Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Success Series: 4 strategies to chase the American Dream

I've been thinking a lot about the American Dream lately. And I've realized something sobering. 

The American Dream is not a given. 

Where you start does not have to determine where you finish, but for far too many, it does. To say this isn't fair is an understatement. 

Our country relies on this particular brand of hope. And yet, despite all the inequality that surrounds us, I still, like so many, believe in the American Dream. 

Because while its promise can be tenuous, it's idea is still promising. It's an idea that moved so many great social movements and leaders, like Martin Luther King Jr. & the civil rights movement, forward. 

It's a lens in which to see the world - not rose colored necessarily, but a lens that shows us what could be. What's worth fighting for. What's worth working towards. 

I still think the American Dream is possible, and I fully believe it's worth chasing. Thinking of ways to help students break cycles of poverty through education is what sets my heart on fire. 

And that is my long-soap-boxy way of saying that today's success series is about chasing your American Dream, whatever it may be.

Below are four strategies that can help you in your chase of something better:

My Formula for Chasing the American Dream

1. Own your story
In any multi-movie series my favorite movie is always, always the first one; I love a good origin story (Tobey Maguire you are still my favorite Spiderman).

Your past, your family, your income-level, your race/ethnicity, your identity matters. 

Journal about who you are and what barriers and privileges have gotten you where you are today. Own where you've been lucky and where life has been unfair. Consider what you're going to do about it. 

2. Set your goals
Think about what you really want to do with your life. What skills do you want to develop? What kind of person do you want to become? What do you want to share with the world? 

Turn those dreams into goals. Write them down. And read them every day. 

3. Build your community
No one is successful alone. No one. Some have privileged connections due to their income level, but not having that does not mean you can't develop your own connections. It's not just helpful, it's mandatory.  

Start where you are. College is the best place to start building a community for success. Ask professors, advisors, and internship advisors for advice. Take the advice. Say thank you. Ask again. 

4. Prioritize your improvement
Learning how to learn is one of the most underestimated benefits of a college education. 

You can't get out of self-learning if you want to be successful. Improving yourself through learning is one of the best things you can do to achieve the American Dream. 

Let me say that again:

Improving yourself through learning is one of the best things you can do to achieve the American Dream. (Tweet this quote here). 

And I'm not talking about doing the bare minimum in class. I'm talking about a commitment to learning. 

Learning when it's hard. Learning when it's boring. Learning when no one else seems to care. Learning because you want to get better. Learning because you want to make a difference. Learning because you want to make the most of this opportunity you've been given.

Prioritizing your improvement means making sacrifices to make learning happen. Like, maybe watching less TV. Maybe working less while in college. Maybe spending more time in the library. Or maybe reading books outside of what's required (I recommend at least one per month). 


These are strategies for chasing the American Dream, and I use the term "chase" purposefully, because the American Dream isn't a guarantee. 

I'm sure you know a lot of really hard working people who can't seem to make ends meet, who can't seem to get ahead.

Chasing the American Dream at this point in history requires strategy, people, commitment, community, and your personal dedication. Nothing less.

And it requires even more if you have less.

We won't get anywhere without trailblazers who are willing to do the really hard parts. 

I'm so thankful for my grandma who did a lot of the really hard stuff to make what I am doing today possible. She moved to New York from Puerto Rico to sew other people's clothes and clean other people's bathrooms, all with only a fourth-grade education. 

Because of her my dad was able to get an associates degree. Because of him I was able to get a bachelors degree and then a masters degree. 

My ultimate American Dream is that stories of the American Dream won't be amazing extraordinary exceptions. My dream is that one day success stories of minority and low-income people will be as ordinary as the success of anyone else.  

It's not that it's easy. It's that it's possible

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