Maybe The Real ‘American Dream’ Is This – Less Stuff And More Meaning

Hello Lightbulb
Hello Lightbulb

The place is funky. There are Christmas lights inside and an old TV box houses a fish tank. The gal who takes our order has an asymmetrical haircut that only a few people can pull off and she’s one of them. Her smile is welcoming.

We are at Soma Coffee house in Bloomington, Indiana.

“Two cold brews please.”

With 12 ounces of gelid bean juice in our possession, we head out ready to relax, but engage with each other. An outdoor patio welcomes us and we decide to park ourselves for a moment.

We find a table, but it only has one chair. I look around to grab another, and a gentlemen to my left notices.

Without hesitation, he pulls a chair from his own table and offers it up to us.

“Oh, thank you,” I say.

“Sure,” he replies with a casual, but genuine posture.

“Whatya’ got there? The cold brew,” he asks?

“Yep.”

He nods affably and responds, “It’s the best in town.”

This man isn’t a physical representation of what I expected from a Midwest state. He’s wearing a farm hat that is stylishly aged. His scruff is a shade of gray that displays he has some stories to tell. He’s wearing multi-colored beaded bracelets. His face is brown.

“This is our first time here and the first thing we like to do when we visit any place is to try their coffee,” we say.

“Oh, really? Where y’all from?”

“Southern California.”

“I’ve tasted California before. It was great, but not for me. I’ve been around. I was born in Brazil and bounced all around the U.S. – hustling to make things work. I’ve been here (Indiana), for 20 years and I’ve found my simple truth.”

At this point, I lean into the conversation. I have a sense that this guy has a bag full of gems waiting to be discovered.

“What does simple truth mean to you?” I ask.

“I can have a life here and live by the essentials. I live on a lake and I get to sail – something I love to do. I also have a passion for food and I can get to downtown (he lifts his hands in the air opened palmed while he looks around) and experience a great culinary scene in 10 minutes. Brown County is something out of a movie in the fall. Monroe Lake offers an escape from the Summer’s heat. In the winter when it snows, I grabbed some wood that I split in the fall, tend a fire and stay-in, but I like that. I’m also starting a farm-table restaurant. For me, this place offers me the life I was always looking for. This is my simple life.”

All I could say was, “Wow. That’s great.”

But I knew I had more in me – the words weren’t formed yet. (This is why I’m writing about it.)

After he briefed us on the town of Bloomington, suggested a hole in the wall Thai food restaurant for dinner, and shared a few ideas about his farm-to-table concept, he got up and said, “I think you’ll really like Bloomington. Enjoy yourselves. I’m off to the sauna.”

Jeff had found his simple life. His posture suggested that it didn’t happen by accident though. He had swung for the fences several times, and missed, before he connected.

Hopefully, I’ve got many more years to live. But in the few that I’ve survived, it seems like I’ve got to unlearn many things as I get older.

One of the many lessons is that a simple life requires a ruthless edification of the unessential. You see, the normative stance towards building a life is defined by an incessant grabbing of more. It’s like an endless desire to acquire.

This lust then chains us to a life burden by weight that we’d be better off without. Debt, too many material possessions, and goofy accolades all swallow us up and consume all of our energy. It’s no wonder we end up feeling exhausted – them Jones’s are pretty damn fast aren’t they?

Even when we quench our desires with shallow consumption – the new car that’s more than your rent, the promotion that drove you into the ground, the new home that extends you past your means – the flame for more is not put out. In many cases, the savage cycle only grows with intensity.

We proceed to press in harder, working ourselves into the ground to buy things we don’t need to impress people we don’t even like. This rodeo only pulls us further away from the simple life.

The antidote is to define what a simple life means for you. Like my friend Jeff, editing your life down to the essentials is what sets you free from the tired, old American Dream.

The New American dream is a life with less stuff but with more meaning.

It’s a certain crusade back to our own autonomy. Rather than keeping with the Jones’s, we invest our energy and time into things of lasting value: Passion projects, learning, contribution, volunteering, time with family and friends, and margin for relaxation.

Living a simple life isn’t about deprivation. It’s about having more. More time, more creativity, more relationships, and more love. The simple life creates margin to do the things your heart has always wanted, but hasn’t gotten a chance to do.

And to be sure, a simple life isn’t absent of work. Instead it’s fueled by a life of service because we aren’t mentally held at gunpoint to work since we are up to our eyeballs in debt.

Meeting Jeff and experiencing firsthand what a simple life looks like gave me an example. It proved that this whole simplicity thing is viable. Now, it’s my responsibility to rid of the excess to clear the way for the life I’ve always imagined.

Maybe you’ll join me? TC mark

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