When I was a kid, I woke up every morning filled with wonderment. What would happen today? Who would I meet? What would I do? I didn’t know what my future would hold, but I dreamed it would be good. No, great. Why would anyone dream otherwise?
The other day, the American Dream came under attack. I understood why, as many young people believe that no matter what they do, how hard they try, how closely they hew to the “rules,” they will never be able to achieve it. They may have a fancy degree, but they won’t be able to afford a home. They struggle with their relationships, as intimacy crumbles under the weight of demands and expectations they never seem capable of meeting.
Their world has been filled with fear, from the earth dying to their guilt for sins their ancestors, or at least their skin-color predecessors, committed. They suffer from anxiety and depression, which has become something of an Olympic event for social validation.
The American Dream is not dead. It’s just been oversold. You were told by well-meaning parents that if you played by the rules, you would win. You were told life was fair. You were told you were special because encouragement and support were better for your self-esteem, and the better your self-esteem, the happier you would be. It didn’t turn out that way, did it?
But that doesn’t mean the American Dream is dead. A young lawyer friend replied to a twit with the usual cynicism of the disaffected.
You’re a lawyer. Did you come from generations of lawyers?
No. Quite the pound puppy.
Me too. Yet, here we are, lawyers. Not too shabby.
In another time, another place, I would have been tilling the field and praying that the Cossacks didn’t visit my shtetl. I can complain, but only because I have a gift, but I won’t. Life has been good to me. It’s mostly luck, but there’s an element of my effort that got me where I am. And there’s one more thing, an intangible thing.
I saw every day as an opportunity. Maybe it would turn out lousy, miserable and awful, but the next day would still hold the promise of better things, great things. I was open to them. I looked for them. I hoped for them. What I would not do is close myself off from them by wallowing in misery and hopelessness.
Yes, I sound like boomer Pollyanna. But today is my birthday, which is no longer a celebration like it was when I was younger, but more a marker of time. That happens when you reach the top of the mountain and start down the other side. It’s not a bad thing unless you want it to be, and I don’t. Rather, it’s an opportunity. Even now, I wake up every morning and see the new day as one of potential.
If you seek misery, you will find it. If you seek happiness, you may not find it, but you surely won’t find it if you don’t look for it, if you’re not open to it. There are no guarantees in life. Stercus accidit, and it may happen to you even though you did nothing to deserve the problems dumped on you.
But if you give up, you will fail. If you close yourself off, you will never meet your next friend, the love of your life, your future patron or the thing you can do to help others find their better life. Stop being angry that life is unfair, that there are people suffering while you enjoy your “privilege.” There will always be people suffering, whether they deserve it or you deserve not to. You don’t help them by joining them in misery, and don’t let anyone shame you into believing that your self-loathing makes anyone else’s life better.
Dream of the best day you can possibly have, and then if it happens, you’ll be ready for it and seize the opportunity. If everyone does that, we will all be better for it. Keep the dream alive.