The Ecstasy and Agony of attaining the American Dream

My life progressed in phases: the childhood sports phase, the intellect and college phase, and now the career phase. My career phase started rocky, no doubt about that. A philosophy major, I tried and failed to attend graduate school for two years. Back to square one and saddled with over twenty grand in debt. I found myself working long hours at a coffee shop and the YMCA. At one point I “consolidated” my student loans (mistake), at another point I applied for a hardship – because I couldn’t pay them. And although living with my brother and his wife was fun, and my life at the time was perfectly fine, it was a rat race. There is an underlying stress to it all. Let’s just say a series of fortunate events, blind luck, more student debt, and some ability on my part led to landing a good job as a librarian – which is funny when I tell people but true.

At 33 years of age I have attained that rare and disappearing goal: the American Dream. My career phase is over (unless I decide it’s not over). I feel extremely happy and sad about it. The promise of the American Dream, in 2017, is sarcastic and menacing. As the rich get richer, the poor get poorer, and the middle class constricts; as most people are working more and making less; as unions and full-time employment and paid vacation and benefits are a thing of the past; and as millions of jobs and dozens of industries will probably get replaced by technology and robots in the next 10 years (and our country has no real plan for this) – the American Dream is a memory from the 50’s.

middle class

Every single day I am reminded how lucky I am, especially at my age. A good, meaningful, decent paying job with benefits and health insure, a house, a car, a family. Zero debt, a steady income, a pension, retirement savings – looking to retire at a decent age. The feeling of not having to worry about money, or healthcare, or paying rent, is a peaceful feeling. I literally have nothing to worry about. I almost feel like something is lacking, but really I’m mistaking apathy for peace and freedom. I walk to work every morning, truly happy. It’s calming. Along with peace of mind, it’s truly a beautiful thing. I have felt the peace of contemplation, and religion, and love: but this is the icing on the cake. This makes it whole and brings it all together. This is how citizens of a wealthy country are meant to feel like. All Americans should feel like this, or at least have the opportunity. Economic security should come first; it should be the floor on which true happiness builds.

I deserve this life, but so does everyone. My success doesn’t come at the cost of anybody. That’s what they want you to think. A librarian should make a living wage, but so should a custodian. Why the hell not? Manufacturing jobs are not coming back. Service jobs are the new jobs. Walmart is the new GM, so let’s get over it. We can’t all work for Google (that has a double meaning…they hardly employ anyone, which is the new norm, and the people they employ are highly skilled).

So I am left grateful and pissed off. Once you make it in life, you pause, slow down, and relax. You notice all the people around you, struggling, fighting, rushing, working, scrapping buy – way worse than I ever was, much worse than I can imagine. Politicians don’t have the will or equipment to expand the middle class, so I’m also left with not only sadness – but not much hope. The unnamed, unremembered, statistical mountain of people go on living their life in this great American experiment.

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The Ecstasy and Agony of attaining the American Dream