A couple months ago I was asked to speak on a panel with some fellow entrepreneurs about the American Dream. Before us was the question: "Does the American Dream ring true for your generation?"
I was surprised to hear many whom I have a deep respect for say: "No." But I understand their perspective. We live in a world where all the news feeds us is what when wrong that day, where we are striving to protect what we have instead of sharing it, where education is a pathway to crowded field of debt, and where the traditional sense of having a single career for life and a family of 2.2 kids and half a pet no longer seems quite that aspirational.
For as long as I can remember, I have been obsessed with the idea of the American Dream. It has been the focus of much of my personal and academic education, and a subject that I suspect will be carried forward for the rest of my life. As a child of immigrants I have a deep sense and awe for the courage it takes to reach for new shores with one hand with only a dream in the other. Knowing full well, that when you arrive the streets are not paved with gold, they may not even be paved at all.
The Declaration of Independence grants Americans "life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness." This rhetoric is commonly a starting point for all conversations that revolve around the American Dream, because it describes the intention of the authors and signers. But it wouldn't be until 1931 that James Turslow Adams coined the term "American Dream" writing that:
"It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position."
The Founders believed that America should be the land of opportunity, where each person, created equal, maintains personal liberties and has the right to live in a way that reflects personal choice. What America does not guarantee, is success or happiness. The whole idea is fascinating to me, that there was a foundation with only one guarantee, permission. Permission to pursue your full measure, and define the reality you desire to create.
Over the years I have interviewed countless people. Asking the same smattering of simple questions, all beginning with:
"What are you most proud of?"
I always receive the same answer in some form or another.
In the American narrative, we bring legitimacy to others and ourselves by storytelling. We can choose to subscribe to an idealized American Dream that is expressed in society or take that power upon ourselves to define a dream all our own. This quality personalizes the American Dream, so each of us can write our own story; and through it's telling we are able to say:
"I count, and this is why..."
We all have stories to be proud of. But we often forget, our stories are not competitive or comparative; rather, they are what hold us together. The more I am a part of the American Dream, the more convinced I am that it is alive and well.
As we celebrate Independence Day, and every day, I am grateful to live in a country that allows each of us to write our own story.
Happy Independence Day!