Most fail to achieve prosperity and success because doing so is so simple they simply fail to do it.
Generations of Americans have been raised on the promise of achieving the “American Dream.” Positioned as a unique – if not ultimate – benefit of being an American citizen, the ethos of the “American Dream” is that any individual has the freedom and opportunity to achieve prosperity, success and upward social mobility. The “American Dream” has not only been proffered as a birthright for every natural born citizen, it has also served as a magnet that attracted millions of immigrants to America.
In former days, “the dream” was the stuff of Horatio Alger novels that glorified the merits of honesty, hard work, and cheerfulness in adversity. These were the stepping-stones of success, but not from rags to riches, but from rags to respectability.
Nowadays, the American Dream of the “me too generation” conjures up grandiose visions of rugged individuals who rise from humble beginnings to gain fame, fortune and power. Of course, there are many examples of individuals living that “American Dream,” just as there are many examples of individuals winning instant millions in the lottery. But the odds of either happening are about the same.
The Power of Unity
Individuals, acting on their own, have and will continue to achieve the “American Dream,” but the reality is that in today’s world this “go-it-alone” kind of success is the exception, not the rule. If we invent the next Google or Facebook, discover the way to convert the hydrogen in water into fuel, turn lead into gold, or create any other invention that changes the world, we will live the “American Dream.” If we can throw a football like it is shot from a cannon; hit golf balls with the precision of a laser or pound home runs like a wine-press crushing grapes, we can achieve the fame, too, and the fortune promised by the new “American Dream.” But, if we can’t do any of this, what do we do? Can the “American Dream” be achieved now or is our only option to buy more lottery tickets?
The “American Dream” is alive and well and waiting to be lived
Many see the “American Dream” smothered by the complexities of the modern world, the rules and regulations of contemporary society and interference by the government all leading to the emasculation of individual liberty and opportunity. But, that is not the case and such an attitude is nothing more than a lame excuse. While the yellow brick road to living the dream may have shifted, it is still here, better, brighter than ever. Even more important, the modern “American Dream” is available to more Americans than ever before, not just a select few. The problem is that many search to find the magic secret to achieving the “American Dream,” and fail to find it, because there is no magic secret. They fail to recognize that the potential and promise of the “American Dream” because the way to achieve it is hiding right in front of them.
What needs to be recognized in today’s world is that realizing the potential of the modern “American Dream” is not an individual, but rather a team effort. Americans like to talk about “rugged individualism,” but that is an idea from another time. It has as much relevance today as Alger’s Ragged Dick novels that preached the “luck and pluck” individualism of the 1860s.
True, strong individual leadership is needed to craft the vision, organize the plan and set the tone for success, but in today’s world, power is gained by empowering others and wealth is achieved by sharing wealth. Individual success is realized when all who participate in the effort are allowed to be successful and live their own “American Dream.” It is amazing how many intelligent and ambitious individuals driven by a desire to achieve the “American Dream” of prosperity and success not only don’t understand the new rules that drive the dream, they do the exact opposite. And then wail when they fail to achieve the “American Dream.”
A Case in Point
A few months ago I was asked to meet with a couple of individuals who were in search of their “American Dream.” They were obviously bright, industrious and ambitious to make a mark in their industry. Though already successful within their industry, they burned for more. Their vision of achieving the “American Dream” was to form a company that would take on and not only compete with, but defeat the largest companies in their industry. It was impressive to listen to their passion as they described their concepts and ideas for this new company. But, there was a problem.
The more these two individuals continued to outline their dream, the more it became obvious that their “American Dream” was only about themselves. They exhibited a palpable paranoia about control. It was clear that their chief concern was what they could do for themselves, not what they could do for others. Their only concern for others – even those who had helped them achieve their current success – was how they could be used to help them achieve the dream, their dream. The more these individuals talked, the more obvious it became that they were locked into the old paradigm of achieving the “American Dream” based on individual, rather than team effort. That may have been fine a century ago, but it does not work in today’s environment. Especially if one’s “American Dream” is to take on the entrenched establishment.
While the vision these two espoused was admirable (and doable), as I listened to them explain their planned techniques and tactics for achieving their dream I could not help but get that squirming, irritating feeling one gets as nails are dragged across a blackboard. Their attitude and approach was the exact opposite of what I had learned and believed to be the best way to achieve the “American Dream” in today’s world.
I found myself being drawn back to 25 years ago when a small group of us – in search of our “American Dream” – formed LifeUSA. Like these two individuals, we faced the daunting task of forming a new company to compete in a huge, slow-growth industry – life insurance – dominated by established financial giants. The barriers to entry were Mt. Everest high and the odds for success were Death Valley low. If, when we started LifeUSA, our attitudes and approach were the same as these two individuals, failure would have been our only achievement. Fortunately, if those of us who started LifeUSA knew one thing, we knew we could not be successful alone. What good is control if there is nothing to control? What good is keeping all the benefits of success if there are no benefits to be had?
LifeUSA survived and achieved improbable levels of success, not because of a unique individual talent or effort, but because the fundamental forming philosophy of the company was to allow all those involved in the effort to see, seek and achieve their own personal “American Dream.”
Before all else at LifeUSA came the simple philosophies: Control was earned, not usurped. Ownership, not only of the vision, but of the results was shared. All interests and actions were in parallel, not conflict. Those with the power to add value were empowered to do so. No one individual or group could benefit unless all benefited. Respect – given and received – ruled, not rules.
The embedded philosophies of LifeUSA attracted and encouraged those with the ability to add value to the dream to do so, because they knew they would be empowered to make a difference and they would be allowed to share in the value they helped create. This approach converted the desire of the individuals who founded LifeUSA to achieve their “American Dream” into a “Team Dream” that produced results far and away more than they could have achieved as individuals. LifeUSA became the embodiment of the true “American Dream.”
It is a lesson we can all learn. If we don’t, then the chance for us to achieve the “American Dream” today will remain nothing more than a lottery.
And the Moral of the Story . . .
The “American Dream” is alive and well, but the path to achieving it is different. The complexities of the modern world override the concept of “rugged individualism.” It is this loss of seeming individual power that discourages many in their effort to achieve the “American Dream.” But, there is a better way that leads to even greater prosperity and success.
Your “American Dream” is waiting for you when you recognize that it is a team, not individual effort. You will have the power to achieve your dream when you empower others to help you; when you not only share your dream, but equitably share the benefits of the dream. Most important of all, you have the best chance to achieve your “American Dream” when your desire to do so is exceeded only by your desire and effort to embolden others to achieve their dream.
You have a choice: You can pursue your “American Dream” by encouraging others to participate and share in our dream or you can buy a lottery ticket and a copy of Ragged Dick.