Is the American Dream dead?

Given how the American Dream has been reinterpreted over the past few decades, I sure hope so.

As we prepare to honor those who have died in service to our country, I’ve been reflecting on the ideals they defended–life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness chief among them. There seems to be little disagreement, even among citizens holding the most extreme viewpoints, that these ideals are worth fighting for. When the American Dream idea enters the picture though, things get a little muddy.

The concept of the American Dream is relatively new–it first appeared during the Depression in the book The Epic of America, by James Truslow Adams. The author was trying to understand what makes us unique as a country and noted that we shared an “American dream of a better, richer, and happier life for all our citizens of every rank.” The original concept was inclusive, not exclusive. It allowed for the possibility of a better life for everyone, not just the few.

When the term is used today, it’s almost always associated with an individual achieving fame and fortune. This type of thinking can wreck havoc in the workplace leading to escalating unrealistic expectations and a focus on individual achievement at the expense of the team. How individuals choose to behave in the workplace is a major driver of corporate suffering.

My hope is that the “wake up” call many received during this most recent economic downturn will result in a return to the original meaning of the American Dream, namely “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement” regardless of social class or circumstances of birth.

Amanda Mitchell is an executive coach and strategist specializing in helping senior executives deal with disruptive drama within their teams. An advertising agency veteran, she experienced first-hand the business implications of corporate drama both with her Fortune 500 clients and within the Manhattan ad agency she led. She founded Our Corporate Life (www.ourcorporatelife.com) to help executives solve the problems no one wants to deal with. She has been published in Bloomberg Businessweek, and quoted in Fast Company, CNBC.com, and Monster.com. She lives in New Jersey with her family.

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