Deep down in the hearts of those who call themselves “American” exists a shared ideal that we commonly refer to as “the American Dream.” It is a dream that has shone brighly at times and has faded in others. It is a dream that reflects how things could be different if we choose to operate at our individual and collective best.
Have you ever stopped to define this dream for yourself? Have you ever paused and asked, what is the American Dream to me?
One of the many wonderful things about this notion of the American Dream is that it cannot be narrowly defined. There is no one-size-fits-all interpretation. The variations in definitions abound, limited only by the number of people who choose to actively attempt to define it.
Yet although the concept of the American Dream can’t be tightly bound or distilled into a simple list of detailed descriptors, I do believe several characteristics cannot be denied. These include:
- Dreaming: We are at our best when we are free to use our imagination, the birthplace of our dreams, to develop creative solutions to daunting challenges.
- Acting: We are at our best when we actively do something to make our dreams a reality, willfully exercising the personal responsibility to lead the change we want to see occur in our surroundings.
- A Higher Purpose: We are at our best when we choose to lead our lives not for ourselves but for a higher purpose.
Dreaming. When the earliest settlers of this land set off from the Old World seeking refuge in the new, they did so to escape fear and coercion, tyranny and oppression, famine and fighting. Our forefathers wanted things to be different. So they mustered the strength of character to set out to establish a new life in a new land in the belief that this place, America, would be the place where they could grow into the best version of themselves. Their measure of success was less a by-product of focusing on how to overcome their limitations and more a function of tapping into their imagination to develop creative solutions to even the most perplexing problems. Proof positive that we are a country of dreamers who are at our best not when we blindly conform to the norm, but rather when we are thinking more broadly and creatively about our circumstances.
Acting. The freedom to dream of a better life is insufficient in itself to propel us forward. We must do something to transform these dreams into practical action. Those leaders before us who have shed precious blood at Bunker Hill, Valley Forge, Bull Run, Châteaux-Thierry in the Argonne, Iwo Jima, Guadalcanal, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, and Afghanistan did so for a reason. That is, they recognized that speaking about an ideal and standing up to preserve a cherished way of life are two very distinct things. Rhetoric alone will not make our dreams a reality. Action is required to ultimately move things solidly forward. But as always, someone must lead the change and accept responsibility to go first, to show others the way.
A Higher Purpose. It is easy to make an idol of routine, finding security within the boundaries we build around our lives. Although each day contains twenty-four hours, every single one of these presents an opportunity to contribute to a purpose larger than ourselves. For me personally, that higher purpose is to do what I can, when I can, where I can to try to build value into others’ lives each and every day in a multitude of ways. My greatest satisfaction derives from using my God-given talents and skills to be a force for good in my home, workplace, worship space, and community.
So I’ll ask you again, have you ever stopped to define this dream for yourself? Have you ever paused and asked, what is the American Dream to me? And if you have, what are you doing today to help make that dream come true?
This post is excerpted from John Michel’s new book, Mediocre Me: How Saying No to the Status Quo Will Propel You from Ordinary to Extraordinary. It is now available at online retailers and select bookstores with 100% of proceeds benefiting military charities.