The New American Dream

I have been positively charged recently by The Minimalists, those two young guys who rid themselves of most of their possessions and live basically the life we all want to live. If you don’t have Netflix to watch their documentary, check out their website or podcast, specifically this one, because I’m about to riff on it.

I love the staccato of this blog post and I really understand the feelings behind it. Since their explanation is so clear about The American Dream, I’d like to outline the New American Dream, or, if that offends you, my American Dream.

I won’t deny the certain benefits that come with the traditional work life. The medical benefits are lovely, the paid time off is also nice, and if you’re a teacher, you truly can’t beat the holidays and the summers off. And not every profession is like this, to be fair. It’s the classic 9-5 that holds these old-fashioned methods up high still.

The New American Dream comes with a lot less certainty. It’s more of a risk, a challenge, even. But the benefits (not 401K’s or dental and vision) can be amazing. I’m not just talking about money. I’m talking about creative thinking, deeply personal gratification for hard work, and if we’re lucky, some walkin’ around money, as my husband would say.

I am not putting down being part of a team at a job or enjoying the kind of stability that traditional jobs offer. I’m calling out the companies that zap your life away. That make it all about them. That, when workers get home they are left with little else besides the paycheck they come home with. I don’t agree with that. I’m not telling everyone to quit their jobs and start a commune either (although, that has been in my head as a back-up, off-the-grid sort of situation). I’m just saying I think we all need to stay a little hungry. Money is obviously important but it isn’t all there is. In fact, when you scratch just below the surface life isn’t about money at all, or what you can get with it.

Before I worked for a big company, I freelanced for a county-wide newspaper and I hustled, folks. I researched, I interviewed, I took photos through fences when places were closed, and I wrote up a storm. I LOVED IT. I didn’t make much and I was never promoted. Even though I’m not into returning to it at the moment, I remember how good it felt. It was independent and exciting, fast and it felt like mine.

When I left that sort of life to work for a corporation, I felt my hustle slowly oozing out of me, day by day. Replaced by it was frequent breaks to the lunchroom where, after another cup of coffee, I had to convince myself to get back to my desk to work, faux conversations about assignments that went nowhere, and constant daydreams about an unchained life. I still find it so bizarre that grown people need to ask permission to receive time off. I had become not me anymore.

Instead of re-framing the American Dream for everyone, I’ll outline it for myself and you can just hop on in if you’d like.

My new American Dream is to work for myself. I don’t want to go to the same place every single day and do exactly the same task I did the day before. I don’t want to forget which year it is because each one is the same.

I want my house to be my sanctuary. That’s home. Not a cubicle with pictures of my house. I want to live in my home. And I’ve come to the conclusion that I am not a minimalist, but appreciate and participate in a few of their ideas. I don’t want to be crowded with things and I certainly don’t want my income to be dedicated to buying trinkets and “stuff” that I don’t need.

I want to put myself, my family and friends first. This is what matters. I want to watch my son grow up and help him walk, and eat, and do his English homework (not his math, maybe his dad can do that…) and be there when he’s upset or when his first girlfriend or boyfriend dumps him and he needs to cry or I don’t know, play some really loud music that I probably won’t like. I want to be there for all of it. I refuse to miss it because I needed to stay late everyday so I can look like I’m a team player.

I want to enjoy my life NOW. Not later, not next year when the house is finished being renovated or when the weather is better or when I am thinner (HAH. Another post on THAT soon). I want to be grateful and content right. this. minute. And that has nothing to do with money.