What is the American Dream?

The American Dream for my parents was to be able to achieve a lifestyle for their family and children better than the ones they grew up in, in the lower middle class. And they both achieved that dream — with upward mobility and college education they were able to obtain a comfortable upper middle class life with my mother staying at home to take care of the kids – my father worked long hours during the week as a consultant and traveled to maintain that lifestyle but he was still home on the weekends and, given there was no Internet, when he was home he was focused on the family. We ate dinner together. He tried to help me with my homework. Our family had plenty of issues, but on paper, and in front of our suburban house sitting on 3/4 acre, we were the American Dream realized.

On the train earlier today my mind drifted to the concept of the American Dream today. My Dream is to be able to afford a house, have a family, not work 10 hour days, have time to actually enjoy life, but still have a fulfilling career. I’m asking for too much because that’s not a realistic dream. To be successful at my current job I need to work 10+ hour days and often on the weekends, and forget about vacation. I’m not complaining, that’s just the reality of the situation. This sort of lifestyle is challenging but do-able without kids, I just can’t imagine being able to maintain this if I am to have a family in a few years. And then what?

I like working. I know I go crazy trying to be perfect at it and struggle to prioritize tasks and get the meaningful stuff done, but ultimately I’d prefer to work than not to work. And, if I’m going to work a job for income beyond paying the basic bills, I want to work a job that is interesting, challenging, and offers the opportunity to learn on a regular basis. However, that seems to be synonymous with working long hours and getting home after 8pm, passing out an hour or so later, and waking up at the crack of dawn to do it all over again.

First world problems, I know. I should be so thankful that I have such a great job – and I am. I’m not even talking about “today,” more so – where this is getting me to in the next 10… 20 years of my life. From 30 to 50, who will I be? Will the next 20 years blur before my eyes as every second of my life is dedicated to work? That’s not a bad thing, per se, but it’s just the reality of the American Dream. Work hard and you can have it all, yes, have it all, except the time to enjoy it all. If you’re lucky you’ll have saved up enough to have some sort of reasonable couple of years of retirement before your body gives up on you.

Is the new American Dream five or ten good years of retirement in between working yourself ragged and being stuck in a nursing home? I’m sure that’s not how everyone looks at things. I just think I’ve actually advanced into a role today where I’m now seeing what it’s like to be a senior leader – and all of the responsibility that really goes into that – and the fact that you’re expected to be available 24/7 – and again, I think that’s ok now, but how would I do that when I’m a mother? I’m exhausted now and I have no other responsibilities. So how do people actually do this?

Maybe it’s just the lifestyle of working for a small company that I’d find challenging for the long term… or maybe it’s all executive roles… if you’re not fighting fires to save customers or get our the latest release you’re out mingling and networking. I never thought I’d have that kind of life… then again, I never thought I’d be in any sort of “business” to begin with. Business was for the boring people who followed the rules. But now, I’m just one of those boring people who attempts to follow the rules… and I want to somehow picture what my life will be for the next 20 years and prepare myself for this while focusing on helping my company win today, and doing whatever it takes.

But I’m scared… because I don’t want this to be my entire 30s and 40s. And either I’m going to get really good at it so I’ll never be able to step down from the opportunities on the table / or I’m not, and, well, it’s even scarier to think that I still have to figure out what I am actually good at… and know that it might be too late to pivot so drastically. For now, I’m focused on winning. But I wish I understood what my American Dream is.

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