The Four Great Lies of the American Dream

Live like you’ll die tomorrow—learn like you’ll live forever. ~ Gandhi

One of the great things about America is the (apparent) freedom to do what you want. That has been its selling point all along. It is called the American Dream. But just because you can do something, does not mean you should. There is a very short list of things we have been told we should aspire to do or to own. In general, the things on this list are good things and many of us should aspire to them, but not everyone. And therein lies is the rub.

We have been sold this list as if we, the collective who occupies America, is a homogeneous entity. That everyone should aspire to these things. That is not the truth. There are times and circumstances under which the items on this list do more harm than good. Having the personal courage to recognize that in the face of the constant sales pitch can be quite a challenge.

The first lie is that everyone should buy a house. We can argue whether a house is a good long term investment, but I think by now, we can all agree there are good times to buy a house and lousy times. Like when prices are outrageously and historically high due to artificially low interest rates. Consequently, for some people, the numbers just do not make financial sense. And spending a lifetime in extreme debt, constantly teetering on bankruptcy, for the glory of home ownership is foolish. A reasonably priced rental with some savings in the bank is a much better life. After all, aren’t we all just renters anyway? Nobody takes their home with them when they go.

The second lie is that everyone should go to college. Unless you know exactly what you want to do with your life, college is an extremely expensive holding pattern. Expensive in both time and money. Even if you do know what you want to do, college may still not make sense. The numbers bear it out. Being a plumber, a truck driver or dental hygienist is a far better career move than going to college and majoring in all but a few disciplines. You will make far more money and your job will never be shipped overseas. Greater financial and employment security beats a piece of paper on the wall while searching for a job to pay off a mountain of debt.

The third lie is that everyone should get married. Having studied the subject of marriage and written two books on the subject, I feel qualified to say that some people should never get married (Tom Cruise!). You can love somebody without marrying them. You can have a child with somebody without marrying them. I accept that there is a lot of social pressure to marry, but a marriage that is destined to fail serves no purpose. I have met many happily never-married people. Their joy came not from remaining single, but from coming to terms with the idea that they made the correct life choice.

The fourth lie is that everyone should have kids. Just as with marriage, there is great societal expectation to procreate. But social expectation is not a sufficient reason to become a parent. For many people, not having children is their innate preference, but not all have the strength to stand up to that. I have chosen to forego fatherhood and have never questioned that decision. For me, the correct life path was to not have children. Everyone of us is on a different journey, and if yours is calling you to something other than parenthood, then that is the right decision for you, now matter how much you believe in the American Dream.

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