Is the American Dream Holding You Back?

“Two weeks a year?! That’s IT?”

Sigh. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been drawn into this conversation. I’ve had it with Australians, with Germans, with Brits, all staring at me in wide-eyed amazement. They’ve probably just asked me why American’s don’t travel, a common enough question in Asia where I can go weeks without seeing another of my kind. I have a whole host of theories on that one, but it’s easiest for me to point out that well, most of us don’t really have time.

I get the same disbelieving look sometimes when I share with my friends back home that most first world countries get a minimum of 4 weeks of vacation time a year. It sounds so luxurious to be able to actually take a vacation longer than a week or two, to be able to actually visit another continent instead of squeezing in long weekend trips to see family. To be able to visit somewhere like Asia without having to quit your job or take a sabbatical. What a luxury of time.

Honestly though, it shouldn’t be a luxury. Recently I read an article on CNN entitled “Why Is America the No Vacation Nation?”It basically lamented the same issue I’ve been going on about across the world. Mainly that America is the only advanced nation in the world that doesn’t mandate employers give their workers vacation time.

I was nodding along enthusiastically with the article, then I made the classic mistake: I read the comments.

PoonjobAs it is the world thinks we’re fat, lazy and stupid. Some people work 2-3 jobs to make ends meet. Others work like dogs. If you want to be a bum, leave the USA and be fat, lazy and stupid in another country. Our work ethic is what makes us strong.

Ouch. I know Poonjob up there is just one person, but I’ve seen that attitude reflected in so many people. This idea that working like a dog is virtuous and personal enrichment is self-indulgent. As a country we don’t want to change- many people don’t even take advantage of the vacation time we have! Just look at poor Don Brock, profiled in the article. The last time he took even a week long vacation was ten years ago.

Look America- I love you, but your priorities are WAY out of whack.

if this is wrong, I don't wanna be right.

What are we working so hard FOR? It’s true that some people are just trying to make ends meet, to survive, and my quibble isn’t with them. For many Americans though, their needs are well met, and they still can’t wrap their heads around the idea of slowing down. For many Americans though, what we are working for is money. And things. We’ve been taught from a young age that what we really need is STUFF. A nice car, a nice phone, a nice designer handbag.

I’m sorry, but that’s crap. It’s a trick: an endless void of things we can throw money at: there’s always a new phone, a nicer car, a bigger house to be aspiring to. The problem with the American Dream is it’s always slightly out of reach.

Someone has played a cruel joke on us. They’ve taken advantage of our deeply engrained Protestant work ethic, our passion for being the best, and twisted us worker bees who can barely wrap our heads around the concept of time off.

I’m not a minimalist, I like shopping and owning nice clothes and I have an addiction to used book stores that I can not shake. It’s not wrong to want nice things, but maybe it’s time to start examining WHY we think we need them so much. Why has a country we take out massive loans and rack up loads of credit card debt for stuff we do not need. At this point, the stuff you own literally starts owning you.

It’s more insidious than that really. It’s a herd mentality, that I’ve railed against before: this idea that you need to do what everyone else is doing. This extreme pressure to go to school, get a job, work really, really hard for 45 years, and then maybe when you’re retired you can do the stuff you really want to do. It’s a powerful cycle and it’s extremely hard to opt out of it. I think, more so then the lack of vacation time, that is why Americans don’t travel: so few realize that the only American Dream you should be pursuing is your own personal one.

So- don’t think you can afford to travel the world? Maybe it’s time to think about what you’re paying for instead.

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184 thoughts on “Is the American Dream Holding You Back?”

  1. Great post! I just watched Michael Moore’s Where to Invade next, he interviewed a couple – they were working class Italians and they were traveling all over Europe and Asia. Michael asked how they could possibly afford to travel so much. It’s because these vacations are fully paid for.

    One factor that makes it easier to travel though is proximity. Once you’re in Europe you can hit several countries easily, not like in the US where we have to fly all the way across the ocean

  2. I know this post is like five years old – but IT IS FANTASTIC. I just read it – out loud – to my whole family. YES. Memories. Travel. Moments. THATS WHAT MATTERS. Thanks for this. Love your voice, love your blog 🙂

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