If the American Dream has turned into a nightmare, how do we redefine success?
A friend posted an article recently titled “Welcome’ to the Sharing Economy – Also Known as the Collapse of the American Dream.” The author, Steven Strauss of Harvard Kennedy School, was criticizing the growth of “micro-entrepreneurs” (a word used by Thomas Friedman in an article praising the benefits of this type of system), the clearest example being Airbnb. Why go full entrepreneur and open a hotel if you can just rent out your room and be a micro-entrepreneur? Friedman argues that this type of economy is the way of the future, but for Strauss, it’s the demise of the one thing that we’re all taught to go after: The American Dream.
But what is the American Dream?
While we all have an idea of what the American Dream is and represents, for the actual definition we go back to 1930, when writer and historian James Truslow Adams penned “The Epic of America.” In this book he defines the American Dream as the “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement.”
While we may not learn the term right away, we are quickly taught the iconic symbols: a house with a white picket fence, a smiling family, a hardworking individual that starts with barely anything and works his or her way up. Success. Respect. Riches. That’s Strauss’ world. The one he is so afraid a collaborative economy will detract from.
But step back to look at the American Dream and it’s easy to see that much of it is more of an illusion than reality. Be born into a well-to-do family and your chances of being well-to-do yourself are much higher than those around you. Get stuck with a low paying job and these days, you might be hard pressed to ever get out of it. We’re stressed, we’re depressed and we’re overweight. Is that what we dream of? Not to be cliche or anything, but isn’t this a nightmare?
It’s time we redefined the American Dream. A “dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone” doesn’t have to mean that everyone should aspire to be CEOs of large corporations. We know exactly the impact that those large corporations have on the general public and environment. No, we need a new understanding of “better and richer and fuller,” one that takes into consideration our actual happiness and the health of our community.
Maybe it’s time we redefined our visions of success. In this new economy, where we aim to support each other, collaborate, and leave a better world for our children, here are seven different ways to redefine success.
1. Building Your Own Tiny Home
Take up less space, live off the grid and have more time for your friends and family. Yes, please.
2. Being Flexible
Stuck in an office from 9-to-5 is out, working long hours when you want to, for a cause you believe in, is in. Traditionalists may view this as inefficient slacking. Modernists will see this as the new way of getting things done, finding a balance between work and personal life that isn’t defined by a certain time of day.
3. Becoming More Self Sufficient
In an industrialized world, we have forgotten most of the tangible skills of our forefathers, all in the name of efficiency. Baking your own bread, mending your own clothes, coming together and taking care of a neighborhood vegetable garden – this isn’t vintage, this is the way of the future.
4. Considering Others and Building Community
We have cultivated a culture of poverty, and unless we take a serious step back to address steps to fix it, we can expect to continue to live in a world of haves and have-nots. The world isn’t about stepping on other people’s shoulders to make your own way tot the top, it’s about banding together to ensure that we’re all healthy and happy. Because a community loves, nurtures and supports. It’s time to accept that we can’t do it all alone.
5. Publishing Your Own Book
I don’t mean sending off proposals and waiting for huge publishers to call. I mean bleeding sweat and tears to do it all yourself. Fifty years ago this would have been unimaginable. Today, you’re only limited by your own determination.
6. Maintaining Your Health
You have one task every single day: keep yourself alive. Most of us however are literally killing ourselves with our diets and our sedentary lifestyles. It’s a privilege to be able to be active. Use your body and treat it well.
7. (Really) Enjoying Life
Why is it that we commend those around us for being busy, for working 90 hour weeks, for cramming in a salad in between meetings, while we scoff at the French and their two hour lunches and wonder how in God’s name those Europeans with their long vacations ever get anything done? Reality check people: a job is supposed to give you the means to live your life, not the other way around. Take a step back, slow down, enjoy the little things.
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Image: Inhabitat Blog