The problem with the American Dream—the problem with all dreams really—is that you have to be asleep to maintain it. In the case of the American Dream—the notion that our kids will live richer and more productive lives than their parents—this means being asleep to the fact that real wages have been falling for decades, that corporations are making more money now with millions of Americans out of work then they were when they employed those Americans, and the realization that the lie of the American Dream is the same as that found on the sign heading into the Auschwitz death camp: Arbeit macht frei/Work sets you free.
It doesn’t. Work, especially working at something you hate to maintain a life style you can’t afford and never have time to enjoy anyway, is slavery. When work is fun, it is no longer work. That is why so many employers try to make work fun; they no it isn’t.
I gave up the American Dream the day I decided not to enter my family’s business, and to pursue instead a life as a rabbi, educator, and writer. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to have a summer home up north, a winter home down south, and buy a new car every two or three years. My hope now is to inherit one of those homes, sell it, and use the money to buy a more recent used car than the 2005 Mazda Protégé I currently drive. But am I bitter? No.
My dad loved what he did, and I am proud of the business he and my uncle built, and happy for my cousins who are making it even greater and more financially rewarding. And I am delighted with the life choices I made, and recommend them to my own son who is just beginning his career as an educator and writer. What about rabbi? He teaches Jewish American literature at the university—close enough.
So as Black Friday comes to a close and we begin to prep for Shabbos, let me suggest five ideas to share with your kids about the American Dream:
1. Wake up and stop dreaming it. Find what you love and do it. And if you have to do stuff you don’t love to supplement yourself, do that too. Just don’t abandon what you love.
2. Move somewhere cheap and live even cheaper. The less you have the less you have to earn and the more time you have to play. Get a good financial planner to help you manage the surplus.
3. Don’t go into debt. Only exception is when buying a house, and even then buy small and think twice and then twice more.
4. Don’t count on anyone to take care of you: not parents, employers or the government; yet don’t imagine you can take care of yourself. Build a network of friends who pledge to help one another in times of crises. Even then be prepared to be disappointed. Learn to live with anxiety, ambiguity, and doubt. It called adulthood.
5. Measure the quality of your life by how often you are happy and of service to others. The only advantage to being rich and miserable is that the rich can afford legal drugs to mask their misery while the poor have to risk jail time for their’s. Forget about being rich or poor; seek only to avoid being miserable.