The American Dream.
It’s one of those vague notions that we grow up hearing all of our lives. We’re told that if we go to school and work hard, then we’ll be able to get our own piece of the Dream. For the longest, I bought into it. My plan for the future included school, school, and more school, then working almost every day until I was old enough to retire. And once I reached that Mecca that is retirement, only then would I slow down to live my life and do whatever I wanted. I believed this and worked towards it for a while until one day something changed. I can’t exactly put my finger on when it happened, but I woke up one day and I realized that that was NOT what I wanted. I didn’t want to feel trapped in a job, working every week day, having to ask permission for time off, and having my job title become my identity. I decided I wanted to be free. I wanted work to live, not live to work.
The original American Dream was about opportunity. It was the belief that if one works hard, they would be able to access the same opportunities as anyone else and become successful. Over time, however, the American Dream transformed into an ideal focused on material possessions. This modern idea of the American Dream is faulty, however. It tells us to work hard so we can have anything and buy all of the stuff that we want, which will make us happy. But what it doesn’t tell us is that that feeling of happiness is fleeting. In order to keep that feeling of happiness, we have to buy more things- bigger things, more expensive things. We buy these things sometimes with money, sometimes with credit. Then, we have to work more in order to keep these things and obtain more things. Life can quickly become a game of work and catch-up without ever getting ahead. I realized we soon become slaves to the Dream.
After I made this realization, I started noticing the people around me. I noticed coworkers who had been working day in and day out for decades, only to continue to complain about not having enough. I noticed people around me who had worked tirelessly through their youth, only to be too tired or in too bad of health to enjoy their latter years. I realized I was surrounded by people who seemed to work hard all of the time, but never seemed to get ahead. Was this really the Dream? To work a lot and live a little? Then the thought crossed my mind, “What if, instead, we lived a lot and worked a little?” What if instead of the system being set up to have us get stuck in a cycle of work with little rest, it were set up for a healthy balance of work and play? What if our mindsets changed, and we, as a society, didn’t place so much importance on acquiring so many things?
After this conversation with myself, I solidified the decision that I didn’t want to get stuck in the cycle. Material things that I would have to work years to pay for no longer interested me. No longer do I care about having a luxury car, or expensive handbags and jewelry, or a huge house. As long as I have everything that I need to be comfortable, I find no need for excess. To me, this is a great trade off for working less and living and traveling more. The modern American Dream that encourages consumption and materialism is a trap that I never want to get caught in. My happiness no longer comes from stuff, but from time with loved ones, traveling the world, and free time to do as I please. I may never be rich- most people aren’t- but one thing I know for sure is that I’ll be happy…and free.