I’ve written this post over and over like seven times
Let’s get this out of the way: I’m still young. With youth comes that angsty confusion, it’s just inherent. No doubt we’ll all look back on this post in ten years from our hover yachts and laugh as the robot uprising fights the zombie uprising below for control of the terrain we’ve long since fled in fear.
(The robots will win, obvs)
But here’s my thesis: we don’t have an American Dream anymore.
That is, we don’t really have a plan or goal for anything.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe all of my years of minimalist living have taken me so far off the usual hedonic treadmill that I can’t even relate to the people who are on it anymore. But I’m not convinced.
My friends make up a pretty diverse group all told, and I’m in a weird zone where half of them are my physical age and still broke college kids while the other half are more from my career age because I started my ‘real job’ so early.
But the thing that comes across from all demographics, all income levels, all lifestyle genres: none of us have any idea what we even want.
Obviously I’m too young to comment on the older generations but from the books and movies and things we have, it really seems like the older group had this nicely defined American Dream: there was a goal.
Whether it was real or valuable or whatever, that’s a separate issue. I’ve seen enough Mad Men to know exactly where this picture comes from.
And then there was this sort of cynicism perhaps, where housing crashed a few times and we grew up in a recession and all the rom-coms we’ve ever seen are just about whiny man-children fighting with 2D trope women.
We were taught that money doesn’t bring happiness and the pursuit of things isn’t the goal for its own sake and now we’ve successfully, uh, not got anything? I can’t even say we’ve avoided the trap, the whole thing just got convoluted somewhere.
So here we are. Or here I am at least. We’re young and virile and have nowhere to put that energy. None of the old Dream appeals to us.
I might be the only one who’s paid off my student loan debt already, but in general we’re doing okay. The old Dream included working hard and saving up money for a microwave and a TV and whatnot and that technology is basically the default now. We might be broke, but relatively speaking we’re living easier than ever before and I wonder if that’s part of it: what do we even need to work hard for?
In a world where none of us want families, in a world where we don’t want to buy houses, a world where human-driven cars might be the last of their breed within a decade, in a world where endless movies and video games are practically free even without piracy, in a world where you can order anything you want from China and it comes to your door with free shipping, in a world where conspicuous consumption doesn’t really exist because no one around you cares, what do we even need money for?
By the way, I’ve been asking people this for years. That classic career counselor question of “what would you do with a million dollars?” and every single answer is really immediate. Most people, apparently, would just buy a sports car and play video games for a while. They never really think about what happens after that; that those things inevitably get boring.
Oh, and travel. That’s it. That’s the supposed Millennial Dream. (incidentally, probably the only conspicuous consumption we have since it’s inherently Instagramable)
And no one I know even really cares that much about it. It’s just the only thing left that we haven’t done and so it’s sort of this ‘okay, fine, I guess’ which is a terrible attitude for a Dream, especially one that you’re supposed to work for.
Self employment ranked really high too: American entrepreneur rates are rising every year. I’m not sure that’s really a Dream in itself as much as it’s just a way to escape the leftover jobs that we’ve been saddled with and don’t really care about in any way / want to stay at for lengths of time.
Also, as a self employed person now, I still struggle with this problem: being self employed doesn’t actually give you self actualization. It’s not a life purpose in itself, it’s just changing the daily structure around a tiny bit.
So in the end, neither of these things really answer the root question:
What is our life purpose?
Which has been the question since literally forever.
But the question that comes from that is like, what is the image of our Dream?
If I can google and find literally hundreds of these from a few decades ago, why can’t I search and find the modern version? (Try it yourself, even terms like ‘millennial dream’ don’t return much of anything).
Maybe that’s a function of the marketing terms used then vs now?
If you search ‘dream life’ by the way, it’s just people standing alone on the beach. Also, quotes over pictures like this:
Which is the Millennial Dream, I guess? Just knowing that whatever your dreams are, you can go for them. Pithy quotes = success!
But what about the rest of us, the ones that don’t dream about anything?
Time will tell. Maybe that’s just the part about being a confused kid that happens; that you’re maybe not supposed to know.