Sunday, October 18, 2009

Rethinking the "American Dream"? - Part II... A Personal Reflection

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In my last posting, I reflected on the current state of the ubiquitous concept of the “American Dream”. Although my attempt was to summarize my thoughts around this subject in a clear and concise manner (an act that always poses a challenge for someone verbose like me), I had several questions and topics running through my head:

1. What is the intended meaning of the “American Dream”? Is the prevalent modern thought in alignment with the intended meaning conjured by the person who coined this phrase?

2. What lessons, if any, has the recent “Great Recession” provided us vis-à-vis the “American Dream”? Have expectations around incremental wealth and power generation after generation become unreasonable?

3. Should we collectively reflect upon the core values that drive (or should drive) the actions and results of this great society, and potentially redefine this quintessentially American concept?

4. What are the implications for our career strategies?

Whereas I touched upon the first two questions last week, I wanted to share a bit of my personal story as a prelude to answering the third question.

Born in Yugoslavia, my family and I, having been granted political asylum, migrated to Hungary shortly after the start of the Yugoslav Wars in the early ‘90s. Fueled by the grand ideas of the “American Dream” promoted by migrant success stories and popularized in American TV shows, I migrated to the US just over twelve years ago, leaving my family behind in Hungary.

My story is not atypical in this country. In fact, and at the expense of seeming a bit self-celebratory and cliché-like, the United States has greatly benefitted from the hard work, determination, talent and innovation brought on by fellow migrants who often overcame significant obstacles to achieve success in the “land of opportunity”.

While at the Darden School of Business, I was amazed to find that there were many classmates with personal and professional stories (and consequently, ambitions) that paralleled mine. Furthermore, I was relieved to see that our respective definitions of the “American Dream” were closely aligned. That is, each of us had a simple goal in mind: to surmount relatively meager family beginnings, and achieve a higher level of professional success than our parents and grandparents, while at the same time adhering to core ethical (and oftentimes spiritual) values and beliefs.

I believe that blending strong personal convictions in universally acceptable ethical and moral codes with aggressive professional aspirations are absolutely essential in pursuing the right kind of “American Dream”. We should encourage others to do so as well.

To be continued...

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