I’ve been thinking a lot about the American Dream lately… and have realized something sobering:
The American Dream is not a given.
I’ve also realized that where you start does not have to determine where you finish, but for far too many, it does. To say this isn’t fair is an understatement.
Our country relies on this particular brand of hope. And yet, despite all the inequality that surrounds us, I still, like so many, believe in the American Dream.
Because while its promise can be tenuous, it’s idea is still promising. It’s an idea that moved so many great social movements and leaders – like Martin Luther King, Jr. and the civil rights movement – forward. It’s a lens in which to see the world – not rose colored necessarily – but a lens that shows us what could be. What’s worth fighting for. What’s worth working towards.
Still, the American Dream is possible, and I fully believe it’s worth chasing. Thinking of ways to help students break cycles of poverty through education is what sets my heart on fire.
And that is my long-soap-boxy way of saying that today’s success series is about chasing your American Dream, whatever it may be. Below are four strategies that can help you in your chase of something better:
1. Tell Your Own Your Story
In any multi-movie series my favorite movie is always, always the first one; I love a good original story (Tobey Maguire, you are still my favorite Spiderman).
Your past, family, income-level, race/ethnicity – everything that creates your unique identity – matters.
Think about who you are and what barriers and privileges have gotten you where you are today. Own where you’ve been lucky and where life has been unfair. Then, carefully consider what you’re going to do about it.
2. Set Your Goal
Think about what you really want to do with your life. What skills do you want to develop? What kind of person do you want to become? What do you want to share with the world?
Turn those dreams into goals.
Write them down. And read them every day.
3. Build Your Community
No one is successful alone.
No one. Some have privileged connections due to their income level, but not having that does not mean you can’t develop your own connections. It’s not just helpful, it’s mandatory.
Start where you are. For many, college is the best place to start building a community of success. Ask professors, advisors, and internship mentors for advice. Take the advice. Say thank you. Ask again.
4. Prioritize Your Improvement
Learning how to learn is one of the most underestimated benefits of a college education.
You can’t get out of self-learning if you want to be successful. Improving yourself through learning is one of the best things you can do to achieve the American Dream. And I’m not talking about doing the bare minimum in class, but a commitment to learning.
Learning when it’s hard. Learning when it’s boring. Learning when no one else seems to care. Learning because you want to get better and make a real difference. Learning because you want to make the most of this opportunity you’ve been given.
Prioritizing your improvement means making sacrifices to make learning happen. Like, maybe watching less television, working less while in college and deliberately choosing to read books outside of what’s required (I recommend at least one per month).
These are strategies for chasing the American Dream, and I use the term “chase” purposefully, because the American Dream isn’t a guarantee.
Chasing the American Dream at this point in history requires strategy, people, commitment, community, and your personal dedication. Nothing less.
And it requires even more if you have less.
We won’t get anywhere without trailblazers who are willing to do the really hard parts.
I’m so thankful for my grandma who did a lot of the really hard stuff to make what I am doing today possible. She moved to New York from Puerto Rico to sew other people’s clothes and clean other people’s bathrooms, all with only a fourth-grade education. Because of her my dad was able to get an associates degree. Because of him I was able to get a bachelors degree and then a masters degree.
My ultimate American Dream?
Stories of the American Dream won’t be amazing extraordinary exceptions. That one day,success stories of minority and low-income people will be as ordinary as the success of anyone else.
That’s my dream. What is yours?
For this post, YouTern thanks our friends at Community College Success!
About the Author: Isa Adney is the founder of CommunityCollegeSuccess.com and author ofCommunity College Success: How to Finish with Friends, Scholarships, Internships, & the Career of Your Dreams. Isa speaks to students regularly about diversity, networking, and leadership. She’d love to connect with you on her blog, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. Sign up right now and receive her free ebook: How to Get a Job Without a Resume.