The America Dream, originally defined as "The opportunity for progress, success, and prosperity through hard wok (regardless of social status or class)," is based on the immortal words from The Declaration of Independence, "...All men (and women) are created equal, and have been endowed by their Creator (Capital "C" - God) with certain inalienable rights, including Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness." Since these principles were set in motion not so many years ago, a strange, interesting, and at times, disturbing phenomenon has occurred: Somewhere along the way, the American Dreamer became obsessed with the details and lost sight of the big picture. This habit is all too familiar with young, raw creatives and artists, and fittingly enough, it seems to have the most profound impact on them (rarely for the better.) As an artist myself, I'm speaking from both personal experience and events I've witnessed firsthand from colleagues and peers. Let me explain.
Both The Declaration of Independence and definition of The American Dream were originally worded vaguely on purpose. The ideas behind them were meant to apply to every individual on a personal level. Over time, however, people began applying rules and details to the American Dream. Why this happened is irrelevant, but I believe it is because mankind cannot leave well enough alone - even when we've spent decades perfecting something until it's just right, we feel the need to keep going and changing in the name of progress, even if it means literally destroying the perfect thing we spent so much time on (again, a classic mistake of the artist and something we should all be aware and wary of.) Once something is just right, why not leave the legacy that way and pioneer something new? Anyway, I digress. Due to this human need to clarify and dissect, as time passed, the American Dream mold became more and more specific. We've all heard what we now know to be the "classic" American Dream: Wife, kids, house, car, white picket fence, 9 to 5 paycheck, and so on. These are wonderful goals and blessings to have in your life...if that's what you want! Awfully specific, though, isn't it? Before, it was, "Do what makes you happy." Plain and simple. Then it became, "Do whatever gets you these many, specific things and that will make you happy." As if that wasn't enough specification and pressure, another inevitable factor eventually came into play: Fear.
In this case, the specific culprit was mankind's fear of bieng/dying alone, which has always driven its need for (and unfortunately, its dependence on) acceptance. The result became an immense, and at times, terrifying pressure to fit the American Mold, leading us to where we are right now, "Do whatever everyone else says you should do to have what 'everyone else has' and says you need to be happy, or you will never be accepted and die alone." It sounds harsh and insane...until you take one look at the world we live in and really start listening to people. I can't tell you how many times I've heard my friends (artistic or not) say, "I want the house, the car, the wife, the white picket fence..." and all the while I'm thinking, "Do you really want these things, or are you just telling me (and yourself) this because it's how you were raised and what 'society' has said you should want your whole life?" The reality is that this version of the American Dream is much harder to obtain and maintain nowadays, but the pressure to have it as soon as possible is greater than ever. People even put deadlines on getting it, as if they have some way to foretell exactly where they'll be in five years (or even next week.) Does this sound familiar? Is this you? Desires and deadlines are great ways to hold ourselves accountable to our goals, but like most things in life, they can be taken too far (and all too often, they are.) So what happens when this mindset is "taken too far"? Unfortunately, the most common result seems to be a paralyzing, counterproductive, and even destructive crutch. Instead of taking the time to figure out what we really want, how often do we buy into the influence of the masses? It's easy. Sure, maybe the wife, house, and white picket fence are just right for you, but wouldn't you like to be sure before you commit? This is where everything comes full circle back to the artists.
Suppose you love your career, but choose the classic mold of "American Dream Family" because it's what your friends and family have and want for you. It fulfills them and makes them happy so why shouldn't it do the same for you? Then fear kicks in - they're afraid you're going to make the wrong decision and get hurt, so they lean on you to do what is safe and familiar to them - and you're afraid of disappointing your loved ones, of missing out on the joy they say their path will bring, and most of all, of losing time, so you do what they want. Not what you want. Maybe you rationalize that you will pursue your career once the kids are raised. Once your debt is paid. When the time is right. Regardless, what most people fail to consider until it's too late is the inevitable emptiness that comes with turning your back on your heart's deisre. Emptiness leads to regret, regret to resentment, and before you know it, you're taking your anger out on the ones you're supposed to love the most - that family you forced yourself to create but didn't really want (yet). Your spouse deserves better than that. Your kids deserve better than that. YOU deserve better than that! And that is my point, amigos - the only thing that matters is the thing that's right for you. Pleasing others starts with (and relies upon) first pleasing yourself. This is NOT a selfish way to think or be unless you make it one. You can make your true heart's desires and dreams helpful and useful for others, as well as lead by example and share what really makes you happy with others who want the same thing. Who cares if it doesn't fit the mold? Who cares if it requires solitude? Who cares what anyone else will think? As soon as we stop doing what everyone else wants us to do, stop caring about whether or not they agree, and start listening to and following our hearts...that's when everything will start to make sense and work out.
A brilliant artist, teacher, and friend of mine, #CharlesZembillas of #TheAnimationAcademy once told me what #HyaenaGallery now claims as their personal motto - "There is no art without sacrifice." This is true of any career or endeavor that involves hard work, but especially of the creative ones. We are only human - we simply cannot "do it all" and therefore, must choose which "master" we are going to devote our lives to. That does not mean we cannot do more than one thing in life, or even more than one thing at a time, but success and happiness demand that we make an honest decision within ourselves, and then go for it. So go for it! Do the work!! Make the sacrifices necessary to bring your dreams to life!!! These actions are precisely why my pet project, Little Billy is finally coming to life after all these years. This level of commitment is a fulfilling, wonderful, God-given thing and without it - no pun intended - the project would have no chance. As long as you're not hurting yourself or anyone else in the process, you'll be happiest doing what you love, and in turn, will inevitably share that joy with others. Are you still breathing? Then it's not too late! If you're already "weighed down" by something...anything, don't sweat it. Think it through, talk it out, and see if you can get that weight to work for you instead of against you - families and colleagues are teams. You have the power! Never give up!! It's okay to not be ready for something and it's okay if no one else understands that - as long as you get it, that's all that matters. If you don't yet, go forth and explore all of today's great resources till you figure it out. All the other stuff people say you need will come when the time is right...and if it doesn't, so what?!? You're already doing what makes you happiest of all. Be happy!