Who Gets to Live the American Dream Anymore?

For years now, all my wife and I have wanted is to feel financially secure. Not filthy rich (though I would not complain), just secure. The idea of just being able to go to the grocery store without worrying about money sounds like a vacation to the Bahamas right now. It seems like just when we start getting a good grip on things, another piece of our rock breaks and we find ourselves flat on the ground, trying to pick ourselves up from another fall.

Of course, notice how I carefully used words like “it feels” and “it seems” to describe our situation. The truth is, we could be better off, but both my wife and I work hard and we’re making it. Bills are always paid, good quality food is always on the table (well, except for when we’re both too tired to cook, then it’s pizza or take out), our house is smaller than we would like it to be, but it is nice and in a good neighborhood. We both drive used, but nice and reliable cars. We wear brand name clothes (even if we do get them at the outlet mall), we have smartphones and a big screen TV. I could go on, but the point is, life just is not as bad as it can sometimes feel.

I think we are all guilty of this. We focus on what we don’t have and what we still want, instead of realizing all the great things that we do have, and recognizing just how many of our wants and needs are fulfilled.

The answer to the question, “Who gets to live the American dream anymore?” is, unfortunately, “Not many.” But, it is not because things are so much harder for us than for our parents. No, the reason almost no one gets to live the American dream anymore is that the American dream has grown too big in our minds. The American dream has been overrun by unrealistic expectations of celebrity lifestyles and oversized mansions on the hill.

Back in the day, as our parents would say, expectations were a lot more down to earth. The American Dream meant that you worked hard, made some money, had a house and a little family, and some good friends to share a beer with on the porch. Today, the longing for fast cars, fancy clothes, and 120-foot private yachts distract us from enjoying our $5 coffee while reading a book on our Kindle before hopping back into our brand new Ford Explorer to drive home to our 4 bedroom house with air conditioning and a swing set in the back yard.

So yes, when people say that today the American dream is unattainable, I would have to agree. Sure, we can’t discount the fact that the last few years have been really hard on most families. I work 14 hour days between three jobs (including my business) to pay rent for our 3 bedroom house. For a man with 10 years of experience and an MBA, that is humbling to think about. Yes, I want things to be better, but I think the first step in creating a better future for all of us is to first count the things that we should be grateful for. It’s impossible to build a successful life on a foundation of negativity, envy, even anger. If we want things to be different tomorrow, let’s start by being grateful that we have today to get to work.