This Is the American Dream

The Fourth of July is a celebration of hotdogs, fireworks, beer — all things American — and, of course, the American Dream. But in recent years, many have asked, “Is the dream still there?”

By: Jaron Serven

The historian James Truslow Adams defines the American Dream as a “social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are.”

I would like to think of this definition as the quintessential one; it is the original, by the person who is generally considered to have coined the phrase, and it is without the colloquial amendments that we now so frequently associate it with.

Yet most Americans still associate the American Dream with monetary value. The recent recession has withered this particular aspect of the Dream, and many Americans are discontent.

Yet we continue to squander our potential: our schools are some of the worst in the developed world and our government can’t get anything done.

Plus, that version of the American Dream was never really available for everybody anyway–just ask women and minorities how it’s worked out for them.

It’s time to return to a different value of the Dream, Adams’s value–the value of fighting hard, achieving potential, and savoring the minor victories.

I used to be an artist when I was a kid, and I was good. One of my 8th Grade projects that will always stay with me was a small model of the remains of the World Trade Center that I created out of paper mache and cardboard. Instead of being the color of grey cement, however, I painted all the pieces of the building as the American flag.

To be able to create art in that manner, to follow what I was passionate about and innately drawn to–I started drawing from memory at age three–is the very definition of the Dream.

My mother in particular, and my father to an extent, were fond of my abilities, and I know that they wanted my school and education to reflect a similar passion, to provide not the tools and teachers necessary to refine my skills–although they were a help–but to provide the foundational environment for such activity to occur in the first place.

Of course, it’s easy to forget the secondary part of Adams’s definition, “[To be] recognized by others for what they are.”

While I moved on from drawing and sculpture, the New York State Art Teachers Award I earned for the piece hangs in my living room to this day.

This built the expectation within me that I should follow what I love to do, so I was brave enough later on to switch mediums and become a writer–and despite all of the troubles that decision has presented to me, I will never forget following what I was passionate about.

But I’ve never expected money out of it, as if it should be that easy. It won’t be for quite some time, but remember that your perspective may be your saving grace, as it is with most things.

Because this is the Dream: me sitting here, writing this, and you, sitting there, reading this. In my own way, I’ve done it. I’m doing it.

I’ve been lucky; most don’t make it out of the darkness like I did. But all it takes is that small spark, the knowledge that personal achievement can exist for people.

You can’t expect money anymore, but that’s not a bad thing at all. It opens the doors to innumerable possibility.

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