The Future of the American Dream was first published in May 2012. It was updated in February 2022 to modernize and fix links.
As you may or may not know, a couple months ago I had the distinct privilege to speak at the TEDx Carnegie Melon event in Pittsburgh. It was my first big speaking engagement, and for as nervous as I was, I was actually pretty pleased with the way it came out.
While I’ve mentioned the talk in our newsletter and via social media, I have yet to do a proper write up of the talk and the content.
I understand that sitting through a 15-minute video can be a pretty painful thing these days, so this post is essentially a recap of my thoughts on the current state and the future of the “American Dream”.
There are a lot of things that are broken in our society, but the good news is that we’ve never been in a better place to change it.
Here’s the talk, I’d love to hear what you think:
The Moment Where Everything Changed
Throughout the course of our life, we have a few key moments where everything changes. Where you’re given a choice of exactly how you want to proceed, and your decision will completely alter the course of your life from there on out.
For me, it was in February 2009 on Copacabana beach in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil.
I’d saved up all of my vacation time for the better part of a year, to head down to Carnival with my buddy Ryan. It was on that beach after two weeks of hang gliding, partying, dancing, and socializing that I realized something had to change. I had little freedom in my day to day life.
I was working a job that left me uninspired, and I wasn’t getting any closer to the goals I’d set for my self. It was that day in Rio that I said, “screw this, time to start doing what I want.” A couple months later, Location 180 was born.
Six months after that I was jobless.
The Reality of the 9 to 5
Here’s the problem with the “traditional” American Dream. Most of the people on this path, never chose to go down it.
They followed the path of least resistance. Society has set us up to follow a very clear path. Go to school, get a degree, get a job, get married, get a house, save up for the next 30 years until retirement.
You just slowly slip into the role you’re supposed to play, and before you know it, you’re 45 and have too many financial obligations to you and your family to change course and start doing what you really want. It’s easier to accept, “ok” or “comfortable”, than it is to take a risk and do something extraordinary.
This starts the moment you take your first job out of school.
All of a sudden you’re making 40 grand a year, and you can’t believe that they are going to give you two weeks of paid vacation. SWEET. They are paying you to go party with your buddies in Rio or Vegas for 2 weeks out of the year.
Eh, not so much.
Maybe it’s like that for a year or two: spend a week with your family over the holidays and take a couple trips with your friends, it’s great!
But have you ever really thought about what two weeks of vacation looks like over the longer term?
A couple years down the road you decide to get married to a nice woman from out of town. Well, gotta go spend some time with her family, so there goes a few days.
Then what happens when you buy a house? Probably going to take a day or two off here or there to make some repairs and put on that new roof.
Two years later, you decide to have kids. And them? As much as you’d like to believe they are, they are NOT invincible. Chalk up a few more days to sick days.
Before you know it, no more time off, and the “vacation” you’re taking isn’t really a vacation at all.
Lucky for you, ten years down the road you’re at the point where you have a MONTH of time off. How sweet is that? You finally get to take a real trip with the family!
Yeah, one those where you spend the entire time worrying about what might happen, rather than actually enjoying the experience. “What happens if it rains? What about if Space Mountain is broken and Timmy throws a fit? What if there’s no snow on our ski trip?”
You end up more tired and stressed than you were when you left.
To make matters worse, in America, most of us don’t even use most of the time we do have.
Then finally, once you hit 65, you get to retire. At that point all you do is take long walks and the occasional cruise. You’re so beat down by the last thirty years of work, that you get bored and don’t have the energy to really do the things you’d been looking forward to!
That’s the traditional American Dream. That’s what so many people are trapped in, without realizing they’d ever set the trap.
So, what’s the NEW American Dream?
Luckily we live in an era where techology makes it possible to do just about whatever we want. Hell, I’ve been able to run my business from no less than 7 different countries over the last two years. This wasn’t possible even 10 years ago.
The new American dream is really simple, it essentially consists of three components.
- Making a conscious decision about what you want to do
- Doing what makes you happy
- Helping others in the process (leaving your legacy)
That’s it, because each one of those three things builds on each other.
Making a conscious decision about what you’d like to spend your time doing, is going to give you the motivation to reach out and go for it.
When you’re working on things that are meaningful and fulfilling to you, you become happy.
You being happy and fulfilled makes it much, much easier to help others in the process. How are you going to help anyone do anything if you’re hating your life?
Exactly, you’re not.
All of the tools are out there right now for you to be able to do this. For me personally? While leaving my job and moving to Thailand was without a doubt one of the most difficult times of my life, I realize that it may have been easier for me than it could be for you.
I didn’t have a family or a mortgage. My car was my only major financial obligation.
However, it all comes down to priorities. If you want a new life, and a new dream, bad enough, you can have it. It’s just going to take a little discipline and sacrifice.
Why Do We Choose Unhappiness Over Uncertainty?
Tim Ferriss once said:
“Most people will choose unhappiness over uncertainty.” -Tim Ferriss. Tweet it!
It’s absolutely true, but why is this?
It’s because of fear. It’s much easier to follow the path of least resistance than it is to take a risk. The idea of what “might” happen is so terrifying to people, that most will never do a damn thing about it.
Now that we’re talking about fear, I want to ask you a question. I want you to come up with three things you’re afraid of. Think of the three things that you’re most afraid of in the world.
Alright, got it?
Ok, so that was a trick question.
Why? Because there is only ONE thing in the world that people are afraid of.
Can you guess what it is?
The worlds only fear is…
That’s it, that’s the only thing you’re afraid of.
Think about it:
- You’re not afraid of spiders. You’re afraid of the uncertainty surrounding whether or not that spider is going to bite you.
- You’re not afraid of death. You’re afraid of the uncertainty surrounding what happens when you die, and the process of it.
- You’re not afraid of aliens. You’re afraid of the uncertainty surrounding what happens when the beam you back up to Mars.
See where I’m going with this? Uncertainty is the ONLY fear in the world, and it’s what keeps most of us in our nice little bubble of the “traditional” American dream, which has never really lived up to expectations.
So now that we recognize that uncertainty is the only fear in the world, what can we do with that information?
The Three Phases of Uncertainty
There are three phases of uncertainty that we can go through. You see uncertainty is one of the most powerful forces in the world. It can be powerfully positive, or powerfully negative, depending on what phase you’re in.
The first phase: Fearing the Uncertainty.
This is where 90% of the American population will spend their whole lives. They’ll follow the path of least resistance, not do most of the things they said they would do one day, and look back on their life and say, you know? I probably could have done more than I did.
The fear over what might happen is greater than actually experiencing it.
Phase two: Overcoming the Uncertainty
A small percentage of people will get to phase two, overcoming the uncertainty. This is where you recognize you need to make a change, and even though you’re still terrified, you do it anyway. You say “screw it, I’m quitting my job and moving to Thailand.”
When I did this, I had absolutely zero idea of what I was in store for. I didn’t know if it would be positive or negative, but I knew that if I didn’t do it soon, I never would, and it would lead to a lot of regret later on in life
Phase Three: Embracing the Uncertainty
The final step that probably 1% of Americans will get to, is embracing the uncertainty. This is where you take what was once a debilitating fear and you turn it into the greatest gift you could receive.
When everything is uncertain, anything is possible. Click to tweet.
Where would we be if people like Bill Gates and Steve Jobs didn’t embrace the uncertainty of the potential of the computer? The world would be a very different place.
If I didn’t embrace the uncertainty surrounding this lifestyle, I’d still be at a job I didn’t love – and so would a lot of others.
If you can teach yourself to embrace the uncertainty, you’ll approach life with an entirely different lens. One where instead of having everything around you hold you back, everything becomes an opportunity.
The Next Step
You now know what’s possible with the future of the American dream. You no longer have to conquer dozens of fears, because you realize there’s only one you need to focus on. So what’s the next step?
Like I said, in the new American dream, the first step is conscious choice.
Immediately after I got back from Brazil, I created my bucket list. I listed out a bunch of stuff I wanted to do before I died, put it on the internet and told people about it in order to force myself to stay accountable.
Since then? Well, I’ve done a lot. More than I ever thought I would.
If you haven’t done it much in the past, start making conscious decisions right now. What do you want to do? Write it down. Hold yourself accountable. And quit saying you’ll do it “someday”.
There are only seven days in a week, and someday isn’t one of them. Click to tweet.
A Few Other Talks
There were a few other killer talks at TEDxCMU, so you should definitely check these out if you havent:
- Radical Self Love: A really personal story from Gala Darling…who is awesome by the way, follow her if you aren’t already.
- Unlocking Music with Neuroscience: This talk by Ardon Shorr was fascinating and changed the way I look at music. Not to mention the dude is way smarter than me. Way.
- Reinterpreting the Process of Innovation: Jay’s talk was one of my favorites of the day. He took a very technical subject, and not only made me understand it, but made me interested in it.
Sean OgleSean Ogle is the Founder of Location Rebel where he has spent the last 12+ years teaching people how to build online businesses that give them the freedom to do more of the things they like to do in life. When he's not in the coffee shops of Portland, or the beaches of Bali, he's probably sneaking into some other high-class establishment where he most certainly doesn't belong.
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