There is much talk and a plurality of articles playing the dirge of death: the American Dream is dead. This recent article from Atlantic magazine is a typical example.
If the American Dream is equated to an easy way to make a lucrative living, then I agree, that American Dream is certainly dead if indeed it was ever alive. I’ll call this belief: Premise 1.
If, however the American Dream is defined as the ability of a person to work hard to rise above his or her own personal circumstances to achieve a rich life of achievement and personal growth, then the American Dream is very much alive and well. I’ll call this belief: Premise 2.
Premise 1: It should be Easy to Earn a Lucrative Living
I will spend minimal time on Premise 1 as I feel it is and always was a complete myth; but society loves to lionize myths. The typical mythical story line is that, back in the day (when, specifically?), a young man (always men for some reason) who just graduated from high school with middling grades could walk down the street to a nearby factory where lucrative jobs were in plentiful supply.
The hiring manager would smile, say “welcome aboard.” The next week, the young man would begin working at the factory and, in a very short time he would have the good life: a happy stay-at-home wife, two kids, a nice home, the white picket fence, vacation and benefits. Soon the kids would be off to college and the man and his wife would settle back to life of comfort in retirement; never lacking for anything.
Anyone with even a basic understanding of the economic law of supply and demand would recognize that Premise 1 is bogus: it simply never existed. It is a complete myth.
No doubt there were high school graduates who secured entry level factory jobs who worked long hard hours at, initially, modest pay and eventually achieved notable success. But, that is Premise 2 isn’t it? The myth is that such achievement was easy, that many people reached success easily. The reality is that many strived and a very small fraction achieved high levels of success. Sounds familiar doesn’t it?
Premise 2: Those willing to Take Risk and Work very Hard May Achieve Success
Premise 2 has always been the basis of the American Dream. Note there are three components to the American Dream as defined by Premise 2:
- Take risk
- Work very hard
- May achieve success
Risk is required to achieve great success. It is that simple. If you choose to take the low-risk, easy path you will receive the low-risk middling reward: low pay. Many people hate risk but love lucrative rewards. That is analogous to hating farming but loving bountiful crops.
Hard work is something else most people prefer to avoid. It may mean working after hours or volunteering to take on additional work assignments. I have lots of successful friends but none of them merely coasted into success: they had to work hard for what they achieved.
Even if you take risk and work hard, there is no guarantee you will achieve high levels of success. Don’t you hate that? Me too.
In the next post, The American Dream: Myth and Reality, Part II, I’ll discuss why inventors are perfectly situated to achieve the American Dream.