Why the American Dream is a Big Fat Lie: Making it Little

The title of this post may sound like it is a rant.   It is not intended to be one.   When I was thinking about it,  I started doing some statistical work, mainly on the number of people who start out with a dream and then the actual number who get to it.  In the U.S. the percentage of high school football players who make it to the pros is something like 0.09%.   Of those who actually play regularly the percentage is probably lower.   In Canada in one university of the 5000 applicants who were qualified for medical school  only 194 were accepted.  That is about 1 out of every 25 qualified applicants.   It got me thinking about the American Dream which says something like if you work hard and do the right things, that you can do and become whatever you put your mind to.  I started thinking about 10,000 American boys who loved football, probably had the dream of the pros, worked hard and did all of the right things, but didn’t make it or the 4,806 medical school applicants who worked incessantly to get to the goal, but were not allowed in.   And then it stared me in the face.  The American Dream is a Big Fat Lie.   It isn’t true.

So if it so obviously not true from the data,  why are bookstores full of stories about the 1 person who did make it, and not about the 99,997 who didn’t.  Why are we so obsessed about believing something that is so NOT true?    It is an interesting question and a great book title.  “How We Didn’t Make it Big?”    So what happens to the 99,997 when they don’t make it big?    This is what happens.   They become part of the machine that feeds the few of the ones who make it big.   We love the story of making it big, but there is an ugliness about it that maybe we collectively don’t want to look at.  There is a dark place where we don’t want to go.  At least some people don’t want you to go there.  No one is writing about us.   I was one of the 99,997.  I even got to the next level which was college football, but something turned me when I got to that level that has helped me change my pattern of living ever since.   There was an ugliness in university that didn’t exist in high school.  It was if I was feeding a machine.   The machine had trained me well to work extremely hard, to have workaholic habits.   Really and truly I was going after the dream.  Then one day it stared me in the face, the dark truth.   “There is nothing in this experience that I doing, trying to make in Div. 1 American football that had anything to do with me.”

For some reason I felt it, began to name it, and then left for what turned out to be extraordinarily more rewarding for the rest of my sporting days which continues until the present, intramural sports.   I played lacrosse, squash, and a little rugby.   I made it LITTLE.   It was a 100 times more rewarding to play intramural lacrosse than to try to play Div. 1 intercollegiate sport.

For some reason something woke me up and told me that making it Little was so much better than making it Big.   Something told me as early as 1968 that if I try to make it Big, I will lose myself entirely.     Trying to make it big by following the American Dream teaches you from a young age to work really hard so that you can make it to the top.  What they don’t tell you is that the real goal is train you to work hard so that you become a slave to those who are already at the top.   This is the dirty truth.  I hope it doesn’t sound like I am angry or ranting.  I am not.    In 1968 I began the opting out of the American Dream process.  It wasn’t an all-at-once experience.  I did it gradually over time.   It didn’t mean that I completely opted out of reality like the hippies did at the time.   I knew that there were realities about life that i couldn’t deny like how to make a living.    The dirty truth is that the people at the top don’t really want you to make it to the top because they want it for themselves.   They allow a few people into the club because it gives the illusion that if you work hard, you can make it.   Then they write about those people as if they are some kind of heroic figures.    On occasion someone who knows how to work hard sees that it is all a dirty game of cheating, figures out the rules of cheating really well, and makes it up there pretending like it was all hard work.   His name is Lance Armstrong.  He played dirty for sure, but for every single Lance that is caught, there are thousands more playing his game that are not caught.   I am sure that if he were really honest, he would just say that his problem was that he got caught, not that he was cheating.   Nor everyone at the top cheats, but the American Dream is a culture of cheating that convinces people that working hard will get you to the top.  Lance Armstrong just realized that the American Dream wasn’t true.   Does it make him less guilty? No.   He just wanted to be part of the club. Most of us want into that club.   I could see why they wouldn’t let him into bike racing after the scandal, but he was also banned from every other kind of sanction racing even when he didn’t have a chance of winning.   That just tells me that we want him to be a scapegoat so that we don’t have to the let go of the illusion of the American Dream.

How do you opt out and maintain yourself without going broke?    It is the big question.  I don’t have all of the answers.   I wish I did.     When you opt in to the American Dream, it is an automatic ticket to losing yourself.  It is how the system works. Opting out, but having to make a living, allows you to make choices other than how to get to the top.   It allows you to make decisions on how you can be more beneficial to your family and your community.   It helps you to pursue courses of action that actual give results rather than working for organizations that are looking for material gain only.

In the end it helps you to get results that are extremely satisfying and rewarding to the lives of others.  Time to think little and make it little.

 

One Comment on “Why the American Dream is a Big Fat Lie: Making it Little

  1. In university I wrote an essay titled, “The American Nightmare” on this same theme. It was nice to read about it here too Richard. I haven’t thought about it in these terms in a long time but of course the big lie hasn’t changed much. Thank you for writing about a mindset that offers an alternative.

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