The “American Dream” is dead.
Although I don’t necessarily think it’s dead, I think the “American Dream” is evolving by necessity. In this alteration of ideals, the Millennials have a big hand, because, well, the “American Dream” of previous generations isn’t attainable for us today. And in this revision of ours, the pathways to success, and the definition of success aren’t the same for us as they were before.
I’m a recent graduate – a 23-year-old grappling with the end of my academic life and the rough transition into adulthood – and I’ve been thinking a lot about the “American Dream” in the months since my college graduation.
The truth: I feel let down. I know it’s an inherently 20 something trait to be full of doubts about the future, but from blurbs on the web and from knowing my own peers, it seems like Millennials just have it way worse than our parents did.
They raised us with the belief that a strong work ethic and a drive to succeed could mean a good life. We thought we’d grow up and have the career, the spouse, the kids, a nice house, and maybe a fun loving golden retriever running around the yard. We have been on the path towards those things, by getting good grades in school and following high school with college, but now entering the work force, Millennials are commonly finding that the “American Dream” as our parents taught us is falling flat.
So, we are coming to terms with this new reality. We are facing the fact that we are not entering the same economy and workforce our parents did after college. Along with the widening wealth gap and double-digit unemployment rate for our age range, we cannot expect to attain the same successes our parents did on the same paths.
With this new reality comes the realization that the modern “American Dream” means potentially stepping away from the traditional careers, lifestyles, and measures of success. It’s somewhat liberating to realize that we get to live differently than our parents, but really, the prospect of having to create our own jobs and carve our own pathway to success is incredibly daunting.
Where do we start? How do we make ourselves a niche? Can we still be “successful” without a 9-5 salaried job with benefits?
This uncertainty has been my biggest struggle of post-grad life. I graduated with two degrees with honors in four years, and my prospects after college? Not good. If I had chosen an education in a technical field, or in a profession dealing with natural resources (like my Mining Engineer boyfriend) I may have been better off finding a job. Instead I chose to study the arts, and applying my literature courses (regardless of how enriching and important they were to my education) to a non-academia-related job in this economy has been just plain awful.
Even so, I’m finding out by reading blog posts and articles and Facebook statuses, that I, like so many of my generation, probably would still be struggling even if I’d had a different degree. And why is this? Because the majority of us are in this boat: having to re-envision what success will look like for us, and re-invent a route to get there.
So, what does that mean?
Well, it means a lot more uncertainty, unfortunately.
It means that since most of us will be hard pressed to find entry-level jobs into our chosen field, we must look toward technology and non-traditional jobs (like web-based freelance, short term, and part time gigs). It also means we must also be innovative in gaining experience, or creating that experience for ourselves, to build meaningful work. For people like me, burgeoning writers who don’t find editorial internships or staff writing jobs, it means creating and spreading work on various platforms, some paid, some unpaid, to carve out our own space in a technically diverse and increasingly virtual realm of writing.
And as far as defining success goes, I think a lot of us have to give up the picturesque idea that pops up so naturally at the phrase “American Dream” – the house in nice neighborhood, a happy family, a dog. We’ve got to burn that imaginary house down and re-imagine success to fit with our own goals, in a reasonable (probably small) home, apartment, cabin, or a tent on a mountaintop for that matter. Plus since our income level may never rebound to match (let alone exceed) our parents, we can’t let money define our success. Rather, we must strive on the satisfaction we feel from the work we choose.
It’s possible, but it will take hard work and determination from all of us. Said beautifully here, Millennials are the new American dreamers, and we have the skills and motivation to lead us into the “next version of America.” There is hope, yet.
I’m finding satisfaction in writing about things I find important, building a blog, traveling and seeing that success is measured in all sorts of different ways around the world so maybe the old “American Dream” was overrated anyway. But most of all, I am grateful for my parents’ house and health insurance while I struggle my way through these uncertain years into a different life that I will have made for myself.
What are your thoughts on the current status of the American Dream?!
Photo Credit: Brave Heart