What does the American Dream mean to you?
What started out by definition as “a dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone” has many people in the United States today feeling burdened by work, money, and stress.
America has become a land of obesity, fast-food diets, the 9-5 work week, rising healthcare problems and a staggering number of people popping antidepressants just so that they can keep trying to smile through it. Many of us are not reaching our full potential on the happiness meter because for one reason or another, we have settled. We are playing the game. We never listened to that voice inside that told us to just go for it – to do something in this life that was going to actually inspire us and set our soul on fire.
I know, I get it. We have to put food on the table and pay our mortgage too, right? Trust me, I’ve made all the same excuses. That is the beginning of my story too. But is it worth it?
Sadly… Today the American Dream looks more like:
- A staggering number of people struggling to make ends meat
- Out of control college debt (which is only getting worse)
- A really difficult time finding jobs that pay well out of college
- Settling for jobs we don’t love because the cost of living has gotten so bonkers
- The overproduction of crap we don’t need
- Crazy consumerism and a steady, intoxicating need “to have it all”
I have come to a place in my life recently where I am so completely exhausted by all of it. By TRYING. SO. HARD. By sacrificing so much of myself in order to achieve this elusive standard. I feel like I’ve done all the things I was “suppose to do” and yet I feel more unfulfilled than ever – like I missed something along the way. To me this whole “American Dream” thing feels kind of like a trap. We go all in because that’s what society tells us to do, and we rarely question it. But shouldn’t we?
How many of us are now living lives we thought we were “suppose” to live, choosing paths that are “suppose” to make us happy, while missing our true purpose?
Here is my story.
When I was in college, I was like any other wide-eyed, dream-inspired twenty-something. I took every elective class I could get my hands on. For a while there I was trying to discover what my calling was — so much so that it took me almost 10 years to finally receive that little piece of paper that says “Congratulations! You are now the brand new owner of $60,000 in college debt!” (That paper is still sitting in a box.)
What I discovered during those college years was that picking a degree was very similar to picking a life mate. It felt like one of those “forever decisions” that I had to really think through or risk messing it all up. Every option, every path I could take was heavily weighted with that trusty pros and cons list. Will I love what I do? Will I be able to create work-life balance? Will I make enough money to survive???
In my mind, no job was perfect. I wanted passion, sure. But I also didn’t want to settle for a life of struggle. I’ve seen what that life looked like as a child and I didn’t want any part of it. That life was boring and stressful. I wanted the American Dream. I wanted a successful career above all else.
At that time in my life I was living on my own, paying for my own college tuition and completely supporting myself by working in the restaurant industry. That’s when reality started really kicking me in the ass. Between 30+ hour work weeks, full time studying and struggling to pay rent, I was quickly learning what “adulting” was really like — and it kind of sucked.
My only hope was that it would get better “someday.” I just needed to find that “perfect job” and i’d be set. Right around that same time, the crash of 2008 happened. And let me tell you, there ain’t nothin’ like complete nationwide chaos and the rampage of scarcity to motivate you into picking a job for the sweet comfort of stability.
So that’s what I did! I picked a degree that felt like the answer to that fear — a great, stable, well-respected job (that really had little to do with passion). But I was a bull with one target. Nothing could stop me now. American Dream here I come!!
So I thought.
5 years later… I’m struggling with keeping focus because the passion just isn’t there. The thing is, I thought this path was smart, I thought it would make my life “easy.” And even though it has done great things for me and my family, it’s left me questioning what else is out there.
Where did I go wrong? Now I just feel trapped. Golden Handcuffs.
How many of us have done this though? Choosing a path that wasn’t meant for us. Striving for either money, stability, respect or notoriety at the cost of true fulfillment. Ignoring what really gives our life a sense of meaning and purpose as well as true, undeniable BLISS. Telling ourselves every excuse under the sun for why we can’t have better – that a life of passionate work that we love means only struggle and we’ll never survive it.
We are not dummies. There is a reason we do this, obviously. As the price on the ticket for the American Dream becomes higher and higher, it has become really hard to make these life-changing decisions unencumbered by fear.
Living a purposeful, meaningful life that is passionate and free AND financial stable feels kind of like winning the lottery. (Am I right??) But there are people all around the world doing it every day who are successful! What makes you or I any different?
So recently I’ve set myself on a quest… I’ve been asking myself some very hard questions and have been getting some very powerful answers in return. I’ve been unwrapping the mystery of my self-limiting beliefs and really figuring out if they hold any validity in reality or if they are simply stemming from fear. And one thing is becoming perfectly clear: Living any life trapped by doubt and fear of the unknown is a complete waste of my time anymore and that sacrificing any part of me or my happiness because of that fear, is a complete cop-out. I want more.
The thing is, I don’t have to have all the answers right now.
I don’t have to know exactly what it looks like or how exactly I’ll get there. The more we wait and suck our thumb until we get the grand ‘ol “AH HA” that shows us the yellow brick road, we’ll never take action. And taking action right now, every day, is the only thing that is going to get us there. The path will unveil itself over time!
I’ve realized that I don’t have to know where the journey of courageous living will lead me. I know that as long as I pursue a life of passion and purpose, one that I believe has endless possibilities, than I will come to the end of my life and know that I lived it brave. I lived it happy. I lived it authentically…
And that’s the only kind of life I want for myself anymore.
What are your thoughts? I would love to hear from you!