How does the American Dream measure up?
Work hard, save up, invest, buy a house, send your kids to college, get a boat, buy a nice car, buy a bigger car, get a lake house, donate money to charity and all your dreams will come true. Generations of immigrants, and newly minted Americans were fed this story from first settlers, in the northeast, to the gold rush and reconstruction of the American West, to the migration of freed slaves from the south to the cities of the North, the same idea was repeated over and over; if you invest enough you too will get to taste the sweet nectar of success and prosperity. Here, in the grandest city of all; New York, they add the overused tagline- If you can make it here you can make it anywhere.
Like that old Sinatra song, there is an air of old school musty glory to this idea that if you can survive a city that can rough you up and spit you out, you will then receive the ever coveted shield to forge on toward any dream you could possibly have. With that seedling of a dream, millions, and millions of people with nothing left to lose came to this city’s shores and still do.
For some it works, for others, they work themselves to the bone to achieve something that is quite plainly unseen. I followed this model or parts of this story of glory for the formative years of my life. I went to an American College, took out a loan, finished school, got a degree, went to work at an arts organization, built my credit, kept paying off my loan, moved to London, moved to Athens, kept working, built a business, got in debt, paid my debt, kept paying off my college loan, and now at an age when all this should have been figured out I find myself working from the ground up, again. Something the American dream never took into consideration: Failure.
And it begs the question:
Is the American dream more of an American nightmare?
Is the mere act of trying to squeeze every single morsel of time, energy and effort for a supposed image of success, causing more irreparable harm? Is there something wrong with people who don’t fulfill it.? Over the years I’ve questioned the validity of the construct of this model; not only because it’s parameters seem to exclude more and more groups of people, but also because of the carrot of success it at a great cost to achieving it.
This idea of a self made, successful man, and let’s face it it’s always a man; with everything he could ever want, that will build himself up from scratch and pave the way for future generations, has been a poster image of success for as long as this construct has existed. It has been adopted by other countries ( Including Greece) and cultures with absolutely no background in such a formula, sometimes ( always) with disastrous results; because the formula is fundamentally flawed. The experiment isn’t working if it ever did, and it certainly won’t work any more. The idea no longer holds water, the marketing campaign for the work hard and be rewarded paradigm is sitting on rotting ground, and the boat even though it was meant to withstand choppy water, is ultimately being capsized in the perfect storm. We lost sign of the dream, because it was based on a false narrative.
Where will the “dream” go next? This is not for me to say. What I can say for certain is this: success isn’t in the money we make, or the cars we drive, or the houses we buy. Success isn’t how many followers we have, or how much sex we’ve had or who emulates us. Success is not any of these things. Sure that’s all grand and of course nothing about achieving those goals is bad; but for me success is having a clearer understanding of failure. Success is failure’s companion and one person’s dream could truly be another person’s nightmare. Ultimately I would rather fail at the American dream, and succeed at having a few good people in my life that I can truly be connected with.
For now I leave it to you dear readers to decide. Till the next episode.