The American Dream. For most of us it means success. And for most of us, success means fame and fortune. Inevitably, most of us come to realize that fame just isn’t in the cards. But fortune? That’s something anyone can attain. 

If you follow the template. 

The template is a literal formula for success that is laid at the foot of every American newborn. Granted, this template is different depending on what color skin the child is born with, or what part of town he or she was born into. For example, white kids born in America have a clear shot to follow the template and achieve his or her goals of fame and/or fortune. But if you’re black, you may have to settle for simply surviving. But hey, if that’s your template, that’s your template. Of course every so often you hear about a black kid who works themselves out of dire situations to achieve success. But those scenarios are anomalies. 

And also, gender matters. The template for a female is definitely different from that of a male—but they say that those lines are blurring a bit. 

Simply stated, the template is a checklist. If you can keep your nose clean and follow the checklist, American success can be yours. 

The checklist includes, but is not limited to: 

  • Sacrificing childhood dreams for a pragmatic education 
  • More time with a tutor than with friends outside
  • Studying hard to get the best grades possible 
  • Volunteering to impress on your college application
  • Getting into the best college
  • Studying in a field with long-term job security
  • Graduating at the top third of your class
  • Doing whatever it takes to fight your way to the top of the job pool
  • Landing the perfect job
  • Working weekends
  • Buying the perfect car 
  • Meeting the perfect person (preferably after the career is secure) 
  • Marrying
  • Investing in a perfect house in the best neighborhood possible
  • Having children 
  • Paying someone to raise your children so you can continue to earn as much as possible
  • Investing well
  • Hustling. Hustling. Hustling.
  • Teaching your children to forego childish dreams for a pragmatic, well-paying livelihood
  • Getting your children into right college
  • Retire
  • Look back on a successful life 
  • Die

As you can see, it’s not brain surgery. And it’s traditional, safe, plus it scales! No surprises. Total control. The trick, however, is to never take your eyes off the prize. You must stay focussed on what matters—and, as equally important, what doesn’t matter. But mostly the thing you have to do is shut down the little voice inside you that whispers “what if?” That little voice has no place in the template. 

So who creates this template, anyway?  

The same people who sell it to you in commercials, in magazines, in the movies, and elsewhere—people who literally pay you to conform. As long as you’re productive, follow the rules, and don’t make waves—you too can have a successful life. The template is an idea that we’ve all bought into. Collectively. And we celebrate those who manage it well. 

BEWARE, there are dire consequences for not following the template. 

Should you elect not to follow the template, or do so half-heartedly, expect to be cast aside and riduculed. You, who refuses to follow the flock. You, who choses meaningless art instead of high commerce. You, who has good ideas, and a good heart, but who refuses to commit to the way we’ve all decided is the right way. You, who will be an outcast in the eyes of other Americans. 

However, if you do deviate from the template, and you do somehow acquire fame and fortune, well then, we will gladly welcome you back.

Because in the end, a successful life is our shared American Dream.  



Please Accept My Apology
The Age of Adaptation

Jim Mitchem

Writer. Father to daughters. Husband. Ad man. Raised by wolves. @jmitchem on twitter. First novel, Minor King, out now.