Posts Tagged American Dream
If you would have asked me in 1988 how I would arrive at my high school reunion thirty years later, I would have offered some grand vision that involved wealth and excess. I certainly wouldn’t have said bald and walking with a cane.
Though I am blessed with an incredible life and a family beyond my wildest dreams, life hasn’t worked out for me in the exact way that I originally thought it would, and that’s OK. Life works out in the way that it’s supposed to, and it has no particular allegiance to our plans. It’s up to us to learn from and adapt to the realities we encounter.
If we pay attention and do things correctly, we stand a very good chance of being successful at life. You notice that I didn’t say simply “successful,” because many of us attach far-fetched definitions to that word, and when we fall short, we feel unsuccessful. The concept of success should inspire us to reach higher, not push us into a hole. Unfortunately, when we attach immature ideals to our concept of success, we often trigger regret and melancholy when we don’t achieve those ideals.
Among many other things, my grandfather taught me that being successful at life is almost always attainable, regardless of the advantages or disadvantages we’re blessed with. You just need to snag the blessings that come your way and then nurture them. For him, being successful at life meant having a big, thriving family, which was something that he wasn’t born into.
My grandfather’s mother died when he was four years old, when most of his older siblings had already left the house. His father did the best he could, but when the Great Depression hit Central Nebraska, there weren’t enough resources to support my grandfather and his next older brother. Realizing this, at the ages of 14 and 16, my grandfather and his brother dropped out of school and headed to a life of labor in the sugar beet fields of Western Nebraska, stowing away on trains during their trip.
A few years later, he returned with $700 that he managed to save by living frugally and working hard. With that, he started farming. Eventually, he met my grandmother, and started a family that grew to eight children and 23 grandchildren. He never earned much money, but he lived a comfortable life by prioritizing family over possessions and status. I can’t imagine a rich man being any happier than my grandfather was with his family-focused life.
I’m slowly turning into my grandfather. Instead of what I drive or where I live, the family I’ve built with my wife is my biggest source of pride and fulfillment. It’s not that I gave up on my financial goals – I like travel and hunting too much to get complacent – but if everything stayed just like it is right now, I would feel successful at life.
That’s a change from where I was thirty years ago and probably even five years ago, and it’s a change that I’d like to attribute to maturity and recognizing what’s truly important in life. We don’t need to earn more than our friends or to have bigger houses and fancier cars than them, in order to prove to ourselves and others that we are successful. We just need to do the best we can with our blessings.
No, I didn’t drive a Mercedes to my high school reunion, but it wouldn’t have mattered anyway. No one noticed, and my 18-year-old self wasn’t there to impress.
Hillary Clinton recently went to great lengths to save herself from the embarrassment of being financially successful. Her problems started when, in an effort to appeal to the masses, she said that she was “dead broke” when she left the security of the White House. Apparently, poverty polls well.
At one time, I was on pretty shaky financial ground myself, owing much more than I had in assets and earning very little from my fledging business. It’s a story common to many entrepreneurs. You sacrifice and risk comfort, because you believe in your enterprise, but I don’t think that I was ever “dead broke.” I saw true poverty in Africa – people crammed into tiny tin shacks and scavenging along the roadside. That’s “dead broke,” and it’s a far cry from being a former First Lady who can command hundreds of thousands from a speech.
Senator Clinton’s missteps really don’t bother me, but her shying away from success does. Success should be celebrated, especially in a country that was the setting for Senator Clinton’s rise from the Chicago middle class to United States Secretary of State or President Clinton’s rise from a broken home to United States President.
Imagine if Senator Clinton had pointed out that success can be fleeting, but can be recaptured with concentrated effort, instead of trying to sell the idea that two very successful people were destitute. She could have inspired others whose financial success had ebbed. She could have given us hope.
Dr. Shane Lopez of the Gallup Organization wrote a thoroughly researched and critical book, Making Hope Happen, based on his research on hope. Lopez defines hope as the energy and ideas that drive people to change their circumstances, and he champions hope as an extremely powerful tool that everyone can use in response to life’s challenges, such as losing a job or receiving a dire health prognosis.
When we have hope, we see the challenges before us as temporary and beatable. Hope inspires us to push on when life gets difficult. Hope provides a powerful psychological benefit that lifts our spirits, increases our self-esteem and provides us energy. Without it, we’re almost destined to struggle.
One of my greatest sources of hope is the success of others. Seeing others succeed affirms my faith that exceptional things can be accomplished with exceptional effort by exceptional people. It’s a belief that my parents instilled in me at a young age.
My fourth grade year was filled with challenges. It was the year that my parents decided that my physical condition wasn’t something that I would grow out of, like we hoped. That meant frequent three-hour trips from Loup City to Omaha, to see the state’s top neurologists and orthopedists at the Nebraska Medical Center. These trips were never fun, because they invariably entailed painful tests, like muscle biopsies and nerve conduction tests, and a lot of anxiety about my future. To that point, I was a kid with a slight limp. Now, there was talk of brain tumors and muscular dystrophy. Through it all, my parents never allowed me to lose hope.
In spite of the uncertainty and anxiety, they helped me imagine a bright future for myself. They encouraged me to initiate conversations with my doctors and to imagine myself as a physician. When we saw the big houses on the bluffs of the Elkhorn River on the drive in, they told me that I could have a similar home, if I worked hard. They never allowed me to feel sorry for myself or unworthy of success. They never told me that life would be easy or that I should expect anything that I didn’t work for, but they gave me hope for a promising future.
Over the years, I’ve been blessed to have close friendships with many high achievers who earned their success through hard work, dedication and sacrifice. I admire their accomplishments and approach toward their work, and they inspire me to higher standards.
I wish that we saw more messages like that from our leaders and that success would return to high esteem. Imagine what could happen if we valued hope over pity and jealousy.
A recent CNN/Money poll revealed that more than 60% of Americans don’t believe that “The American Dream” is attainable. Although the poll was conducted without a concrete definition of the American Dream, its results are concerning, because it reveals that pessimism is overtaking optimism.
Most consider the prospect of the American Dream as a source of optimism, and for the most part, most generations have been able to improve their economic condition over the course of their lifetimes. Perhaps this improvement deluded us into thinking that the American Dream was to be expected with little sacrifice, almost entitled.
When we feel entitled, we misunderstand challenges. Instead of seeing challenges as learning opportunities, we see them as annoyances. We respond to opportunities, and we whine about annoyances. Opportunities advance us, while annoyances bog us down. Over time, annoyances become pessimism.
Zig Ziglar wrote and spoke about what he called, the Immigrant Attitude. The Immigrant Attitude is a belief that hard work, perseverance, sacrifice and thrift will pay dividends.
The Immigrant Attitude is more than a theory. First-generation legal immigrants are typically more successful than their native-born counterparts. They are three to four times more likely to become millionaires, and though they are only 11% of the United States population, they comprise more than 40 percent of the Ivy League student population.
Why? Because they’re optimistic about the opportunities available to them in the United States. They are optimistic, because they recognize the true high value of opportunity. Their appreciation of opportunity often comes from their experience with adversity. Persevering through adversity is a lifestyle for them.
I had my own optimism and appreciation tested a couple of years ago, while on safari in Africa. After a successful morning of hunting, I was enjoying a cool beverage in the shade. A young Zimbabwean named Pretty was waiting on me.
Pretty opened the conversation by asking me about my trip to camp just two days earlier. It’s really hard to find the positives of a 17.5 hour flight and five-hour bus ride, so I said something to the effect that I was glad it was over, and I wasn’t looking forward to the trip back.
“It’s my dream to fly to the United States,” she said. “There is just so much I could do if I was able to get there.” Pretty then told me how she had fled Zimbabwe for South Africa, leaving twin boys behind, during her native country’s political turmoil.
I began to feel really small. I was in Africa, on vacation from work and enjoying being pampered by my hosts. She was in Africa worried sick that she wouldn’t have enough money to support herself, let alone see her children again. I was leaving in five days to return to my comfortable life and its trivial worries in the world’s most prosperous country. She wasn’t sure what would happen to her in a few weeks, when the hunting season ended.
I think of Pretty when my day in the office doesn’t go so well or I find myself fretting over something petty, like a hail-damaged car. I picture Pretty with a huge smile, taking it all in and making the most of it.
If an immigrant were in your shoes, behind your desk, with the same 24 hours in his day, would he be more successful? If the answer is yes, consider adopting the Immigrant Attitude.
“Real optimism is aware of problems but recognizes the solutions, knows about difficulties, but believes they can be overcome, sees the negatives but accentuates the positives, is exposed to the worst but exceeds the best, has reason to complain but chooses to smile.” ― William Author Ward