My Epiphany: The American Dream Can Seem More Like a Nightmare

Not long after getting divorced, I had an epiphany. It occurred to me that my pursuit of the American Dream had me living a nightmare. I was doing work that really didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, just to make money. On a daily, weekly or even monthly basis, I was not making a positive impact in anyone’s life. This work took me away from my daughter more than 40 hours a week, yet I still didn’t make enough money to have savings or an emergency fund. How else was my “American Dream” causing my nightmare? I am eyeball-deep in student loan debt, so much so, it’s almost crippling. And finally, social media—possibly the most dangerous part of this nightmare.

What is the American Dream? The common theme from several articles is that the American Dream allows Americans the opportunity to pursue their own idea of happiness. While that may have been the founding fathers’ intention, that’s not really what it looks like today. Happiness is now rooted in stuff, things and the accumulation of more things that give the appearance of success.

Growing up, I thought in order to be successful, I needed to graduate high school and college, get a job, get married and then have kids. While I did those things, and in that order, I was not happy. I always felt like something was missing. Those around me appeared to be content with what they were doing, but that was never the case for me. In the pursuit of the American Dream, I forgot about my passion, what made me happy. I put the thoughts of having a purpose to the side. I was just focused on having a job so that I could have a decent car and home. Even with those things in place, things still seemed off. I was in a constant state of discontentment.

By nature, I am a healer and a helper. I am currently an Anti-Money Laundering Investigator. I spend my days reviewing financial transactions to ensure clients are not trying to launder money through a financial institution. I don’t think this kind of work could be any further from my passion and purpose. I’m not healing or helping anyone. What I’m doing is continuing in what seems like a cycle to keep me off the pursuit of my dreams.

Upon graduating high school, I had intentions of being a nutritionist or a physician. Both occupations fit right in line with my purpose and passion. My passion is alternative medicine and my purpose is to educate those around me on alternative medicine options. Undergraduate prerequisites and transferring colleges led me to just wanting to be done with school so I could get a job. I completely lost track of my intentions and honestly thought I wasn’t smart enough to make it through either of those programs. I got a bachelor’s degree, got married and focused on working. I worked at a hospital for the first eight years out of college, with the goal of becoming a hospital administrator. While that was what I thought I wanted, it wasn’t what I needed.

It took life experiences for me to realize what I was placed on this earth to do—what truly makes me happy. Of course, by then, I was very immersed in pursuing the American Dream, and now it seems almost impossible for me to get paid to do what I love. Even if my work isn’t what I’m called to do, I want to be able to share my passion and purpose with others, at least as a hobby. Unfortunately, I end up so drained by work, my energy and creativity are shot. Sometimes it’s all I can do to make sure we have dinner and do whatever we need to for the evening. My scenario is not an uncommon one. Several of my coworkers have similar thoughts and feelings, that there must be more to life than production numbers and quality reviews. Just the other day I thought to myself, what kind of business can I start if I quit my job and take my 401k to invest in the business? Is that the thought of a happy employee? Likely not. However, I realize that every day that I have breath, I can make my dreams come true.

Not long after having my daughter, I was again faced with work issues. I was in a role that led nowhere. Instead of clarifying my purpose and passion, I thought I needed more education so that I could get a better job. A job that was more in line with what I thought I wanted to do and would allow me to make more money. What I didn’t take into consideration was that the US economy would take a huge hit right after I graduated with an MBA. What I also didn’t consider was finding a way to do meaningful work and to make enough money to support myself. I increased my debt to make more money, but really have not seen the benefits of that, not enough to pay for the graduate degree.

In the US, there has been so much focus on going to college, that a bachelor’s degree is almost the equivalent of a high school diploma in the job world. It is a requirement for many jobs that don’t even pay enough to cover student loan payments. There are very specialized industries that are hurting for employees because the push for college has driven students away from pursuing career-oriented educational programs. We have people like me who basically owe the amount of a mortgage just for student loans. It seems like I will never be able to afford the payment, let alone also be able to own a home. While I don’t have the answer to how the system could be better, I do know that I will not encourage my daughter to go into the amount of debt I did in the name of higher education. I tell my daughter regularly to make sure she follows her passion and purpose, even if it feels like she’s different from everyone else. I remind her that she was placed on this earth with a gift, and her purpose is part of that gift. Education is important, but college may not be for everyone, especially if your purpose and passion do not fall into the typical college education.

Enter: social media. Social media’s effect on how we view ourselves can make us feel less-than when comparing ourselves to others. Sometimes it feels like Facebook is the actual devil. It can steal your time, your mate, your children and your money! Facebook can make you lose your job, your family or your sanity. We can spend huge chunks of our days looking at the lives of others. Even though most understand no one’s life is perfect, the images we all portray across social media are those of perfection, those that show us at our best. We don’t show our dirty houses, yelling at our kids about homework or lamenting to a friend about being lonely. 

When I first got on Facebook, I was in a difficult stage in my life. I was unemployed, a divorcee, feeling the weight of the world pressing down on me daily and feeling like I was sucking at life. I had a few instances where my heart would race, and I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. One night, I called my mom and told her how I was feeling and that I thought I needed to go to the hospital. I thought maybe I was diabetic, and my blood sugar was off or something. After some tests had been run, I found out that I was having an anxiety attack. I wasn’t very familiar with what that was but started searching for ways to keep these instances to a minimum.

The anxiety attack was a wake-up call that brought me to another important realization: that sometimes you can’t have it all at the same time. There seems to be this myth that women can have it all. You can have a successful career, a healthy romantic relationship and family, a clean house, a balanced diet, time for exercise and a social life. No. And anyone who tries to tell you otherwise is not being honest with you or themselves. There’s no way we can keep all those balls juggling at the same time for long. One of the balls will eventually drop. You must decide which are the most important, how to keep those going and be okay with the ones that drop.

For me to understand what was most important, I thought about what I wanted my life to look like. Anything that didn’t fit within what I wanted for my life took a back seat. The things that made it to my list of what I wanted for my life then became what I was happy and grateful for. I spoke about these things as though they already were. I was speaking my ideal life into existence. By the following year, I could honestly say that I was happy and grateful for everything that was on my list. I manifested those things into my life. 

At the end of my days, I want to have lived my best life—a life that includes me being happy, living in my purpose and passion and ensuring that I have instilled these same ideals into my daughter. My best life does not include the hunt for things that will not add value to anyone’s life. The pursuit of the American Dream is not necessarily a bad thing, it’s just not for me. I was placed here to heal and to help my fellow man. I am thankful for the experiences and life lessons that allowed me to understand how the concept of the American Dream was driving me crazy. I challenge anyone else who is experiencing challenges and setbacks in their lives to take a hard look at what their purpose is and live in that purpose. While it may not be easy, it will be worth it.

Christa Caliver

Christa Caliver

Christa Caliver has been writing since she was a child, but only recently began sharing her work. Christa lives in Columbus, OH and is the mother of an amazing teenage daughter.

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