Career Advice: Follow the American Dream

“I hate my job. I dream of starting a business – it’s the American dream, right?” Julie, an administrator at a well known Connecticut college said. 

I hear variations of Julie’s story a few times per week. My work training new business owners is often the most satisfying part of my work.

The original American dream was the promise of upward economic mobility. Back in Europe, the aristocracy kept a tight reign on who could become prosperous. In America, everyone was free to create their own path. And, by own path, the dream was to create one’s own business. Those farmers and merchants of the 19th century were not dreaming of climbing a corporate ladder since there were few real corporate ladders to climb.

Sometime in the mid-20th century, the American dream shifted to job security at corporations. My father and his generation – watch Mad Men to get a sense of that world – stumbled into the greatest period of American upward mobility in history.  Corporate America thrived and the American dream shifted from being Thomas Edison to working for Edison’s company General Electric.

While the corporate golden handcuffs lasted, this wasn’t a bad deal. Near absolute job security, regular raises, great benefits and rock solid pensions.  In addition, some corporations became second families. My father worked at a large pharmaceutical company. They still have reunions – 25 years after the company essentially ended through a merger. That won’t happen much anymore because few corporations provide any of the above.

Consider starting a business.  That’s the original American dream and will soon reemerge as the dominant American dream of the 21st Century.