Success and the American Dream

Is this what you're after? Something tells me its not as easy as just buying it and sailing away.

Have you ever noticed that people who have reached the pinnacle, the elusive American Dream, are actually miserable?

“That’s just a Hollywood cliche.” Really? Think about your own interaction with highly successful people… I don’t think it’s a cliche. There are just as many miserable successful people as there are unsuccessful people.

Here are some elements of what we define as people who’ve achieved the American Dream:

  • Big lifestyle (cars, houses, travel, jewelry, boats, planes, and other stuff)
  • Big notoriety (everyone knows who they are in their circle of influence, people talk about who they hang with, people are jealous of stuff they do)
  • Big influence (the stuff that they do makes others think, act, or spend)
  • Big power (they get to tell a lot of people what to do, they call the shots, they are monarchy at their work)

While on the surface all of those things sound great, I think there’s a real reason why they are miserable.

They are big, powerful, and wealthy… but none of that has brought them the freedom that sent them looking for the American Dream in the first place. It’s all come with entrapments.

  • Big lifestyle comes with a high cost of ownership. Buying stuff is fun, paying for upkeep and maintenance results in a lot of very wealthy people being in a lot of debt. They simply have to keep working just to maintain all the crap they own. You’d think that these people could control their schedules? Nope, they have to work 14 hours per day so they can keep the illusion going.
  • Big notoriety comes with a high cost of inconvenience and friendship politics. Within the rich and powerful there is a complex game to be played. You can’t just be seen with “anyone,” you need to be seen with the right people. And if you get too much notoriety you can’t be seen anywhere because going places just becomes annoying. People just wanting 5 minutes so they can say they met you… that sounds like a life full of hollow relationships to me. True friendship has got to be hard to find. Accountability? Yeah, right.
  • Big influence is a double-edged sword. This may seem like a lot of fun on the surface, but it comes with a ton of pressure. When the words that you say, the stuff you use, and the thoughts you think effects so many people– that influence comes with unlimited scrutiny.
  • Big power also means big responsibility. (You’ve heard that a million times!) Sure, it’s fun to call the shots. Who doesn’t like feeling like the genie every once in a while? But big power comes with the big expectation that you’ll deliver every time. The world holds its breath for Steve Jobs to reveal his latest gadget… but all the pressure is on him to reveal something that doesn’t suck. If it sucks, it was his call and a lot of people lose their livelihood. That’s a pretty stressful place to be every day.

Sometimes when I look at the lives “rich and successful” people lead, I am repulsed. Seems more like a nightmare than a dream. That isn’t success! It’s a life of working 24 hours per day and being stressed about every relationship and decision. Yuck.

I say these things because I’m beginning to dream of a different American Dream.

If I’m honest, my American Dream has freedom at its core. (not acquiring stuff) I don’t want my stuff to own me so I want to make life simpler, not more complex. Buying stuff I can afford with cash is simple. The more I do that the more I like it. Notoriety isn’t nearly as intriguing as having truly deep relationships with a handful of friends. It is nice to be recognized for the right reasons, I can’t lie about that. But big influence? I’m working hard to have influence over my own actions! I suppose if that trickles out beyond me to my neighbors and community… cool, but I don’t dream of me speaking and an army of people doing. (Or watching a reality show about me) Really, I dream of having influence with a small number of people who also have influence in my life. Power? Only if that power leads to doing good for other people and having fun along the way. With that said, the power worth pursuing is to have enough power to truly have freedom.

The old-style American Dream just feels tired and complex. I watch TV shows about them and just feel sorry for their life. This new-style American Dream makes me smile. Simplicity leads to freedom.

Help me work this out a bit. Where does this new American Dream fall flat?






One response to “Success and the American Dream”

  1. Shawn M. Shoup Avatar

    Reminds me of the first couple lines from this song I sang last night at our Good Friday Service:

    Great song, “I Repent” from artist, Derek Webb:

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