I recently heard it reported by an authoritative US news network that the American Dream no longer holds the stock it once did. Apparently popular acceptance of the myth is on the decline. Not surprising I suppose, considering the combined phenomena of bank collapses, investment market shrinkage, unemployment and the looming Chinese dominance. Even with the contemporary successes of Microsoft, Facebook and Google, the perceived chance of an immigrant graduating from the kitchen of the Waldorf Astoria to become its owner is now considered more fanciful than real. The general theory seems to be that it won’t be the little guy who makes a difference; rather that the rich will simply get richer. “them’s that’s got, gets”.
While there may indeed be some among us who harbour the ornate hope or expectation of becoming a zillionaire, I suspect the majority of us are content to have an interesting career and perhaps one that pays somewhat better than bus drivers (who frankly appear to be doing quite well). This capitulation to mediocrity may in the opinion of some be an acknowledgement of defeat. I prefer to balance the view by reminding myself that most of us in North America already have so much more than the rest of the world that I have trouble convincing myself that another billion will improve my life measurably; it’s one of those diminishing returns things. I mean to say, there’s only so much food one can eat and so many cars one can drive. And even in a 2,500 square foot house I only occupy the kitchen and the study with any regularity. The bigger challenge is to improve on the view from within rather than the view from without.
I will of course acknowledge that I am still impressed by a Rolls Royce. One slipped by quietly the other day, a plain charcoal colour with darkened windows and an obvious presence. I sat up and took notice, no question! But really, unless you have the right place to park it and unless you intend to drive it only where there is the remotest likelihood of having it repaired if need be, you’re pretty much imprisoned by it, not to mention the cost of maintaining and insuring it and sustaining everything else that goes along with it. And I can’t imagine that even if I hadn’t to worry myself about those trifles I would be any different from the person I am now. It is just another reminder that “there ain’t no ship to take you away from yourself”.
In that respect the American Dream is best kept as a dream, affording us the privilege of cherished ambition without having to admit to self-deluding fantasy. The hope of becoming a billionaire is about as transparent and probable as winning the lottery though it doesn’t diminish inspired optimism. What is more foreseeable is that few of us are prepared to do what it takes to become an exceptional success. Let’s not forget the unglamorous truth of success. As Phyllis Diller said, “The harder I work, the luckier I get”. And it isn’t just the hard work, it’s the sacrifices along the way. We all have heard of the wear and tear of hard work upon personal relationships. Then there are the stories of endless denial and skimping to get where one is going. In the end you’re left holding all the marbles but quite alone and burned out.
Such dark stories may be nothing more than sour grapes. Who will ever know the state of mind of the average billionaire? I remain however persuaded that the only contest worth the effort is to do the best you can with what you have, no matter the outcome. The little I know about billionaires is that frequently they were motivated by what they were doing, not by how much money it was going to make them. In the result, the instruction is the same for us all.
One mustn’t become despondent about having failed to reach the pinnacle of commercial success. In elementary terms, comparison on any level is fraught with hazard. Remember, if you’re reading this, you’re still here and Steve Jobs is dead. That is a blunt observation and maybe unnecessarily extreme but the illustration of any point is always made easier by acute examples. And if it comes down to a question of fairness, that enquiry is about as useful as trying to fathom how a roulette wheel really works. I am prepared to abandon the aspiration to become a billionaire and to settle for the uncharted depths of my personal experience. If the price of things matters I suppose it is arguable that no amount of money will ever purchase what is mine and mine alone as small a compliment as that may be in the minds of others. Besides, even if someone were to ask how much I wanted for it, I’m not sure a billion would suffice!