Life has a way of slapping our faces sometimes when we need it most.
Especially when we need to be reminded to love people.
Over the weekend, I had the privilege of being entertained by the conversation of some teenagers I overheard while I was on the sidelines of a soccer game. One girl talked about not going to school and, instead, pursuing her acting career and learning about production by way of experience in the real world. A few minutes later, she was talking about her most recent breakup and joking about how she had completely lost her personality when she was with the guy who had broken her heart. Do not let that happen, ladies. (Or fellas.) I really wanted to step in and say something at that point, but I bit my tongue and let them chat.
But one of the other girls said something that got me thinking. She mentioned some of her hopes for her future and said she didn’t want to chase the typical American Dream. (Bless her. I don’t think she really knows what the American Dream is, because she followed by talking about things that sounded a bit in line with the American Dream.) Whenever I think of the American Dream, I think of The Great Gatsby—I first heard the term when one of my high school English teachers was introducing the book to us before we began reading it. The concept conjures up images of success and elegance and achieving the desires one has chased for years. The Library of Congress has a handful of notions of what the American Dream means to people.
I know that people want the opportunity to find prosperity, but why does that have to be the central focus of an entire nation? Why must there be so much emphasis on what we can’t take with us when we leave here?
When I was in middle school (probably the worst stage of life EVER), I likely would have sought the Gatsby American Dream. I cared a lot about Tommy Hilfiger and Doc Martens back then, and I’m pretty sure I was still aspiring to be a famous actress when I grew up. (I’ll keep you updated on how that pans out.) Somewhere along the way, though, my view on life changed, and I honestly don’t place much value on the achievements we’re so free to pursue. I mean, I want to do the things I do well, and I’ll admit that being successful at something feels good, but I wish that weren’t the main focus so much of the time.
I wish the American Dream were something different.
I wish the American Dream focused more on people—not people gaining more things but on people giving more love. I realize how Pollyanna cheesy this sounds, but it’s my dream, so I can do what I want. I know I’m not the best example, as I sure don’t always show love to people like I should, but I don’t think it would be a bad idea to make the American Dream simply be this: Love people. Maybe it would help us treat each other better if we were constantly seeking that outcome. It’s certainly not always easy, but I think it would help diminish a lot of the stress and self-esteem issues we feel that are related to our jobs and social statuses.
On the anniversary of 9/11, ESPN airs the story of the “Man in the Red Bandana,” which is a story of Welles Crowther, an equities trader who became a hero during the September 11 attacks. He sacrificed his own life in order to ensure the safety of others that day. He didn’t care about status or possessions or what his future may hold—he cared about people that day. He showed genuine love to people that day. I think Welles Crowther chased the real American Dream.
I hope one day we can redefine the American Dream so that it is others-focused rather than self-focused. It doesn’t matter how much money you make; it doesn’t matter what your title is; it doesn’t matter how big your home is; it doesn’t matter how often or where you travel; it doesn’t matter what brands you wear; it doesn’t matter how many Facebook friends or Instagram followers you have.
What matters is how much you love.
And it’s an American Dream you can make come true as soon as you make the decision to do so.