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How to achieve the American Dream

Opinion

Six out of 10 Americans believe the American dream is dead according to a recent poll. And lots of people are talking about how terrible that is. But, what I haven't seen addressed is that 4 out of 10 Americans believe the American dream is not dead -- that it is, in fact, still alive and kicking. And furthermore, although the poll doesn't tell me one way or the other, I suspect that a good deal of those 4 out of 10 not only believe it's possible to succeed and be better off than one's parents, but have done precisely that.

Personally, I like to be on the side of positivity. After all, if you figure the game is impossible to win, you won't try as hard to do so.

Do we still believe in the "American dream"? 08:01

So, I'm here to tell you that yes, good jobs are hard to come by. Yes, losing your job and having to move back in with your parents is an awful thing. And yes, I don't envy the new grads who are out there looking for the jobs they thought the'd be able to get with a degree, and find themselves working the same job they worked over summers in high school.

But, I also firmly believe it doesn't have to be that way. If you want to achieve the American dream, and end up better off than your parents were, here are some things you can do:

Get cost effective training. For years the advice was to go to the best college you could get into. Perhaps that should be changed to "go to the school that will give you the most bang for your buck." And that may not be college. It may be skilled trades training. It may be a community college. Did you know the median salary for a dental hygienist (2 years of community college) is $68,000?

Forget about dream jobs and think about dream lives. We tell people to chase their dreams and that sounds fine and good until they can't pay their bills. What's your dream life? Your realistic dream life, mind you. You want to have a nice family, be out of debt, and be happy. Right? Sure, your own private jet would be great, but that's not necessary for happiness.

So, don't go chasing happiness through that perfect job. Take a lousy job and work your way up. And come to the reality that while you may love to discuss political philosophy, people really don't want to pay you to do that. So, save that for the weekends and train for a job that actually pays.

Look for warning signs at your job and act first. I receive so many emails from people that literally detail years of their boss being unhappy with them, yet they wait to look for a new job until they are fired. Don't do that. It's easier to find a job when you have one, so when you see the writing on the wall, start job hunting immediately. This also applies when you see the company's finances start to circle the drain. Obviously, you can't perfectly predict what a boss or company will do, but if you pay attention, you'll increase your odds.

Get married and stay married. "On average, people who get married and stay married enjoy almost twice as much wealth as those who never marry." I'm not advising you to run out and grab the closest single person on the street and drag them to the county court house. But, maybe there is something to that old concept of "settling down."

Remember that your parents didn't have it all at once. Accept the idea that success is gradual, not immediate. You may not be able to go out and buy what your parents had, but they probably couldn't buy what they have now when they were your age.

The problem with wanting what they have now is that you get into debt. And when you get into debt, your ability to achieve the American dream is super limited. You can't quit your job and start your own business, because you have credit card bills hanging over your head, for instance.

Work hard. Would you believe that working doesn't just come naturally to some people? There's no concept of when you finish one task, you start in on the next one. Some people pat themselves on the back when they do as little work as possible. While this provides temporary fun, it won't help towards real success.

Whether you're working in an office, as a waitress, or living with your parents while looking for a job, kick your work level up a notch. For the office worker, take on a new project. For the waitress, use down time to clean, stock, and prep. For the unemployed person, clean out the basement, trim the lawn to perfection, and mow your elderly neighbor's lawn as well. Work is good for you.

What do you think? What can you do to keep the American dream alive for yourself?

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