I was intrigued with media reports earlier this month on a Florida college professor’s American dream essay assignment and the results his students turned in. According to reports, Valencia College economics professor Jack Chambless asked about 180 sophomore students from three classes to write an essay on what the American dream meant to them. The results were, well, newsworthy.
About 10 percent of the students explained they wanted to largely regulate their own lives, be left alone by government and not be overly taxed. But more than 80 percent of the students reportedly explained that the American dream to them meant having the government pay for their health care, college tuition and a downpayment on a house. The students also reportedly expected the government to help them land or give them a job and tax wealthier individuals so they would have an opportunity for a better life.
Regardless of your political views and where you digest your news, this attitude of entitlement and reliance on government is concerning — especially when you consider these students are voters. At an absolute minimum, the attitude is counterproductive for our country in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. Of course, America has offered various assistance programs to citizens throughout the years, but previous generations did not appear to rely on them out of the gate before they attempted to make their mark.
If you agree with the theory that efforts of the World War II generation kicked off our nation’s unprecedented run of economic prosperity, subsequent generations at least contributed to the country’s bottom line before withdrawing from the system.
I can remember receiving a lesson while working as a junior manager at Intel Corp. around 2001 when the “Dotcom Bubble” burst and it became clear to me and peers that we weren’t going to cash in on stock at the level of the previous generation of Intel employees. A manager said to me that the problem with my generation is that we were overly focused on making money. Instead, he explained that he focused on performing well for the company and he became wealthy in the process.
I couldn’t argue with his perspective, albeit a lucky one in terms of timing, but my junior colleagues and I were also showing up for work each day and giving it our best. We weren’t hanging out at an Occupy rally and picketing about the injustices of Wall Street. We were working toward our own definitions of success, but work was the central driving force.
Listening to the federal government and general commentary today, it seems as if it’s become unpopular in America to be successful. The message isn’t always direct, but the undertone is present. It’s not just those who have made outlandish vast sums like a CEO or a professional athlete, it seems anyone who has had some level of success is a target for vilification. The critics want us to believe anyone who has been successful has cheated and hasn’t paid their fair share of taxes or given back enough.
And when you look around your community, you find in most cases that the exact opposite is true. There are always exceptions, but in most cases, the successful members of the community aren’t relying on government to guide them. They are generally the most focused, the most entrepreneurial, the hardest working. There is still no substitute for work. It’s the four-letter word our country should continue to believe in.
Dan Francisco is an El Dorado Hills-based public relations consultant to the high-tech industry.