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My knowledge of the American Dream since the beginning of this fall semester at Tri-C has grown and developed as different ideas and literary works were discussed in my English Composition course. We began the semester by studying the Declaration of Independence by one of the founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson. Jefferson planted the seeds of the American Dream in the Declaration with the famous words, “all men are created equal” and are endowed the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
” These words created America as the place to pursue happiness and follow dreams because through this document we are given freedom and equal opportunity. However, not all people were given these rights. Martin Luther King Jr. took Jefferson’s dream and used it as a door that led to the fight for Negro rights. He wanted the American Dream to be available to all people.
King achieved his goal for equality and equal opportunity; however, today many people still do not believe or have hope in the American Dream.
Sociologist Gregory Mantsios wrote a short essay called “Class in America-2003” in which he provides statistics on how socioeconomic class prevents the “lower-class” from succeeding or ever reaching their goals. Mantsios implies that class standing, along with race and sex, determines the amount of income and success one will obtain, and hard work will not change circumstances. We see examples of such people in Bill Moyer’s documentary “Two American Families,” a production by Frontline, in which he follows two families living in Milwaukee over a span of twenty years.
The families battle to survive yet they never gain any real financial success. Their American Dream did not seem to be gained by hard work.
There are many more stories like the one by Frontline in which people seemed to have lost hope of the dream because life did not give them a break, or they did not acquire any real accomplishments. It’s no wonder people have given up dreaming. Reality is harsh and unrewarding. However, why aren’t people achieving their goals? How come we also still hear of so many self-made millionaires? We all know of Steve Jobs who was raised by adoptive parents who many times had financial problems. Then there’s Sara Blakely, the women who invented Spanx and only started her business with $5,000. Ken Hendricks, a high school dropout, “grew a shingle supply company into a $2.6 billion fortune” (Wikipedia). Sergey Brin, the co-founder of Google, was an immigrant from Russia, whose parents moved to America to pursue the American Dream. All these people achieved the American Dream, but what did they do differently? Maybe goals aren’t achieved because of the way we go about achieving them, and the type of goals we set. In an article titled “What Rich People do Differently,” journalists David and Libby Koch list traits and actions that set the rich or the rising-to-riches from the everyday people. The rich set different types of goals and dreams. To make their dreams a reality they chase after what really makes them happy, are confident, make the right choices, are willing to take risks, and they make sacrifices along with putting in hard work.
Many people who live in poverty accept their unhappiness as a way of life and have given up hope of a way out, and that is one of the problems of why they aren’t succeeding. In his essay, Mantsios composes profiles on people from different classes. Cheryl Mitchell is just above the poverty line and is a nurse’s aide making $15,820 annually. She is a college drop out because of “financial reasons” (707-708). Though we can see how she can’t change many of her circumstances, we also see that she isn’t doing what she does best or what she loves, but she is working hard just to make enough money to get by. Dreams aren’t achieved just by hard work because hard work in the wrong areas is just a lot of useless energy. That energy needs to be put toward a passion. Without passion, life is trivial and work becomes labor. Mantsios shows through his statistics that the majority of “lower-class” members are stuck. They never climb up the economic ladder; however, Mantsios never shows or talks about how hundreds of people have become self-made millionaires. The majority of us are not driven with great ideas and unfaltering motivation. We aren’t determined to stand against all difficulties and misfortunes. Life will continue to knock us down, but eventually we will give up and we will just be content with where we are and we will stop striving for those big dreams. We say “reality hit us,” but really we just let reality hold us down. On the other hand, those that continue with diligence and inspiration are able to make real the American Dream and become those self-made millionaires.
In class we watched an inspirational drama about a self-made millionaire in the 1980s called The Pursuit of Happyness, which starred Will Smith as Chris Gardner, a man who falls into complete poverty as he chases his dream to become a stock broker. He finally makes it in the end and finds his happiness; however, the movie was criticized by classmates as having a fairytale ending. In a class discussion board, Nichole Suhar argued that the story was “a little too unrealistic” because a single father in such a bad position would not “choose to chase his dreams not knowing how things would end up” but would choose to “get a job with regular pay so that he could afford the rent.” Someone in Chris’s shoes would not have taken an unpaid internship without any job promises and just “hoped for the best” (Suhar). Michela Palumbo also states that “many people are homeless and hardly anyone ever gets to such a successful place like how Chris did at the end of the movie.” Throughout the movie she kept thinking of “how improbable this was to happen to other people” (Palumbo). Nichole and Michela are correct in their statements, which supports Mantios’s argument that people don’t escape their economic class. Chris, however, was not the average man stricken by poverty. He believed in the American Dream, especially in the pursuit of happiness. Chris had almost all the traits listed in the article by David and Libby. He had an “appetite for risk” as he decided to take the intern position knowing that he will have no money to provide for his child (David &Libby Koch). Though he took a risk in the beginning when he bought the bone density scanners, his failure was due to his mistake in not counting his odds or doing his homework on the prospect of that business. He made many sacrifices to achieve his dream, including letting his wife leave and leaving their little apartment for a cheaper motel room, which they eventually got evicted from. He worked hard day and night. He made every minute count at his job and worked late into the night studying and fixing a broken bone density scanner that he needed to sell to suffice him with money for the month. He was “not afraid to fail” because he was confident he had what it took to get the job as a stock broker. He went after what he knew and loved most, mathematics. He drove “hard bargains” and was a “born negotiator” (David &Libby Koch). He made smart choices because he knew that confronting the big business owners was the way to make the company money. Chris didn’t accept his fate of poverty like his wife did, or give up when he had to sleep in a subway bathroom. He constantly kept his dream ahead of him knowing that to reach them it wouldn’t be easy but worth it. He had to give up things that were precious to him in order to gain something greater, and that is something that all great business people and millionaires do to constantly get ahead.
The opposite of Chris Gardner, are the Frontline families. Though it’s undoubted that they worked hard, they just are never seen to have big long-term goals or dreams. Short-term goals are understandable because one has to take problems day-by-day in order to make it without breaking; however, long-term goals are needed to be set in order to fight for the dreams. The Stanley family was on the right track to success. They took a promising risk when they opened up the reality office, which was Jackie Stanley’s dream. Jackie, the mom in the family, loved reality and was good at it. Though the family didn’t stick with their plan when problems arose, they did eventually get back up and achieved some aspect of the American Dream. Jackie went back to school to follow her dream once more, and the family did achieve happiness as they stuck together and stayed faithful. The Neumann family on the other hand fell apart. They were never seen to have long-term goals. Not only did they not succeed, but they ended up worse than they started, no one with a stable home or family. They didn’t have any dreams or passions, so how could they achieve them? Also bad choices seemed to play a part of the children’s’ lives as they built families outside of marriage and dropped out of high school. They barely followed any of the traits or actions of a rich person. They continued to complain about their poverty without any hard work to achieve their dreams. They lost their happiness as well as their American Dream.
There are clear distinctions between the successful and the poor. To be successful you have to take hold of a dream and persevere against all obstacles to achieve it. You have to make smart the decisions, and, all the while, be willing to sacrifice time, money, and comfort in order to achieve it. You have to stand out from the rest of the crowd, with your ideas and hard work. Not everyone is able to do this, which explains why not very many people believe in the American Dream. However, the Dream is made available to all. We all have the freedom and equal opportunity that is given to us by the Declaration of Independence to pursue our dreams. We cannot run blindly into an unknown world, though, but we have to use our skills and wisdom to run with confidence and with open eyes for opportunities. We have to make the right choices and not accept poverty as a way of life. We have to accept the inevitable but also use it as motivation to drive us to victory. We have to dream big as with the heart of a child but the mind of the wealthy. We as Americans have to keep the Dream alive in our hearts because without it we will be left with nothing.
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