I see a major problem with our current 40-hour-a-week, chase the American Dream mentality our culture has accepted as truth. This popular version of the American Dream includes making as much money as you can, raising-a-family-you-are-debatably-close-to; and then retiring into the sunset of old-age with a mind full of dying, unfulfilled dreams.
We American’s work hard, it’s true. We are survivors of adversity. For the last several centuries, hard work has become a core value of what it means to be an American. Our ancestors built their legacies by cultivating the wild west; and then building some of the most magnificent cities in the world; and then our generation has built some of the most progressive businesses within those cities that have led to a global economy and global community in just a few short years. We work so hard that we have not only survived a few wars, but we have emerged from them as thee world Super Power.
Our culture has gained so much wealth from our accomplishments, that now if you are willing to go to our colleges, and enter a career path, and work a 40+hour-work week, you can basically afford to purchase whatever customized reality you want to live in. As long as you work hard, you can basically enjoy your weekends and free-time in whatever lavish reality you’d like to believe is real.
To be able to purchase these customized experiences, such as unique homes, cars, vacations, and even friends, most adults have to commit to a 40+ hour work week to be able to pay for them.
This is the foundation of what the American Dream was built on. Earning more and more money, to buy the best customized version of reality for our families to enjoy. This has become our culture’s most common, purpose of life.
In my opinion, the modern American dream hasn’t changed much in the last few decades and in its modern form often looks like this: Sell 40+ of your best awake-hours a week to an employer for the highest wage, so that you can afford to buy the best experiences to create your own customized reality in the precious few hours that you are not slaving away at work.
Hopefully, if you follow this common purpose-of-life and everything goes right, you’ll die with memories of great weekends and evenings after work, fully immersed in the pleasurable custom reality you purchased with the money you earned while at work.
Growing up in suburban American in the 1980’s and 90’s, this was really the only path I saw for myself. It felt like my whole life had been planned for me, and all I had to do was manipulate my natural talents to fit the role of the highest-paying job. I thought as long as I followed the below, 4-step Earn the American Dream process, I’d be able to live a successful life and find my ultimate happiness.
Step one: Don’t screw up too bad growing up and then Graduate School
Step two: Become an adult and get a job with health benefits.
Step three: Use the salary I earned from trading 40+ hours a week of the best years of my life, to purchase the material possessions to customize the most pleasurable reality around me to fulfill my needs.
Step four: Retire; and after selling most of my life to a job; finally be free to enjoy the last few years of my life 100% on my terms before my body gave out and I ended my run in a pile of dust.
After graduating High School, and going to college, I felt like I was off with the goal to earn enough money to customize my own reality. By default, this version of the American Dream was going to become my dream, because it’s what everyone else was doing.
That is, until I made a few horrible choices, and a dark journey into prison woke me up. (Read about that intense journey HERE.)
Jail and Prison are some of the most isolated, heart-breaking, lonely places on earth. However, with an open mind, and a desire to learn more about myself and God, I learned how to make such a desolate landscape become one of the most liberating places I have ever been. Once I threw all my old knowledge away, and opened my mind to new ideas, I learned that there are many paths to happiness. I sought God for all the answers for the first time in my life, and he responded by showing me how I could live the dream I was meant to live. It was a new dream to me. It wasn’t based around making more money to buy a customized reality. Instead, it was a dream with the core of finding myself and finding happiness with the opportunities I was given to experience life.
When I was in prison, it was the first time I didn’t feel like I was trapped in someone else’s dream for my life. Instead, I was thrust into my own dream to discover who I was and what I was meant to be. I had already lost everything in the free-world, so I was in the liberating position of exploring the cold-hard-truth of reality with nothing to lose. Incarceration stripped me down to nothing, and the journey to build myself back up into something was the most freeing and exciting adventure I’ve ever been on.
It’s been 13 years since my first day incarcerated, and I am at a transitional point of my life now. I was released back into society three years ago, and I since systematically executed all the plans I made while I was in prison.
I have an awesome job as a top-performing sales rep; I own my own beautiful-to-me home; and I’m married to a woman who wants to model our relationship after a top-performing team and learn to grow with me. So now that I have all this stuff, and can really afford to customize my reality to a more lavish experience, what should I do?
Do I just keep working at a job that doesn’t fulfill me for more money? Or do I stay true to my roots and pursue the dreams God is leading me to – the only dreams that will allow me to be free and myself 100% of the time.
I’ve learned more money doesn’t make me happier. All I can do with more money is further decorate my customized reality, but the more expensive my customized reality becomes, the more of my life I have to sacrifice over to the work-week and company who is paying my salary. I don’t get to live my own life, or dream when I am trapped at work, so is that even considered living? In fact, when I am at work, I’m not even myself. I’m living out an acted image of how my company wants me to live my life, and that is not freedom. I don’t want to end my life only remembering the evenings and weekends I enjoyed, and a short few years of healthy retirement before I die. I want to enjoy all of it while I am here, now!
It’s crazy to think about, but the 4-step American Dream process I outlined above, can feel just as miserable as the physical concrete prison I was trapped in for almost all of my 20’s.
My life no longer revolves around the belief that I have to sell more of my time to a company so that I can make a higher salary. Instead, I am now on a mission to create my reality based on God’s calling for my life. My American Dream now is to live as free as I can – to sharpen my talent – and explore the opportunity God calls me into – so that I don’t have to feel caged in someone else’s dream 40 hours a week.
I heard this quote once, and I’ll never forgot it: “Be careful where you are in life. You will always have the choice to build someone else’s dream, or build your own dream. Your path to whatever dream you choose is always a choice you have.”
This is the journey I am now on. This is what the Purpose Pages are all about in my mind. It’s a place where an alternative journey from “work” exists for each of us. You don’t have to be born into someone else’s vision of what you’re life purpose should be. You can change your path to something more fulfilling at any time. I’ve learned living a fulfilled life isn’t about customizing our reality with larger salaries and things. Listen to God. Live your own dream, and enjoy your life 100% of the time. It’s the only chance you have. It’s why we’re alive now.
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