Did you know that the term American Dream was first used by the American historian James Truslow Adams in his book "The Epic of America" in 1931? Fannie Mae later adopted it and used in a marketing campaign to sell mortgages to people who didn't necessarily need them and that's how we began to associate the concept with buying big houses to live the dream.
If you are at least fifty-year-old today, there is a great chance that you've been lied to all your childhood. You were told to get perfect scores on your tests at high school so that you could get into an excellent college! Or even a mediocre one, as long as you held a college degree in your adulthood. This was the most assured and respectable way of building an affluent and successful life for yourself.
Once you graduated from college as an enthusiastic, idealistic twenty something, who is ready to take on the world, you had to face yet another obstacle standing between you and your well-respected life: an entry level job. Competition for those is so fierce today that your college degree doesn't automatically qualify you for that low-paying, soul-sucking, mind-disturbing entry-level job at a big corporation. You have to have connections.
Networking opportunities come at their best when you join yet another highly respected, established academic entity; aka the Ivy League. I should know; my 30-year old husband is still paying student loans and is preparing to take on even more because he feels he has to. If we're lucky, our life will officially begin in our fifties.
Two more years in academia minus another $100,000 in your bank account and viola, you are finally worthy of a mid-tier, full-time job, where you'll be making just enough to go to the movies and maybe take one vacation in the Caribbean once a year after student debt, rent, car loan (strongly advised against), groceries, bills, in short - a life is paid for.
Don't you even think about discarding the vacation line item from your budget either because by the time you're allowed to take one, you will be burned out from your 60+hour work weeks. Take the damn vacation because if you don't, you're risking suicide, murder or being laid off at best. Not worth it.
Lucky for us, this no longer is the only formula to establish a happy, successful and well-respected life, where you are able to earn an acceptable amount of money to support your life style and then save some.
We cannot deny our obsession with money, can we? So much so that we start valuing wrong qualities in a person and focusing on the wrong goals like titles and careers that we think will bring us powerful titles. The point we keep missing though is all of this happens in our own sad, little head. In reality, the value and importance we place on our title only matters to us. There will always be someone with a bigger and better title, who earns more than you do.
We can't respect a concept; we have to respect the tangible results. Fighting for a title alone is sad and as funny as it sounds, that's what we start doing once we spend too much time within corporate mechanisms.
I was constantly asked what my title was when I held a full-time job. "What do you do" dominates our entire conversations at events or social weekend brunches. In fact, I am still asked that question by every new person I meet. I can't escape it. It's like my title is the only qualifier people will accept to mentally place me somewhere on their social mapping.
And I am a very social human being; I want to keep meeting new people so I accept that I need a job and a title to keep being included in the conversation. Therefore it is with great pleasure that I roll out my new title to you:
professional ripe avocado picker at grocery stores in New York.
Catchy and a very well-respected title, if you ask me. I eat a lot of avocados.
What I do with my free time though is travel (a lot) and write (even more) and I do these things because they make me happy, not rich.
Not so long ago, I decided that finding meaning in one's life -without shadow of a doubt- is more important than finding money. It has to be prioritized over anything and I mean anything else before you can declare yourself a well balanced, healthy and happy individual, who sets out to accomplish countless personal and professional goals like changing the world for the better, contributing to society, helping others improve their lives, getting married, having kids, bringing them up as happy, healthy individuals and so on. Jesus, buy a house if that's still your dream!
But know this: if you're not happy, you will not be healthy. And if you're not healthy, you will NEVER be rich. That's just science.
I want to leave you with this scientific fact and promise to tell you more about how I personally convinced myself to quit my full time job and what I've been doing since then.
This is an open ended conversation and everybody is entitled to their own opinions as to how a life should be spent but I, Duygu Aktan, have decided that my version of the American Dream is to find happiness and go from there. If I end up as a home-owner somewhere along the way because of my happy state of mind, sure! By all means, I am not a saint, who is ready to give up all earthly possessions because I choose happiness. I like owning things, I still like money believe it or not. BUT I no longer kid myself into believing that money will bring happiness.
Money brings things and experiences. Happiness brings money.