will enhance your life and provide you more ways to earn income doing things you love?

I don’t have the answers; I’m just posing the question.

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7 Replies to “Has The American Dream Changed?”

  1. My definition of the American Dream is different: regardless of age, race, religion, or gender, if you have skills and are willing to work hard, you can become or accomplish anything in this land of opportunity. I don’t think this definition has changed.

  2. I find that many people are still “waiting for their time”. The time that they can retire and do other things. The problem with this scenario is that when “their time” comes, they may not have the energy or the health that they once had to really enjoy their retirement. Watching you on this video got me to thinking that if may be better to do “mini-retirements” and travel while you are young so you can truly enjoy the moment. Unfortunately most people are not able to leave their work for any length of time to recharge themselves and enjoy travel, leisure and time away from the rat race. Most people are still trying to scratch out a living versus “living their dream.”

  3. It’s all about the question of “Who decides?”.. one should reject anyone else’s authority over what one should be doing every single second of ones time and to just do whatever feels right in that moment in order to move towards ones own personal vision. If whoever has the “authority” is not ok with that, then do it anyway.. that’s how you achieve your dreams.. 

    1. You’re right Martin. It is too easy to get caught in the trap of living some others vision, instead of your own. Also, a lot of “authorities” are false authorities and their opinion should often be questioned.

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