Wednesday, December 11, 2013

The American Dream is dead. And that's okay.

The American dream of our parents is dead. And I’m okay with that.

I mean, I wouldn’t have been the one to kill it myself, it’s nice and all. Go to college. Get a stable job. Buy a house. Have kids. Save carefully and travel when you retire. It’s a good dream, a nice goal. It’s just that I’m not convinced it works like that anymore. 

The reality I see around me is different: go to college, realize you can’t get a job with a bachelors, get a masters, realize everyone else has a masters so you still can’t find a job, work several part-time jobs while paying mountains of student loan debt, pay out of pocket for health insurance, live with roommates way longer than you would ever want to live with roommates, and claw yourself back to zero by the time you’re forty. A down payment? Are you kidding me? And this is the situation you’re in if you’re lucky enough to have the wherewithal to get to college in the first place. 

But there is a bright side to the undignified trashing of the previous generations’ American dream. The bright side is that, in the act if rejecting, we are forced to consciously choose the next American dream. And with the old dream dead, we can dream bigger (and smaller) at the same time.

We can dream something up that’s more interconnected and based on relationships, instead of possessions. We could dream up a way to exist that wouldn’t destroy the environment. We could dream up a new way of living, in which one’s passions and interests wouldn’t be forever relegated to hobby status, never to be pursued due to overwhelming exhaustion. We could have the time and space to figure out who we were created to be. We could dream up ways to embrace the situation that we’re in,  and we could realize that the life we’ve been forced into has actually been embraced by creative types over the span of centuries: writers, artists and performers have all cobbled together a living out of piecemeal work. Creative types, for the most part, have chosen freedom over security, flexibility over rigidity. Time, freedom, and desperation are needed to be able to create. We’ve got plenty of time, even though a third (or fourth) job wouldn’t hurt the bottom line. We’ve got so much freedom it’s scary. And there’s lots of desperation lying around. 

If we have been unwillingly forced into the lifestyle of artists, why couldn’t we also create like artists? If we’ve got nothing to lose, what is there to lose by trying? If we’ve been coerced into a second adolescence, why can’t we take that time to mature into a wiser and kinder generation?

Living like an artist is no cakewalk. Struggling to make ends meet sucks. But the flip side of this lifestyle is space for vision, and creativity, and passion, and love for what you’re doing. Courage, chutzpah, and saltiness will be required, as well as great faith. 

The American dream can be resuscitated, or, if you prefer, resurrected. But it has to be made into something new. Luckily for us, we’ve got desperation, freedom, and time. In spades.

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