I landed in the United States in January 1991 with two suitcases jammed full of clothes and a bag of anticipation. Greeted by a recession and the outbreak of the first Gulf War, it wasn’t what you’d call the best timing. But I could feel the proud, industrious, ambitious, anything-is-possible attitude that made the US what it was—it’s what many call “The American Dream”. I was determined to play my part. And over the last twenty years, I’ve been able to accomplish more than I could have ever imagined, because I believed in, and worked hard for, that dream.
All who come to these shores, pursuing “the dream” because of its availability to everyone is the heart of Brand America. It has an appeal, attraction and potential to affect meaningful and positive change. But today, it feels like that dream is changing.
Is the dream becoming a nightmare?
When I arrived, America was united. The dream was built on principles and values that everyone understood. People knew that if they worked hard, they could achieve anything. But it was clear nobody was going to do it for them. You could feel the energy back then. But today something seems to have changed, America is starting to feel a lot like the country I left behind. The ideals that were once this nation’s foundation are clouded by a growing wave of dependency, uncertainty, violence and meaningless trivia. America is becoming a nation where how you feel is more important than what you believe or stand for. Success is looked down on by many and those who have worked tirelessly to become successful are increasingly viewed with resentment. It was Calvin Coolidge who said, “Don’t expect to build up the weak by pulling down the strong.” It’s becoming uncertain what our leaders expect and how they view those who create opportunities, take risks, invest and sacrifice their time and hard earned dollars. We have millions in our country struggling and unemployed, and yet we give handouts and benefits without any form of contribution being required in return. The economist Arthur Laffer said, “If you pay people to be poor, you will get more and more poor people.” America is in danger of creating a culture of dependency and entitlement where a lack of purpose overshadows the clarity of the American Dream.
America, we must dream
History shows us that the most powerful empires have all fallen – the Greeks, the Romans, the Soviet, and the British. Their collapse, while never anticipated, was always predictable. The American Dream is no exception, it is clearly under threat. The time for us to act is now. America’s purpose needs to be clear and its principles need to be polished. America needs to continue to be a shining light in the world, a place where people can believe that hard work leads to hard-earned rewards, and where ideas and dreams can become reality. The American Dream has inspired me for more than twenty years. Without any expectations of a hand out, all I hoped for was encouragement and the opportunity to create value. I’ve always believed that if you are industrious and hard working there is an opportunity to own a piece of the dream. But I always knew it was up to me to achieve that dream.
It is inspiring to spend time with people who are on a mission to make their part of the world a better place, and who have the energy and focus to make it happen. And while the dream is alive and clear for many, there needs to be more focus on supporting and encouraging people to pursue it, believe in it and strive to achieve it on their own. It’s time to invigorate the entire country so that people who feel hopeless can start to dream and those trying, can try even harder. It’s time for a reminder that hard work can deliver a better life, regardless of what we call work. It’s time to encourage and inspire every American to dream.
America, we must do better
Leaders are charged with creating aspiration and sharing a vision that unleashes and unlocks the potential of the people they lead. America’s leaders must set a vision that inspires people to believe in the American Dream again because it sits at the heart of what makes this nation the greatest example of possibility on Earth. The world needs America to set an example of what it means to work together to solve problems, to rise above personal differences and find solutions to the significant issues affecting this country and the world at large. Democracy, responsible productivity, and fiscal responsibility are three areas our leaders could benefit significantly from new thinking. It’s time for them to rethink how major problems are solved. John F. Kennedy said, “We can do better,” and there is no doubt we must if we are to rise above the mud we are wading in today. We are lethargic in how we are responding to the crises that faces this nation. Kennedy also said, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” This is how we should each think about our role as citizens of these United States of America. Being an American has a privilege and a responsibility that comes with it: to contribute and to show that we are responsible stewards of our hard-earned freedom. I believe America’s best is ahead, because there is no shortage of opportunity, providing we work together. We must strive for, and create, “better” for those who came before us and for the good of our children.
Now is the time for our leaders to go back to this nation’s founding vision, core values, and principles and recommit and communicate their relevance to ensure every American understands and embraces them. It is the founding principles that should bring us together and fuel our belief that the American Dream is alive and this is a country where anything is possible.
America, you can do better
Brand America at its core is an idea surrounded by a set of ideals, and the dream is America’s promise to its citizens and the world at large. But when it’s all said and done, it is up to each of us to keep fueling the dream and striving to uphold those ideals. As individuals we can do better if we ask what we can do for our country, not what it can do for us. And as corporations, we can do better if we ask what we can do for our consumers, not what they can do for us.
For my part, I’m going to continue trying to put industriousness, curiosity, compassion and optimism to work in every part of my life, focusing on profitability with a purpose and spending my time focused on helping others to realize their full potential. I’ll operate from the premise that today is the best day of my life.
Shawn Parr is the Guvner & CEO of Bulldog Drummond, an innovation and design consultancy headquartered in San Diego whose clients and partners have included Starbucks, Diageo, Jack in the Box, Adidas, MTV, Nestle, Pinkberry, American Eagle Outfitters, Ideo, Virgin, Disney, Nike, Mattel, Heineken, Annie’s Homegrown, The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, CleanWell, The Honest Kitchen, and World Vision. Follow the conversation at @BULLDOGDRUMMOND.
[Image: Flickr user MAKSTER]