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February 25, 2009

Chasing the American ’Myth’

Scratchbeginnings Is the American Dream a myth? Adam Shepard doesn't think so.

In 2006, the recent college graduate did a 365-day experiment in homelessness. Leaving home with just $25, a sleeping bag, and his notebook, he worked his way to a furnished apartment, a car, and $2500 in just a year. Here's an excerpt from the intro to his book Scratch Beginnings:

As you're going to see throughout the course of my journey, this is not a modern day rags-to-riches, get-rich-quick story. “I made a million, and you can too!” Nope. Too cliché, and, ironically, too unrealistic. Mine is the story of rags-to-fancier-rags. I'm not an extraordinary person performing extraordinary feats. I don't have some special talent that I can use to “Wow” prospective employers. I'm average. My story is very basic, simple. My story is about the attitude of success. My goal is to better my lot, to provide a stepping stone over the next 365 days for everything else I want to accomplish in my life. I aim to find out if the American Dream is still alive, or if it has, in fact, been drowned out by the greedy and the lazy.

So, here we go. You, my audience:

The dad who can use this book when his 12-year-old is complaining about not having the latest video game. The 15-year-old who doesn't quite understand why he or she has to study so hard and take “all of these worthless classes that I'll never use in real life.” The recent college grad who – drowned in student loans and limited opportunities (and, of course, living at home) – is searching for any little bit of strength and direction. The 72-year-old grandfather who already has a firm grasp on the concept of my story and has doubtless lived many of these same experiences. The 32-year-old mother of two who is working multiple jobs just to get by. The one making the sacrifice so her children can have a shot at the American Dream that she gave up on long ago.

You, the underdog, sitting behind the 8-ball, wondering when your number is going to be called.

And me, with my personal belongings on my back, ready for the craziest adventure of my life....

(Image © SB Press)

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Comments

salt.racer

One has to define "The American Dream." Is it getting an education, buying a house and settling down? I've honestly not been sure.

I didn't start from abject poverty, so that may bias my thinking. However, I was sent to public school. My parents didn't have much money to send me to the various sports and extra-curricular activities that I would have liked to participate in. When I wanted to go on a missions trip with church I had to raise the full amount myself. I earned my way though a state university via scholarships and jobs. Now I have a great job and am respected by colleages and upper-management in my position.

Perhaps that is the point that this guy is making? That if you work hard you can actually get somewhere for your effort. That there aren't people or massive institutions (governmental or societal) in the way to step on my neck and keep me down.

People who think that watch way too much MSNBC and CNN.

All of that said...

I have never thought of "The American Dream" as a myth. Far from it. I am confused by people that do. More of my thoughts revolve around thinking of it as "The American Nightmare" and a lifestyle that should be avoided.

It is too simple for "American Dream-ers" to fall into the trap that "I did it on my own." No one does anything on their own. There is completely an aspect of divine/luck/coincidence/whatever you want to call it involved in everyone's success. Being a christian, I of course attribute it to God. He has written the perfect script for my life. It may not have included being on Jeopardy like I had hoped. It may not have been becoming an architect like I had been planning my entire life. It has, however, included an amazing career that I could not have thought of.

Pursuing the "American Dream" at all costs as some people actually puts you in the position of stepping on other people to get where you want to go, like a Mr. Stanford of recent memory.

Pursuing the "Heavenly Dream" is the opposite of what the world says to do yet provides the greatest satisfaction in this life and in the next.

"Do not store up for yourself treasures on this earth where moth and rust destroy. But lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven..." - Jesus

You can't take your money with you. But you can send it on ahead.

Jason Taylor

Of course the American dream is a "myth". It is a poetic description of something in American society that is highly valued. That does not mean there are not "what about thises" It was a myth made to contrast with rigid hierarchy, not to glorify avarice. And Adam Shepherd was not glorifying avarice-if he desired, he could have made that much money in a month. He was simply being a quixotic young man.

The American Dream is as much a myth as The Mountie Always Get's His Man. Despite the prosaic fact that presumably at least some evildoers escape from the Mounties.

scooterwmn

To many "The American Dream" is not a myth, but it also not without pitfalls. It is as much a mindset to get out there and work for something instead of waiting for someone/agency to hand it to you. Adam was not being "a quixotic young man". He was showing that it can be done. Many, many people do this everyday and are relatively satisfied with their lives, thus no loud noises to get MSNBC's attention

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