What American Dream?

I have been thinking a lot lately about whether the narrative of the American Dream is changing.

My father was compelled to move from Turkey to the United States when he was 17 because of a car commercial for Ford that he saw on the small television set in his parents’ ornamentally decorated living room wherein “the road looked so big and the energy was so free.” Duly following, he applied to some universities in the United States, was accepted to one in Gainesville, Florida, packed his bag and within months, was here.

He has said, on several occasions, that there’s no opportunity, anywhere else, for the kind of freedom that the United States offers. The American Dream, in all its capitalist glory, was palpable.

As recently as last month, he condemned the way in which we operate now: “When I was a kid out of college,” he recalls, “we measured success in dollars, not Instagram followers.”

Twisted as it may sound, this notion got me thinking: has the narrative of the American dream changed? Or perhaps more acutely, (because fundamentally, the dream is one built on tenets that support unconditional happiness) have we, as individuals, finally gotten on the express train — surpassing what we think will make us happy (e.g. tangible comfort) to consider what is consistently fulfilling, i.e. “spiritual” wealth? Did we accidentally synonymize freedom with material wealth when in reality we were looking for what we thought wealth would bring?

More and more, I’m beginning to hear about individuals who have left their cushy jobs to pursue passion projects that indubitably assume substantial pay cuts. They say they’ve never been happier. I’m compelled to believe them.

Are you? In ~500 words, this week’s Man Repeller Writers Club Prompt wants to know where you stand on the shifting paradigm of The American Dream. All stories should be submitted to write@manrepeller.com by Thursday, January 15th at 12 pm. And in case you missed the last published story, enjoy this interpretation of Jay Z’s “New York State of Mind“.

Image via L’Officiel Netherlands

  • Ohhhhh, baby…….

  • brittany

    funny – i think this is less a millenials vs. baby boomers thing and more dependent on how close a millenial’s parents were to achieving the ‘American Dream’. The only friends I have who are working on passion projects, taking pay cuts etc. are all people whose parents had achieved the dream of great financial success, people who have never had to worry about money because their parents always had it. On the other hand – there are my friends working well-paying jobs in areas like finance [myself included], our common thread being that we all came from your standard middle-class family – parents who by your dad’s definition above hadn’t exactly achieved the dream. So I guess because our families didn’t achieve the classic American Dream, it’s our turn to work for it and maybe, if we do get there, our next generation can worry more about their Instagram followers and less about paying rent and college loans.

    • I don’t think being a middle-class family means that the American Dream wasn’t achieved, and I don’t think Leandra’s dad meant that either, but I do agree with you about the rest. There’s a difference between taking a pay cut and having to stay in a few more weekends and taking a pay cut and not being able to pay loans, rent, or insurance, for example. That is an interesting point about perhaps a generation delay in this new American dream, depending on what our parent’s achieved. It is a lot easier to find yourself/your passions in a career when you have a safety net below you, but that doesn’t mean we can’t create a safety net for ourselves in years to come. That’s what I tell myself anyway.

    • vintagestarparis

      What about the NBA player who walked away from tens of millions of $ to start an NGO. He came from an exceedingly modest background.

    • I actually agree with you and @CJKEYS2:disqus and @vintagestarparts. Most can’t afford to pursue passion projects, which I guess we are referring to as the American dream here. One must have enough funds to start their entrepreneurship idea or venture into a risky career field (like fashion design) and be supported/encouraged by their parents or friends around them. It’s understandable, though. If you can barely keep up with paying your rent, why would you risk a career with a very unpredictable future?

      However, there are always those few who start from nothing and become something great eventually with the Kickstarter and other funding opportunities we have these days. Those people who achieve success, are unfortunately, not seen often.

  • Excited to read this one. Your dad sounds great.


  • What a great article! It really got me thinking and caught my eye. The American Dream has had to change since society has changed.

  • melsi

    Just yesterday I was wondering if the word ‘indubitably’ was a real word, as I’ve only ever heard it on a warner bros cartoon (and only ever said it in my head since). Thanks for clearing that up.

  • Melie
  • OHHHHHHH my.
    This is such a juicy subject.
    How do I even begin…

  • angela

    So true! I see so many people on instagram, blogs, etc. pursuing their passions that are the typical paying jobs. And they look like they’re having so much fun and they seem so free! That is basically my quarter life crisis – trying to decide whether I should pursue a passion that might make no money or pursue a stable paying but less exciting career. sigh…the trouble is we have so many choices now. #millenial #firstworldproblems indeed..