Edit desk: Redefining the American Dream


The American Dream is based on the idea that an individual can achieve success regardless of history, race, religion, or social background simply by working hard enough. Anyone can obtain that big house enclosed by a white picket fence with their 2.2 kids and pet dog if they dream big enough and aim for success. For some, the accomplishment of this national ethos can be determined by examining overall happiness and morale, yet more commonly, it is judged by the amount of wealth and material possessions one acquires.

Nadine Elsayed

Nadine Elsayed

Unfortunately, this clash of purpose is where all of my troubles begin.

The logic of the American Dream seems simple: choose a career and work hard enough to achieve your goals. However, the system becomes problematic when someone who doesn’t really know what their dream is stumbles along asking questions.

Hence, I developed a flawed reasoning at an early age. I believed that when you were younger, you chose a profession and that was it — your destiny was written in stone. It was as if my first grade teacher had given us a catalog of professions, simply said, “choose one,” and, instantaneously, our entire educational career was molded around that single choice. In my case, it just so happens that I glanced through that catalog and blindly chose to be a lawyer. So it was at the mere age of seven that I thought I had figured out the rest of my life.

When I looked around me, however, I only saw a pattern where human beings placed aside the chance for true happiness — their high hopes and aspirations — in order to conform to a system determined by society.

It’s a competitive world in corporate America, so in order to become successful in life, one must work diligently through high school, attend a prestigious university and maintain impeccable grades. Then, they must sail through an equally impressive graduate school with just as excellent marks, and slowly work their way up a corporate ladder of promotions only to finally find themselves at the top. Yet, once there, there’s barely enough time to ever enjoy their hard-earned success. Every player worked infinite hours and battled for top-executive positions because, in addition to idolizing their richer bank accounts, they believed that this was the road to true success.

This was a successful American Dream.

When brought to this realization, I couldn’t help but feel despair. What was the purpose of trying to achieve success through this unavoidable, miserable manner? What I was unaware of, however, was the true definition of success.

What does success even mean? Is it monetary funds? The newest technological advances available? A large estate in the Hamptons? Owning the most expensive Mercedes at the dealership? The meaning is certainly different to each and every person, but I believe I finally figured it out.

To me, being truly successful in life is when you reach the period when you are, in fact, completely happy with your surroundings, yourself and your life.

It took me a while to really understand, but the purpose of life is not about attaining as many material goods as humanly possible. It is not about becoming rich or famous. It is not about being miserable in a profession you abhor in order to pay the bills.

Life is about happiness.

If traveling across the world to foreign lands makes you truly happy, do it. If living on the beach in a poorly renovated home with little money makes you truly happy, do it. If spending every waking moment exploring the depths of the ocean makes you truly happy, do it.

Happiness doesn’t even have to be about the big, sweeping circumstances. Maybe it’s about stringing together a bunch of small pleasures — a hot chocolate on a particularly cold winter evening, jamming out to your favorite song on your way to class or running into a friend you haven’t seen in a while.

Maybe happiness is just a matter of the little upticks — the traffic signal that said walk the second you got there, the smile the handsome stranger gives you the day you wear your best outfit, or even getting a good grade on a test you swore you failed. These moments of true happiness, to me, are what life is really about.

The American Dream is often correlated with success, yet when we need to clarify what success actually means, we must also redefine the concept of the American dream as well.

Often, people in America attempt to live their lives backwards. They try to have more material goods, or more money, in order to do more of what they want so they will be happier. The way it actually works, I believe, is the reverse. The goal shouldn’t be to obtain as much money or material goods as possible, but rather, to get paid to do what you love every single day.

It took me a while to really understand, but, contrary to popular belief, you don’t need to have life figured out at the age of nineteen. It’s not as catastrophic as I believed to feel lost. Eventually, you’ll find yourself — whether that be during the ferocious, late night studying in the little nook at the corner of the library, during a meaningful discussion with your favorite professor after lecture, or even during a routine walk to class on a particularly beautiful day. The spark in you will eventually ignite.

Personally, I’m not really sure where my life is heading based on this trajectory, but what I do know is that whatever it is I decide to do, I’ll certainly be happy doing it.

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1 Comment

  1. Nadine: Thanks for your thoughts. I fully agree that “life is about happiness” and that some attempts at the American Dream through hard work lead to a miserable, soul-sucking job. But I think at its core the American Dream says that through hard work you can achieve a life that is dignified and stable for you and your family–whether or not you have a white picket fence.

    In my opinion, the American Dream is alive–but needs help. I am trying to help the American Dream by taking an idea I started in Panama and carrying it further here in the USA. American Dream Chef is a proposed reality TV cooking show that will tell the story of youth from humble backgrounds who aspire to work hard to be great chefs and those institutions in the private, governmental, and nonprofit sectors that help give these youth a chance.

    Ultimately, achieving the American Dream should be a win-win for you, your family, and many others. That’s what American Dream Chef will be about! Please consider following ADC on Facebook and Twitter (@AmDreamChef). And wish me luck!

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