The Illusion of the American Dream

"It's called the American Dream because you have to be asleep to believe it."   George Carlin

Once upon a time, I woke up and realized the American Dream was an illusion; a myth, a shiny-but-inedible carrot used to trap us into a narrow range of experiences, often referred to as the rat race.

The American dream philosophy started at the inception of the country -- that all people were created equal in the pursuit of happiness.  The basic idea became that if you study, work hard, and play by the rules you will have prosperity and success.  This idea brought, and still brings, many immigrants to the US.  I have no doubt that if someone is dedicated, smart, and talented, this is still the case despite increased challenges.  

The illusion is that the American Dream can be conventionally defined for everyone.  Is it having a good job with health benefits for the accumulation of material things? Or, is it the freedom to pursue passions and have amazing experiences?  Perhaps true success is a balance of all those things.

We've been lucky enough to have already lived both extremes of this paradigm, but are still in pursuit of the perfect balance part. At one point we were rat-racers through and through; with the big house, two cars, bills and debt, two full-time jobs, toys, etc.  It was all well and good, and certainly we found much joy in that life, but it made us feel trapped. The notion of doing the same routine for the next forty to fifty years just to pay off our stuff and retire modestly really started to bum us out.

We began to wonder if this was the best way to experience our precious time on this planet.  Was it the experience we wanted for our kids?  What if there was another way to live that didn't include meaningless tasks and obligations?  Would we be able to sustain ourselves if we quit the traditional version of the American Dream?  The answer lies in our blog's tagline: Exit Rat Race, Enter Adventure.

Somewhere during this transition we realized that we never truly "own" anything, we just use it.  This was made clear when we calculated that even if our home was paid off, we would still have to pay nearly $800 in monthly taxes, insurance etc. That's not ownership, especially when you can rent a home with 4 acres in Costa Rica or a villa in Thailand for half of that, it is a trap. We might think about efiling to cut down our taxes, but that doesn’t help much when we look at the bigger picture. This is when we realized that the carrot was inedible. Sure, it's nice have cool things to "use", but at what cost?  This is when we realized that the carrot was inedible.  Sure, it's nice have cool things to "use", but at what cost?

My husband and I decided to change our interpretation of the dream from the accumulation of stuff to the accumulation of experiences.  We sold everything except personal items, quit our jobs, and decided on a life of nomadic travel.  Many of our loved ones were puzzled by our rejection of the traditional American Dream, yet nearly all of them admired our courage.

As is the challenge for anyone seeking to survive in this world, a balance of work and play still had to be found.  First, we realized that in order to make our new dream come true we had to simplify our lives. Unexpectedly, that simplification process became quite rewarding and has rarely felt like we sacrificed anything. We also had to find ways to make money conducive to traveling.  This has been a bumpier road but one that has ultimately led to getting paid to do what we love.

Our family has gone through many changes over the past few years.  From simplifying our lives to realizing that enjoying the journey is the goal.  Perhaps the most important thing we have learned is that we are in control of ourselves and our path.  We alone set the tempo for living out our dreams.  We can live any illusion we choose, but we must dream it first.  For us, the American Dream represents the freedom to choose how to spend our time.

We choose simplicity, independence, and global exploration. What do you CHOOSE?

Image courtesy of wikicommons.

This article is part of a group writing project.  Please check out some more tales of the American Dream by clicking the links of some of the most inspiring travel bloggers around!  Enjoy!

New life on the road............Living the American Dream
Family on Bikes.........What is the American Dream?
Around the World in Easy Ways..........An American Dream Fairy Tale
Fullness of Life.........The Global American Dream
1 Dad, 1 Kid, 1 Crazy Adventure...........The American Dream
A King's Life.......Redefining the American dream
                     and Livin' the Not So American Dream
Raising Miro............Erosion of the American Dream
Fulltime Families.......Trapped in the American Dream
Family Travel Bucket List......Bye, Bye, Miss American Dream
The Great Family Escape......The Real American Dream
Break Out of Bushwick.......Good Morning, America, Let's Occupy Wall Street
Livin On the Road...........To Dream a Little Dream of .......Travel


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  1. The realization that you really never own your home gives a great perspective, especially if you spend 30 years paying three times what it's worth... just for the privilege of paying taxes on it! We're about to put our house on the market and I'm so excited to get OUT!

  2. Love the comparison of the dream to an inedible carrot. Most of us think (or thought) if we just grabbed it, we'd be satisfied. But the carrot was always moving further away or when we got close enough, would slip out of our grasps. I'm just glad we figured out it was a fake before our kids were SO indoctrinated in the carrot that it would have been too late to show them there's more to life than stuff we don't really own, but owns us. :)

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  4. Thanks, I completely agree with you as well. One of the things I feel most fortunate about in my life, is the fact that I gained the level of awareness that I have now rather then when it's too late.

  5. You're right...perhaps a balance between the two different types of "dreams" is needed. I love how you pointed out that you realized you didn't "own" something. After all, it "owned you", and you were required to make additional payments just to maintain it. How amazing is it that you can enjoy a beautiful home somewhere else at less than just the cost of "maintaining" that owned home!? We are currently enjoying living in Mexico...and are in pursuit of our own American Dream :) More of a South American Dream, in reality...!

  6. Love that your experience is the balance of both ends of the spectrum. Enjoy!

  7. Bravo! Well put. Love that you realized the rat race wasn't for you anymore.

  8. We, too, opted out of the race six years ago and have never looked back. My husband likes to point out that the main reason it's so much cheaper to live here in Costa Rica is because there's nothing available to buy. And now we find that we didn't really need that stuff anyway.

  9. I am so glad for you. It is a hard leap top make but I don't think i've met anyone who regrets it:)

    Sometimes you have to remove the distraction to see that none of the things are things you need! Good for you!

  10. please visit Northern Spain and Portugal, if you havent yet. i could think of so many places... espedcially Asturias!

  11. So you don't live in a specific place? Thats so awesome! I've always liked the way bohemians and gypsy ppl lived before but now is so not common. Times have changed, and ppl do just wht they were taught to do. It is good to stop and think were ur life's goin

  12. No we just travel the world, making decisions one day at a time as to where we are headed next. It works so well for us but I suppose it is not for everyone:)