Bling My Dream:The Changing Course of the American Dream

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The class of 2013 recently threw up their hats.  Now, as they polish their resumes and transition into the workforce, some employers are less than enthusiastic about the current crop of recruits, characterizing them as entitled, overly confident multi-taskers with a poor work ethic.  Ouch.

We love to lament the perpetual “decline of civilization.”  Some blame media, while others blame materialism (not that the two are mutually exclusive).  But does having “too much” make for a society of depraved citizens? Sure, we have “more” than our parents’ and grandparents’ generations – but so did they. That’s the American Dream, right?

Traditionally, the American Dream included owning a home, going to college, giving your children more than you had (or general upward mobility).  To some extent, that vision persists – only it’s starting to look and operate radically differently.

The very notion of “ownership” has been revamped into a growing preference for a shared economy, with consumers engaged in a culture of co-ownership with everything from cars and dogs to homes and handbags.  The value of a 4-year university education is in question, as the higher education bubble seems destined to burst. And now, even virtual goods can build your Klout score.  So how do we mark and recognize upward mobility in a college-optional world of shared consumer possessions?  How is status established and rewarded if traditional indicators are subverted and reimagined?  Does this mark the end of the American Dream as we knew it?

It’s not that the U.S. has become one big commune.  Far from it.  The recent reappearance of Gatsby is a tricked-out reminder of our continued fascination with opulence and class, and the blurrily bedazzled line between superficiality, greed, and success. We know that purchasing designer, luxury goods has been linked to insecurity, but that does not mean it isn’t also socially rewarded.

And that’s to say nothing of the irresistible beauty of abundance:  “One of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s points is that beautiful things in abundance can produce a powerful aesthetic response, akin to the sublime.” Humans – and Americans in particular – gravitate toward abundance.  It is both a survival mechanism and a socio-visual proclamation that “I have arrived.”

So while the class of 2013 may present a new set of challenges to future employers, they also embody a compelling twist on our traditional values.  The American Dream is alive and well.  Its current incarnation is a peculiar hybrid of narcissism and a flourishing collective consciousness. Whether you’re a recent grad or one of their future employers, here are some tips to help you reimagine and acquire your own version of the American Dream:

  • cuddy tedglobal.jpgFake it til you make it: Take posturing seriously (and literally) – watch Amy Cuddy’s TED talk on body language and learn how to make the most of what you’ve got (and attract what you never thought you could get).

  • Selecting the right directionWhether you’re just starting out or looking for a transition, take some career tests to discover new options and (re)orient yourself.

  • e75455b7ad8f23dc53da504ebcc43100_largeEmbrace communal living: check out It’s a Shareable Life, your one-stop directory for disrupting the old model of ownership.