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On the American Dream, purpose, and being awesome.

Think about the times we live in. From where I sit (‘merica!) we don’t have to deal with an unfortunate fate that could put us at the bottom of a caste system. We’re not serfs in some inescapable service to an overlord. I’m not saying that there aren’t challenges. What I’m saying is that we sometimes forget why this has been called the land of opportunity.

I read a post recently by a lady who was describing how her parents’ “American Dream” failed her generation. The American Dream by her definition was the ability of her high school educated parents to work for a company for years and buy a house in the suburbs. It was defined by the ability to acquire things. Since this was not available to her generation, she fashioned herself as a digital nomad who would pursue life and career that wasn’t so shallow as her parents’ way.

I appreciate the gumption she shows. But, I’m troubled by a couple things. First, don’t bag on your parents. They evidently did something right by working hard and encouraging you to go beyond what they accomplished to get your college degree. But more important, stop complaining about the American Dream failing you. It hasn’t failed you. You’re misinterpreting it while benefitting from it.

Historian James Truslow Adams gave an eloquent interpretation of the American Dream in his 1931 book Epic of America:

But there has been also the American dream, that dream of a land in which life should be better and richer and fuller for every man, with opportunity for each according to his ability or achievement. It is a difficult dream for the European upper classes to interpret adequately, and too many of us ourselves have grown weary and mistrustful of it. It is not a dream of motor cars and high wages merely, but a dream of social order in which each man and each woman shall be able to attain to the fullest stature of which they are innately capable, and be recognized by others for what they are, regardless of the fortuitous circumstances of birth or position.

Opportunity. That’s the dream. The ability to achieve whatever we are willing to put the work in to accomplish.

This opportunity we have gives us choices. Think about that. We get to decide who we give our time to. We get to decide what difference we will make with our lives. So why do we find it so easy to just pass the time? To complain about our job. Or our boss. Or how nothing ever changes.

We have the American Dream at our disposal. So what’s keeping us from just being awesome? Maybe we’re simply missing purpose.

Purpose gives clarity, focus, and drive to pursuing our American Dream. We can choose to seek out an organization that has a purpose that aligns with what we believe. An organization that helps us fill our days with meaning. We have to fight the inertia that makes it too comfortable to settle for our current situation. Or the fear of change (which is silly when you think about it because the only constant in our world is change.)

But that’s not our only choice. We can also choose to make a difference right where we are. To be an intrapreneur. To bring purpose into the organization where we work. We could be the spark. We could light the fire that ignites a passion in all those around us.

Imagine this version of ourselves. Imagine how awesome that would be. How awesome we would be. That’s the dream.

Dan is the creator of the Big Audacious Meaning. He is a founder at Will & Grail — a brand innovation company, helping organizations find their unique, undeniable and unshakable sense of purpose and create innovative experiences that bring it to life. He regularly shares his insight here on Linkedin and at

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Dan is an expert brand strategist and author of the book Big Audacious Meaning — Unleashing Your Purpose-Driven Story. He is a founder at Will & Grail.

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