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October 27th, 2015

Rethinking Our American Dream

By Addie K Martin

After an 18 month courtship and engagement, my husband Jeremy and I married in April of 2011. Like many other young Americans in our generation, after marrying, we set about working toward our own version of the American Dream: well-paying careers, home ownership, and two fairly nice cars. In service of this dream and in lieu of more traditional gifts, we’d even asked people to donate money to our “first home fund” for our wedding. We were eager to become homeowners so we could feel as though we were truly getting started with our new lives. We felt that it was time to put down roots and to have something we could call our own. However, we weren’t in the position to directly put all of this into motion when we married. We were quite short for a down payment for a house, so we set about rectifying that.

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We worked diligently on our dream during our first two years of marriage. We both worked long, often difficult hours to bring in money to pay our bills and to start saving for our home down payment. At the time, we were both in fairly well-paying jobs which allowed us to live comfortably and save money. However, my job was stressful and demanding: far beyond what’s normal. Over time, the quality of my life and health degraded, as I devoted increasingly more of my time, effort, and energy to my work. Only in retrospect do I clearly see that I was highly stressed and on the verge of a break. In the summer of 2012, I ended up leaving my job with only a loose plan of what was next. I needed clarity and distance, and I wasn’t going to get that with my current career.

I tried to devote the first year or so of working on my own to being a food blogger and writer, but in actuality, I spent most of my time trying to de-stress from my former work life. It was a tough time for me, less happy than I expected it to be. Somewhere along the way, home ownership faded from my active goals. I was so busy trying to survive and be well that I wasn’t able to think on such grand terms. My husband also grew more disillusioned with his work, and his desire to write for a living kept growing. As time passed, it became clear that neither of us was actually happy with where we were. We started talking about the possibility of making changes. We both admitted that we weren’t happy with where our lives appeared to be headed. We loved and were committed to each other, but that was all we really knew for sure.

Ultimately, it was my husband’s dissatisfaction with his career and his desire to leave it that served as the catalyst for us rethinking of our lives and our American Dream. With me no longer working full time, we were dependent on his salary to make our current living arrangements possible. If that money evaporated, then we couldn’t afford to continue on our current path. A radical rethinking was in order, and as we talked, we realized we were both up to the task. One of the reasons we’d been pursuing the American Dream is because we thought that’s what we’re supposed to do. We hadn’t stopped to think critically about what we actually wanted our lives to look like or how we wanted to feel. We got sucked into the default way of thinking, acting, and behaving. In mid-2013, it became quite clear to us that we needed a change. Our status quo was no longer working, and it was time for us to take radical action.

After about a month of meaningful discussions about hopes, dreams, desires, and wants, we decided that we wanted to travel full-time. However, we weren’t looking for a permanent vacation or early retirement. We’re looking to work and live life, just doing it nomadically instead being place-based. Over the course our discussions, we realized that both of us valued freedom and experience over things like home ownership and driving fancy cars. We discovered that we both have the desire to not only experience how other cultures live but to also study and write about them. Most importantly, we realized that our version of the American Dream was nothing like what we grew up believing it was. Instead, we want to use our resources to see the world and experience different cultures. This is the way of living that’s best aligned with how we seek to exist in this world.

In making these changes, we’ve certainly embraced the Empowered Wealth idea of a V.U.C.A. (i.e., volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous) world and used it to inform our life planning process. It’s actually what’s made our full-time travel dream possible. We truly believe that embarking on this path of travel is actually less risky than putting all of our hopes and dreams into a large house we could scarcely afford, while staying in jobs that didn’t enrich our lives. In the end, we realized that living life on someone else’s terms — following someone else’s dream — won’t be where we find our joy, fulfillment, and meaning in life. In being true to ourselves and our desires for our lives, we’re embarking on our own path. In doing so, we’ll be happiest and most effective in our endeavors.

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