The American Dream has been silently changing. I would argue that most college graduates these days don’t want to get a day job, live in a quiet suburb, and live a safe life. We want to escape the confines of our childhood and explore the world before we settle down. We twenty-somethings are the children of the latest American Dream. Our parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents fought in the wars of the 20th century to give us the freedom to live the American Dream: The quiet house on a cul-de-sac where kids can play in the streets and you greet a new neighbor with cookies. Our forefathers worked jobs they most likely hated to put food on the plates of their children and a roof above their head. My generation is deeply grateful to everyone who fought for what we have. There is just one problem though.
The American Dream was supposed to have been reached by now. Parents always want a better life for their children than they had themselves. In most cases, their dreams have not been realized though. Their dreams have been exploited and our country’s people are struggling as much as ever to live the lives they want.
- Rampant unemployment for recent college graduates has them drowning in student loans and bills they can’t afford to pay.
- People that are close to retirement realize they don’t have enough to walk away and end up working ten years longer.
- Companies lay employees off without any regard for the fact that they are actual humans with lives outside work.
- People with no money to speak of live lives relying on credit cards and payday loans.
- Waiting outside a store at 3 AM on Black Friday to save $20 on the latest whatever.
- There are lines at the pumps for $4/gallon gas.
The American Dream needs to change.
Six months ago I signed up to be a member of a major warehouse store chain as a bit of a test for myself. I don’t like the consumerism culture of the United States. In the past few years I have been becoming more of a minimalist and have wanted less and less “stuff”. When I enter a mall, a Wal-Mart, or any other giant mega-store I feel physically sick. Everything about them screams “buy more stuff” to me. I am in and out of these stores as fast as possible.
A few years ago I went down to Honduras on a volunteer trip. Even under extreme poverty, the people I met there were filled with more joy than most people in the U.S. They had dirt floors, their children were malnourished, and they ate the same one meal each day, but they had huge smiles on their faces. They were satisfied with whatever possessions they had and they didn’t need go on a spending spree to make themselves feel better. They were happy to be alive. How many people do you know that could fit that description?
These third world children didn’t need a new video game or toy to stop a crying fit in the store. These twenty-somethings didn’t feel the need to lease a new car to try and impress the opposite sex. These parents didn’t need more than a single room home for their families to live in. Why do we?
Our stores, homes, and lives are filled with so much material junk. How can we make it stop?
How can we reinvent the American Dream to be more about living your precious life and less about figuring out how big a storage unit we need for all the junk we own?
Live a simpler life. Do less. Spend money only on what matters most to you. Work a job you enjoy and get meaning from, even if it pays less. Take the trip you have always wanted to go on. Pay off your debt. Live within your means. Raise children that are conscious of how the world works. Put the fate of your life in your hands only, not a corporation. Own less. Take care of your family when they need help. Live each and every day, as if it was your last, with an undying passion for life.
The American Dream for me is simple: Live every moment doing what I choose to be doing.
Right now, my dream is not a reality, but I am working towards it. I work for someone else and the majority of my waking hours are spent attached to that work, but what I am slowly creating is a life filled with:
- Exploring the world and experiencing other cultures (my biggest passion).
- Changing how the world thinks about and treats their money.
- Changing the consumerist behavior that is threatening the sustainability of this planet.
- Being a part of the generation that stands up to all the “you have to’s” and says “no I don’t”.
I observe, plan, and work towards how I am going to change the world for the better over my life time. The first quarter of my life was just training. My next 75+ years are going to change the world.
That is my American Dream. What’s yours?