Take Some Initiative and Follow Your American Dream

“The American Dream”. I am obsessed with the definition of the American dream provided by google: the ideal that every US citizen should have an equal opportunity to achieve success and prosperity through hard work, determination, and initiative.

Two years ago, I spent 8 months living in France teaching high schoolers English. I stand firmly by my belief that the best way to learn a language is to use it, so most of my upper level classes were spent discussing and just talking. The subject of “The American Dream” came up frequently, and I was (still am) ashamed to admit that I couldn’t really define that for them. So I let 17 year old French kids explain to me what that meant for them. How’s that for an English lesson?

They said things like, “In America, you can do whatever you want!”, “America is really the place Drake rap about! You start from the bottom, and now you are here!” and “For me, the American dream means that you are able to be happy doing whatever you want to do.”

Now I’m here, in the country famed for these dreams of liberty and success for all, yet from my perspective, we seem to be a culture deeply unsatisfied with whatever “work” we do. Many working people feel they are—if not always, often—victims of unfair, undervalued labor. Raise your hand if you have ever gone to work and heard someone say how much they hated their job, their boss, their paycheck. Raise your other hand if you are that person. 

About 8 months ago (WHAAATTT mini heart attack that that much time has actually passed), I walked away from a job that filled my checking account but emptied my heart and soul of my true passions. The number of people that said to me, “I’m kind of jealous you aren’t coming back next year”, and the number still today that say, “You’re so lucky you quit your job” is astounding. I mean literally shocks me every time. I’m flabbergasted. As if someone is holding them there against their will.

To live in the country whose “dream” is that everyone should be able to be successful through hard work, determination and initiative, yet consistently be surrounded by people who enter and exit their places of work unhappy and unfulfilled is both saddening and perplexing. How is it that we represent these ideals of “starting from the bottom” and being happy doing whatever we want to do, yet I can’t find many people living them?

Rewind to that definition grâce à google I’m obsessing over. Check that last word: initiative. Boy, oh, boy are people overlooking this part. I’m not lucky I quit my job. I’m ballsy enough to have taken the initiative. Jealousy, I can see. I’m jealous daily of some people’s courage, but let’s not forget that the definition was careful enough not just to include hard work and determination, but also initiative.

You can stay in your unhappiness— whether that’s your job or your relationship or your college major—and you can play the victim. You can believe you are being held there by bills and debt and security. These are very convincing and easy reasons to grab on to to avoid making a change. Initiative is not easy. Initiative is not convincing. It’s the opposite. It’s often going against what seems logical. But this is America people. Don’t walk towards yours dreams, run. Quit playing victim.

Take some initiative to go and live your American dreams, whatever they may be.

Emily JordanComment