I was taught the American Dream from my young parents who were eager to do better than their parents and expected their children to accomplish more than they would. Sound familiar?
My father, especially, was always reminding his sons that each generation has a responsibility to outperform the previous one; he said the USA was a place where success was not only possible but expected; so, it was unacceptable for his sons to waste their opportunity.
So how do you define success? Does success include achieving or obtaining more than your parents?
My father completed Junior College with a two-year associates degree in carpentry. Initially, he worked for a highway and bridge construction company working across multiple Midwest states. He later joined a major utility company and rose to the level of Maintenance Supervisor. He added to his primary income, by flipping houses on the side. The combined income allowed him to retire early at the age of 58. He died eighteen years later and said his only regret in life was not retiring earlier.
My father’s vision for his four sons was for them to earn a four-year bachelor’s degree, achieve a position of at least manager, and, most importantly, retire by age 57 or younger. I heard this definition of success so many times that, like it or not, it became a yardstick for measuring my own life.
Quick side trip: It may be worth noting that my parents divorced when I was six, my father was quick-tempered and quick to punch his wife and sons when he was angry for any reason or no reason at all that I could discern. He also had a penchant for offering advice, especially when no one was requesting it, and this could become tiresome and irritating. Also, he was so competitive, even euchre card games became “duels of manhood”, and he regularly pitted his sons against one another to make them “tough.” To sum up, he was not an easy person to be around.
However, to my father’s credit, all four sons did attend college and three of four completed graduate educations. Three of four achieved positions of manager or higher in their professions. But on the third, and most important measurement for him, none of his sons retired at an earlier age than he did. So, to some extent, the American Dream mostly materialized as my father had defined it. He outperformed his father and successfully passed on the challenge to his sons.
But, I’m wondering, is my father’s definition of success an acceptable definition today? I’m curious, how do you define success and is that definition different from your parents?