People Power: Have we lost the American Dream? - Nov 2017

By Sam Allman

The president wants to make America great again. I wonder whether he can do it, even if he were capable or had the help of the most talented people or the best minds in the country. Maybe I don’t understand what he means by “Make America Great Again.” Hearing the slogan reminds me of a tee shirt I saw for sale in Bamberg, Germany, “Make America Great Britain Again.”

I just read Kemp Harr’s Viewpoint editorial from the October issue of Floor Focus. He discussed the income gap between those earning enough to live the American Dream and what the average American family of four is earning, and why that gap isn’t allowing the floorcovering business to recover at a faster pace. It seems that the estimated cost of living the American Dream-which includes housing, car payment, groceries, medical expenses, education, clothing and utilities-is $130,000 a year. Yet the average family of four earns $56,000 year. Furthermore, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that for 2017, a family of four making $24,600 or less a year is living in poverty.

Kemp’s column reveals that only one in eight Americans is living the dream. That’s less than 13% of us. My question, then, is: have we lost it? In my estimation, that depends on how you define the dream.

We are a very diverse people. Our ancestors came from all over the world. Most came here because they were seeking the freedom to live life their own way. I believe that is living the American Dream-to live life your own way, to live your dream. I know people who think they are living the dream because they are in occupations that they love. They are teachers, nurses and park rangers, to name a few. They will never make enough to live the dream unless they are working two jobs or are a multiple-income family. As Confucius said, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Acquiring wealth is not what matters to them. Finding purpose and meaning is more important. They want to live their way.

To me, America’s “greatness” wasn’t a product of its wealth or military power. America’s greatness came on the backs and hands of every individual-whether they immigrated here or were born here-willing to use the opportunity and their freedom to do whatever it took to take care of themselves and their families, and to achieve their dreams. Doing whatever it took did not mean cheating, stealing or achieving at the expense of others. It meant working two jobs to make ends meet or to provide children with an education; going to school and working full-time simultaneously to graduate from college; or working, saving and persisting for a personal goal. I remember when my father installed carpet during the day and worked the graveyard shift at National Cash Register at night. He would sleep in the early evenings.

The greatness of America lies in the dignity of its people. Dignity is defined as the state or quality of being worthy of honor or respect. The greatest honor or respect one can have is for oneself. Dignity cannot be granted, given or bestowed. It can only be earned. People with dignity believe in themselves; they believe that they are capable. That belief stems from the feeling that they can take care of themselves and their family. No one wants to be dependent. Dependency destroys self-esteem and dignity. According to the dean of Harvard Business School, Nitin Nohria, “The single most important form of dignity that you can give a human being is to feel economically self-reliant.” Self-reliance is an essential element in our emotional as well as our temporal well-being.

We were born to be self-reliant. When we were in caves, we had to be self-reliant; finding our food, feeding ourselves-that’s where human history began. All humans are born to be self-reliant because it is encoded in human DNA. In fact, all living things have to be self-reliant. Whether it be a lion cub being taught how to hunt or a fawn learning to run, self-reliance is the key to survival.

Self-reliance means we are the founders of our own lives. These are tough times because America and the world have changed. What worked yesterday is not working today. It used to be that one could go to school or learn a trade, choose a career and get on the escalator of success- start at the bottom, move up to the top, get the gold watch and then retire. Things are different today. Globalization and technology have changed everything. According to Ronald Brownstein, “But now that escalator is jammed at every level. Many young people, even the most highly educated, are stuck at the bottom, underemployed or jobless. Everyone is stepping on everyone else.” It was thought even the Boomers would be retiring, but Boomers are staying and still working.

Living the dream today demands a new mandate. It still requires self-reliance. That new mandate is that we have to be generating our own opportunities. We always have to be looking and searching, always trying to grow and improve ourselves so that we can find these new opportunities that may become available to us. We have to network and engage with others. Today, it’s not what you know; it’s who you know. Fact: the new mandate requires us to be more creative, to think outside the box. Creativity is in our DNA. We humans have been given the gift of imagination. We used it often as children. As adults we use it to worry. Worry is the misuse of your imagination.

We need our imaginations so that we can be flexible. If what we are doing isn’t working for us, we need to do different things. Even if we don’t know what those things are, we need to search for them, hence the saying, “It’s not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.” Thriving and surviving today requires new ways of thinking and doing. But, most of all it requires self-reliance. Consider these basic principles of self-reliance:

Create a vision: What would taking care of yourself and your family look like to you? Can you picture it in your mind’s eye? You must see it before you can make it happen; it’s called visualization. What would you need, and what would you want? What would you dream if you knew you would not fail?

Take responsibility: Assume that no one is coming to your rescue. Work as if it all depended on you. Listen to yourself. If you are blaming others for problems or failure, you are not taking responsibility. Affirm in your self-talk: “I am responsible. If it’s to be, it’s up to me.”

Use time wisely: Most research shows that the number one cause of failure in life is the poor use of time. Learning good time management practices will increase the results you desire. Time is the great equalizer. We all have the same amount of time each day. How we use it is critical.

Manage money: The secret to getting rich is spending less than you make. Set goals for saving a certain amount each month. Warren Buffet started buying stock one share at a time. Resist the urge to load yourself with debt. Many credit Albert Einstein with saying, “Those who understand interest, earn it; those who don’t, pay it.”

Solve problems: Learn to solve problems. Use your imagination. Brainstorm. Seek solutions.

Communicate and work with others: Taking responsibility doesn’t mean you don’t ask for help. Network and build relationships. You can’t have too many friends. Make it a point to meet people who can help you. Find advisors and mentors. Most people are good and are willing to help when they are sincerely asked. It also means that you cannot abuse their altruism. You must be willing to help if it is requested of you. What makes America great is that in tough times, we unify and put our differences aside to help each other, as we have observed in our recent natural disasters.

Persevere: Remember, you can fail your way to success. You don’t really fail until you quit. Learning to be self-reliant or learning a new skill takes time. Can you remember how long it took to learn to walk or swim? Anything worth learning is worth accepting failure as you do it.

Show integrity: The odds are you can’t do it alone. You need people. People won’t be there for you if you can’t be trusted. Keep confidences and be honest. Do not take advantage of people. Always look for ways to reciprocate. Always be loyal to those who are not with you, because it creates loyalty for those with you.

Seek learning and education: Be a life-long learner. Seek knowledge and wisdom. The more you know the more self-reliant you become. Success is never final. Remember, getting results at one time may work in another. Always be adding to your skill base. Watch for trends and opportunities so that you can make yourself more marketable.

I don’t believe we have lost the dream. There is no question that living the American Dream, whatever that is for you, is more difficult today. Yes, capitalism is leaving some people behind. Capitalism is mean and is not altruistic. However, I believe America has yet to lose its greatness. It’s tied to the dignity of the American people. That dignity comes from self-reliance: the ability to take care of oneself and one’s family. It also comes from making a difference in the lives of others. We need to teach our children self-reliance, like the she lion teaches her cub. We need to help people help themselves so that they can feel the same dignity we feel. Some of us need more help than others, but give me the dignity of doing as much as I can for myself and then help me with the rest. We are meant and encoded to be self-reliant. We are in charge of our own American Dream.

Copyright 2017 Floor Focus