The problem is not that the American Dream is dead, it’s that people are confused about what the American Dream really is.
6 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.
Depending on whom you ask, anywhere between two-thirds and three-fourths of the American public believe that the American Dream is dead. I know for a fact that they are mistaken because my own family came to this country — legally — almost 40 years ago. We went from literally eating out of dumpsters because we had so little money to now, where my dad has his own successful tailoring business (he once did the tailoring for New Kids on the Block) and I’ve built a business empire that gives me freedom of lifestyle and the freedom to support my favorite causes.
Related: Is the American Dream Dead?
The problem here is not that the American Dream is dead, it’s that people are confused about what the American Dream really is. If you ask most people to describe the American Dream, they’ll tell you about the Old American Dream.
No wonder those people are so pessimistic: The Old American Dream isn’t just dead — it never existed in the first place.
The Old American Dream
The Old American Dream is that you go to college, get a degree, go directly into a well-paying job in your field, work there for 30 years, then get a pension plan and a Rolex when you retire.
The problem there is that none of the people offering those jobs planned ahead. They fell into the same trap that many state and local governments fell into: overburdening themselves with lavish retirement plans instead of spending that money on innovation and efficiency.
The lesson there for entrepreneurs is to stay focused on the present. Like I said before, there’s no need to offer expensive bells and whistles to attract and develop the best team members. What you really need is a clear vision and the discipline to hire and train up only those people who are on board with the vision.
Besides, the whole idea of “work in a safe job for 30 years” is an extremely recent idea. It was created by the leaders of the Industrial Revolution who needed obedient, cog-in-the-machine workers to operate factories. It has nothing to do with how people are naturally wired or even how people lived before the Industrial Revolution.
If that scares you, it really shouldn’t. The death of the Old American Dream is good news because if you recognize what’s really happening, it’s your opportunity to achieve more and live a greater lifestyle than you ever would have before.
The New American Dream
The New American Dream is a version of the entrepreneurial journey that is unlike anything that has ever existed before. The barrier to entry to becoming an entrepreneur is literally the lowest it’s ever been right now.
Step one, of course, is to find a solution to a problem that many people have. Step two used to be to go pay through the nose for major news networks like ABC, NBC and FOX to let you borrow the spotlight so you could sell your product to the masses. Obviously, that blocked most people from ever even starting a business, much less growing one.
Now? If you have an internet connection, you can create a YouTube channel or an Instagram or a WordPress blog for free and start putting out “how to” content that explains your unique solution. You can use that to build a tribe of prospects, then sell them an e-book or video series you made for free and collect payments through your free PayPal account.
No, this will not make you a millionaire overnight. No, your success is not guaranteed the first time or even the first 10 times. You have to break yourself of that kind of thinking. That’s the Old American Dream talking. That’s the illusion of safety.
What needs to change
The biggest difference between the Old American Dream and the New American Dream is taking ownership of your own destiny. The Old American Dream rewarded mediocrity and being average. The Old American Dream also told you when you were allowed to start and when you should give up.
With the New American Dream, you can start whenever you want. It’ll take you at least a decade to become massively successful, but you can start that decade today. It doesn’t matter if you’re broke, or you have student debt, or your last big dream didn’t work out.
You can create a product right now and start selling it using all the free resources I listed above. That will give you entrepreneurial experience that is so much more valuable than your first few sales will be. When you’re down in the trenches of your industry creating products, selling them, overcoming rejection and objections, that’s when you’ll spot opportunities to solve even bigger problems and command an even greater income in return.
Forget about taking the “safe” path. The New American Dream is about doing the work that nobody else wants to do. It’s about going to war for your vision, earning your battle scars and learning through experience what works and what does it. Adversity is not your enemy. Adversity is your teacher. Embrace the suck factor and get moving.
Why money is not the problem
First off, if you think it’s difficult to make money, just take a look around you and see what most Americans spend money on and how much they’re willing to spend. My family came from a country where you could go into the grocery store and literally see entire rows of shelves empty.
Here, even in a “bad” economy, people still spend money on little luxuries like cars, iPhones and craft beer. It is not difficult to find money in the American economy. We live in an abundant society with incredible opportunities all over.
If you are struggling to make money right now, you need to understand the difference between “broke” and “poor.” If you’re just out of money right now, that’s “broke.” Successful entrepreneurs go broke all the time and bounce back because they understand the New American Dream. Broke forces you to get resourceful, reach out for help and invent new solutions that allow you to do more with less. The Old American Dream is dead. Embrace the New American Dream instead and look at being broke for what it truly is: the seed of your future empire.