Is the American Dream still a thing? Do kids still believe in it – the belief that you can be anything you want to be, if only you try hard enough? I admit I used to believe it. I grew up in the 60s and 70s and I think we all believed it.
Maybe it’s just a youth thing, and isn’t unique to this country at all. Everybody thinks they know how to do it; everybody thinks they have the secret to life when they are young, and that they will be successful. It’ll be different for me. But some of us – I would venture to say most of us – have learned the real secret of life: it’s about failure, not success, after all. Success is easy. It’s failure that stretches us and helps us to grow.
I read stuff all the time about people who have risked everything to follow their dreams and who have succeeded big time. Yay for them! The message I get from these stories is that I should do the same; all I lack is courage. My lack of courage is the only thing stopping me from living the life of my dreams. Hesitating, or stopping to consider things like money or time or the rest of the world has more to do with my lack of courage than actual reality, because, after all – here it comes: I create my own reality. Right? So all I have to do is create what I want. Presto! If what I have in my life is not what I want, then I’m just not doing it right.
Well…I just don’t believe it’s that simple.
I have to say, I do believe in the esoteric truth of this principle. I think someday (if we and the planet survive long enough) we’ll have a better grasp on our ability to manipulate matter at the molecular (energetic) level. I believe thoughts have power. I believe in the collective unconscious, and I believe that everything on this planet and in our bodies ultimately comes down to the balance of energy and the power of the human spirit. But I do not believe that I create my own reality by simply changing my mind, or wishing harder, or dreaming bigger. Nor frankly, do I want to.
I have learned the hard way that when I try to “make things happen,” or create my own reality – I get kicked in the teeth. On the other hand, when I let things flow, everything turns out pretty good, or at least not horrible, most of the time. Not exactly what I had cooked up in my grandiose little ego-mind, but okay nonetheless. I think if I hear one more person say “Let go and let God,” I’ll have to spit on something, but that’s exactly what I try to do now, though I would substitute Tao for God.
Here’s all I know for sure: Life is hard and wonderful. The range of stuff that can happen to human beings on this planet goes from short-lived really terrific to longer-than-you-think-you-can-endure really horrible.
So I think the trick is not to dream bigger or try harder, but to be happy with whatever is the reality right now. Be grateful everyday for all that I have and all that I’ve been spared. We have to honor our struggles and our pain, and then just get on with it.
Stop trying to “create” the life you want. Live the life you have.
If there’s something you really feel called to do, do it, or at least set your sights in that direction and plan a route. Just know and accept that nothing’s guaranteed. Life is just going to be what it is, no matter what we do or want or think. You will succeed or fail or experience something in between. Don’t be surprised, though, if they all look like the same thing. Our ideas of success have nothing to do with the way success is defined in universal or spiritual terms.
Clearly, some people are here to dream big dreams and to do big things, hopefully things that improve life on this planet for all of us (including the furry, feathered, buzzing, growing, and swimming things, too). That’s their path. But most of us are called to live smaller lives, to tread a less celebrated path, and we must learn to live as sweetly and as gently as possible along the way.
I’ve given up on my American Dream grandiosity, and am now concentrating on what I believe are the truly important things; the challenges that have been put in front of me right now, right here:
Be kind. Tread gently on the planet. Be of use, help out whomever and wherever I can. Be a good friend. Do good work.
I’m still riding along on training wheels for all of that stuff, and probably will be all my life. I started out on a tricycle, though, so I’m doing better, and I’m grateful for that. I remember writing a few years ago that I was in training for greatness (yes, I confess: affirmations seemed like a good idea at one point).
Now I believe I’m in training for not-greatness.
And that’s just where I want to be.