Reinventing The American Dream
All Things Venture #060
There’s a house in my parent’s neighborhood that is going through a complete renovation. The house has been stripped down to it’s foundation and been completely rebuilt. New facade, new trim, new stone, new windows. It’s a complete upheveal, and earlier this week I was kind of entranced as I watched some of the construction workers literally build someone’s dream home. They were working in the high 70s Texas heat in the middle of March. They were standing on scaffolding and tossing bricks to one another as they laid the new exterior of this home. This home has been going through this reinvention for a few years. It’s gone from fully built, to occupied, to empty, to foreclosed, to auction in about a decade, and it’s just now emerging anew.
It was such a salient process to observe because I have been thinking about the idea of the American dream a lot lately, and how, in my belief, it’s going through a similar reinvention. A natural extension of what happens when this democratic, capitalist social experiment, largely, works.
When I was a kid growing up. I would hear about the American Dream and I would think of the ideals of Manifest Destiny and the Statue of Liberty. I would visualize the archetypal white picket fence, and think of the stories of families sending their children to college when they themselves never had the opportunity. The American Dream as it was described to me, always felt like it was about progress, pursuit, and achieving a degree of freedom in one’s life that allowed them to live comfortably with respect and dignity. I knew that the American Dream in itself was also more of an ideal representation of American life, than it was the standard representation of American life.
But what is the American Dream today?
To me, the American dream is unequivocally about ownership. It is about owning productive assets that allow you to live your life on your terms, on your time, as you see fit. I think that the pandemic showed all of us that life is too damn short to spend it working on something you don’t love, and with or for people you don’t enjoy. Yes, there are constraints and tradeoffs in life that need to be managed. Yes, working on something you love is a privilege. Yes, it will take time and work and luck, and there will be ups and downs and risk, but I firmly believe that the best way to achieve this new American Dream - is through ownership. In addition to that, entrepreneurship, in my opinion, is the most accessible, highest reward route to ownership. Personally, I think there are a few ways to build ownership/wealth in this country. I think they are:
Have rich parents and get a massive head start/already have ownership/wealth
Get a great education and work a high paying job that allows you to save more than you spend (which skews to people who have rich parents)
Become an entrepreneur and absolutely HUSSTLEEEE
Out of all three of these, the journey least traveled but also most rewarding is becoming an entrepreneur. In no other profession can you go from being unable to afford your rent on your own to having a billion dollar pay day on live television (looking at you Brian Chesky). Entrepreneurship, startups, tech, VC - however you want to frame it, when done best - literally produces life changing wealth because you were able to create and own an asset that produces what people want, at scale.
In many ways, I think our country is just dealing with the curse of our own success. America is the richest country in the world. We are a wealth producing machine. There are quite literally 22 million, millionaires, yet at the same time there are 37 million people living below the poverty line. In a way, I think a lot of the frustrations and challenges we have in this country stem from the fact that people feel like the goal posts have moved, and in all reality - they have. Living comfortably with respect and dignity, especially as the standard of comfort has been raised across the board, feels harder than ever. So if American life has changed, if American jobs have changed, and American expectations have changed, shouldn’t the American Dream change? Shouldn’t the American Dream evolve to be more ambitious? To be more inclusive? To be more accepting and tolerant of risk? We literally started a REVOLUTION over a lack of representation in government, so why not harness that 1776 energy and apply it toward creating a bigger economic pie for even more people, in a fairer, more equitable way?
One thing I wish I had been taught in school, is that the best route to truly outperform from a monetary perspective in life is to own things. It’s not to be an investment banker, or a trader, or a consultant, it’s to be an owner. Own a gas station, own a car dealership, own an e-commerce brand, it doesn’t matter. Build equity in your personal and professional interests and you’ll get to where you want to be.
Packy McCormick had a great summarization of what his viewpoint is on this topic. He had the perspective that,
“We need to make America the place where everyone is an owner, and everyone acts like an owner. We need to make it the place where hard work and risk taking are applauded and rewarded.”
Just as the home in my parent’s neighborhood has been reinvented, so has the American Dream. The American Dream is no longer about finding and taking one’s place within the system, it is about being a productive steward and owner of the system. It’s about accepting that the goal posts have moved, and knocking it out of the park anyway. It’s about owning assets, buiding equity, and creating something that people want, at scale.
That’s it for this week everyone - hope this essay made you think. As always, I’m open to feedback, critiques, and opinions. Take care, and let’s all build something people want.