The “American Dream”

Yellowstone Lamar Valley

Backcountry camping in Yellowstone Lamar Valley. Photo: Susan Georgette Whaley

I think the ‘American Dream’ isn’t even American. It is a human dream, a human lifestyle. Do what you want now and be happy. It is so simple. I want to measure my success in different ways than what has been wired into my brain since a child such as having a good job, going to college, getting married, etc. I have experienced parts of the world and moved around and learned about myself from within. I have learned to love and am on a spiritual path and I enjoy the activities that fill my day. But … oh yes there is always a but.

But, lately I have been feeling down on myself as I see friends get cool jobs and graduate college. I chose a very different path and like everyone else, I question it at times.

Not everyone is on the same path in life. We all have priorities and things we want to accomplish. I think I know what I want to accomplish, but getting there is so tough and I tend to fall back into what I know and am comfortable with. That is working a, don’t like to use this word but, meaningless job and am not even close to graduating college … like ever. So what does that leave me with?

If you could fill your day with anything, someone asks you what would you say? I would say rock climbing, writing, reading, being outdoors, playing chess, being with people I love. Well, it seems that is already what I do and I am fufilled. So why do I buy into the whole mindset of feeling like a failure because I am not accomplishing anything in my career? Is that the only way people can measure life by?

Is a career what we define our happiness and success by? I like to write, but if I never make money doing it then have I failed? What kind of mind set is that to have in our society? I know I am not the only person that has felt that way about their passions and hobbies. The ‘dream’ is to make money from what you love to do, but can’t you just do what you love and not get paid for it and it still be meaningful in life? I guess I don’t mind working a lame job, but if I had the opportunity to do something else hell yes I would do it. I just don’t want to work my ass off for my entire 20’s and 30’s and 40’s trying to make a lot of money so I can retire one day and then start enjoying life.

Gaining the ‘American Dream’ entices most of us and I even can admit I fall into the seduction every so often, such as today as I write about the squabbles within myself. But is that what i really want? Is it actually what most people want or is it wired into their/our brains since childhood?

College, marriage, car, house, kids, retirement … wow that is a long list of what the ‘American Dream’ entails, that the way to a happy life we must get all of these things. I am doing absolutely none of these and I am so far away from them, they will never happen.

If I had to pinpoint the moment that my life changed it was when I was twenty years old and finally moved out of my parents house, dropped out of college and moved to Yellowstone National Park to work at a lodge. My life has been what some can say difficult ever since: trying to make money, pay off my truck and go back to college. I never could move back with my parents, I was forever on my own. But, it taught me so much and was what those wise people call “life experience.” I don’t have a college degree but I got to live in some cool places and have cool stories. When I write a novel one day I think my life experiences will help more than a degree.

Some people tell me how I am crazy and not focused and jump around too much, but then they tell me how they actually envy me. I am not saying this to flatter myself, I am using it as a point that people that judge at first how I don’t walk the straight line seem to envy my freedom. I just tell them they can be free too and not be bogged down everyday in unhappiness and piles of homework. All hard work pays off in the end, i.e. college, but only if that is what will really make you happy. And you must ask yourself, if it makes you unhappy now why are you doing it? Don’t you want to enjoy life now, why wait for the ‘one day’?

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Reasons to travel

My sister and I kayaking in Nicaragua

Back in December the urge and yearning for travel began scratching at me again. That is when I decided I was going to Ireland this coming summer.

The yearning never goes away. I caught the travel bug while I was in Nicaragua and after a two week road trip to Oregon last year. I wanted another adventure in a foreign country that I could help plan. When I went to Nicaragua it was very spontaneous because I went with my sister who planned it. We had no idea what to expect and any expectation I did have flew away and went back to America the moment I stepped off the plane. It was a great experience and I learned a lot from being in such a strange place and being forced to handle feeling uncomfortable. 

Every place is different, with its own expectations attached to it, but I am only planning just enough and leaving the rest to “winging it.” This trip will be different because it will be the first time I have traveled to a foreign country with a boyfriend. I usually travel with my sister and I miss seeing her, but this will be such a fun experience with Nic.

I am in love with just the idea of getting on a plane. The airport is the most magical place in the entire world. There are so many people from all different countries, all traveling somewhere new and all for different reasons. Some are visiting family, some are moving, some don’t even know where they will end up or when they will go back home. I love the feeling of freedom in an airport, like I can go anywhere.

Traveling makes me not only feel free, but reminds me how free I actually am. It reminds me of the person I really want to be, not the person I sometimes become while getting stuck in the “grind” of everyday life. Simplicity is what I strive for. All I need is a backpack with clothes, a pen and notebook, a voice recorder, a camera, a book, a slackline and rock climbing shoes. I know everyone out there only needs just a few items to be content and I think when traveling it allows you the time to know what you really need in life to smile. It usually can fit on your back.

After traveling around, even just the few places I have seen, and living in a few different states in the United States, I do not disregard the importance of home. As much as I love getting on a plane to experience a different culture and suck in new food, smells,  landscapes, people and cultures, coming home is always going to be bittersweet. I used to hate coming home, but now I understand that traveling is not the only thing my life is comprised of. I have a life when I am home and that needs to be cared for and attended to, not neglected while planning and saving for a trip.

If happiness ends the minute I return then I have not accomplished what I strive for in life. I want to be happy no matter where I am. And if I am unhappy when I come home then the reasons I have for traveling are misguided. Like I said, it is always bittersweet, but I remember when I came home from my first ever foreign trip to Scotland in 2009 I cried for days. I detached myself from friends and life because I didn’t want to be there. I was living in a world I wasn’t engaged in.

After feeling sorry for myself and not understanding myself as a young and curious woman I came to a point after a while (with most learning experiences there is not a definite moment of epiphany as it usually happens gradually such as this experience) that I need to live my life everyday doing what I want. And if I am not happy then I can change anything at anytime as my happiness relies on me and only me. My plans have changed many times throughout the years, and now I am 24 years old, but for the most part I still am on the same track. Everyday I am learning more about myself and making sure I am living the life I want to.

When I returned from my Scotland trip I donated three trash bags full of clothes and cleaned out the materials that bogged me down and distracted me in negative ways. Money became more than a means to an end, it became the basis for understanding why I work. I work to survive and give myself the life I want, a life that allows me to experience the world in as many ways as I can. But money is not what creates happiness, It is merely a guideline for doing what you want that costs money.

Traveling with my sister has brought us closer and now that Nic and I have found one another, we share experiences I have only dreamed of. I love and am loved and I am writing and enjoying what I do. I still work at a grocery store and I am still at the same community college I have been at for nearly six years, but I can’t ask for anything more at the moment. I understand I am on a journey and I need patience. One day I might work for my dream job at National Geographic or even a daily newspaper or become a freelance novelist. I have no idea, but I do know I am on the right path.