Be honest. Do you REALLY want to live the American Dream?
“Maybe we should go through my toys and get rid of some of my stuff,” my son told me the other day. We were watching I’m Fine, Thanks, a documentary about people who ditched the traditional American Dream in favor of their own dreams. Baker, who started ManVsDebt, was a major part of the project.
Mainly, my son was inspired by the family who bought a school bus, re-did the inside, and then lived on the road for more than a year. You can’t live in a school bus if you have a lot of stuff. And he decided that living in a school bus would be awesome. But only if he could bring his LEGOs. Because the LEGOs weren’t on the list of toys he could get rid of.
But the point was that he was, at almost 10, engaging me in a serious discussion of what kind of lifestyle he wanted when he grew up. This movie made him think that there were options beyond just following a script. I’m Fine, Thanks asks you to look at what you want, and your dreams, and whether or not what you want is compatible with what we often refer to as the American Dream.
If you’re living the American Dream (or trying to), and you aren’t happy, maybe it’s time for a change.
Do You REALLY Want to Be a Typical American?
When you look at the typical American household, you really do need to take a step back. Is that what you want? Keeping up with the Joneses often means that you are actually keeping up with their debt. It means that you buy the biggest house you can “afford”, and then spend your time house poor. It means you have a 50″ or 60″ flatscreen, and a bunch of stuff.
Is that what you want?
I’m Fine, Thanks takes a look at people who have done everything “right”, and are still not happy. What happens when you wake up one day, feeling you’ve achieved the American Dream, only to realize that you feel trapped? What do you do?
Does It Really Make Sense to Leave it All Behind?
Overall, the movie did a good job of showing a few different individuals and families as they made the decision to live life on their terms. However, like my buddy Forest, I thought the formula got a little stale after a while. Forest pointed out that many of those in I’m Fine, Thanks had the means to just throw over their lives and try something different. Their stories were about making a good amount of money at a soul-sucking job. They had the resources to just quit and follow their dreams.
That’s admirable, and I’m glad these folks could make their dreams a reality.
But what about those who don’t feel like they have that option? One of the reasons that many people feel trapped in the American Dream is that they can’t get out. The story that resonated the most with me was Victoria’s. She didn’t want to go all extreme and live on bus, or bike down to Argentina. (Although those are cool things, and I think the families that did them are awesome.) She just wanted to downsize her lifestyle so that she could quit her job and stay home with her child. She wanted more simplicity in her life. I also identified with Matt and Betsy Jabs. Their story is one of planning, debt reduction, and going a little more natural.
Another issue the I’m Fine, Thanks didn’t address was the fact that it doesn’t work if your partner’s not on board. By now, if you read what I write, you know that my husband and I like to spend money on different things. I don’t care to own a home; I’d rather rent. But my husband likes homeownership. There is no way my husband would get rid of our stuff and travel the world. He likes being home, sleeping his own rather nice bed, surrounded by LOTR action figures. So, I go on trips, sometimes with my son, and he stays home. We have to compromise on what our “dream” looks like, since we have different versions of it sometimes.
One of the things the movie didn’t really address is the fact that there are those who are perfectly content living in their homes, and making a difference in their local communities — or just making a difference in their families. For some people, the American Dream (sans the debt) really is what they want, and it’s OK that they are happy with it.
I’m Fine Thanks: Definitely Worth Watching
That’s not to say that I didn’t like the movie. I did. It was entertaining and interesting, and even inspiring. I liked this project enough that I donated to the Kickstarter campaign (you can see my name way down in the credits). I’m Fine, Thanks is definitely worth watching, and worth discussing. And it offers food for thought.
It’s true that you don’t need to follow what everyone else is doing. Think about what you want from life, without reference to what the people around you think you should have. Ultimately, the message of I’m Fine, Thanks is that you really need to look around and figure out what will work for you. Just going along because we’re supposed to live the American Dream might not be what makes you happy.
My son pretty much summed up the movie: “Follow your dreams!” Of course, that means that my son is likely going to be living in a van down by the river. But if it makes him happy…