A lot of people these days say that the American Dream is dead. When somebody says “American Dream” the first thing that often comes to mind is home ownership. Today’s world is much different from a few decades ago. Instead of settling down and buying a house and starting a family, young people today are burdened by their student debt, which often hinders them from saving up for and later purchasing a home. More and more college graduates return to their parent’s houses upon graduating because there’s not as many jobs as they thought there would be in women’s gender studies. A large group of today’s millennials simply just don’t want to settle down. They like living in the heart of a busy city where they will always have activities to do. I don’t fit into any of these “millennial” molds. I often think I was born in the wrong generation.
If you were to ask me “is the American dream still alive?” I would respond by saying, “it was never dead.”
I’m hoping to one day write a book about all my experiences and advice for success, however, I’m only 22 so I haven’t had much time yet to come up with enough material to fill an entire book. This article will provide you with what little amount I can squeeze out of my short time in the world thus far.
What’s the Secret?
There is none. Just good old-fashioned principles of life.
#1 Discipline Your Children
“Whoever spares the rod hates his son, but he who loves him is diligent to discipline him.” – Proverbs 13:24
“Start children off the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6
I was very fortunate to be raised by very successful parents who tried to make me as well rounded a person as I would let them. Growing up, I always thought I had it so hard compared to my other classmates who got game boys in elementary school, cell phones in middle school, and stayed out late in high school. I begged and begged for a game boy in elementary school. Never got one. Begged and begged for a cell phone in middle school (and half of high school), never got one (until I was 16). Begged and begged to stay out late in high school, (curfew continued being 10:00). At the time, I felt like this was the worst punishment and so unfair. I couldn’t see that my parents were doing this so that later, I would become successful. Now that I’m past all that disciplining, I can see that they knew what they were doing and (I can’t believe I’m saying this), I’m glad they did it. Looking back, I would do so many things different in my childhood, but the strict rules from my parents, I would not change.
#2 Spend Time Teaching Your Children What They Didn’t Learn at School
So far this article sounds like a parenting book but a large part of my achievement was due to the way I was raised. I believe a large part of a child’s education is from what they learn at home. I have always loved to read. I believe this is because my family would read books to me all the time. My very first sentence was “Read the book”. We used to have a tradition that on Super Bowl Sunday my dad would watch the game and since my mom didn’t like football she renamed the evening “Super Book Sunday”. This was one of my favorite days. I would spread a blanket out in front of our book shelf and throw nearly every book onto the blanket, fold up the ends and carry them all downstairs so my mom could read them to my sister and I. All this reading made me so excited to start kindergarten that I actually asked for homework on my 4th birthday! Shopping was another learning opportunity. If something was on sale for 20% off I got a lesson on percentages (without a calculator). At a grocery store I learned how to calculate the price per ounce to find the cheapest item. One time, my aunt had me balancing her checkbook when I was just 7 years old! Aside from all of these extra out of the classroom lessons, you also need to spend time helping your kids with their homework. I took college chemistry in 11th grade and it was the hardest class I have ever taken. I came home after my first day and started to cry because I didn’t know how to do the homework. My mom had taken a lot of chemistry for vet school so she read the entire chapter in the textbook, watched a professor teaching the lesson on YouTube, then did all of the homework problems herself and then redid the problems again but this time, showing me how to do them. This is the only reason that I passed that chemistry class.
My family and I at my high school graduation (standing under my dad’s retired football number)
#3 Participate in as Many Extra-Curricular Activities as You Can
This is another thing I have to thank my parents for is their dedication to signing me up for every activity they thought would be good for me and then driving me to and from all of the practices and events. I can only imagine how boring a kindergarten soccer game would be. In addition to playing a lot of sports, my parents also got me involved in 4-H, livestock judging, horse judging, cattle showing, and horse showing. If I could go back in time, I would have put more effort into these activities but I’m glad that my parents made me stick with it and although it may not have seemed like it at the time, I actually did enjoy it. Being involved in all of these activities makes you so much more interesting than just the average person. It also really makes you look good on college applications.
#4 Show Up to Class
My number one advice for college students would be to just show up to all of your classes. It’s that simple. I took a lot of classes that seemed like a waste of time but I stuck with it and just showed up and took notes. After freshman year, I hardly ever bought any of the textbooks once I realized the professor was usually the author and wanted you to buy the newest most expensive edition. I would usually ask the professor if the book was absolutely necessary and most of the time they would say you could get all you needed from the lecture. If I did happen to need the book on occasion I would find someone else who had the book or find a very old edition and buy it for like $5 online.
It’s amazing how different a classroom looks on a typical lecture day versus test day. The room magically fills up with not a seat to be spared on test day, while on a normal day it looks like an apocalypse just happened. You can bet I was always there, through snow storms and downpours, I always showed up. I stress this “showing up” because it worked for me. I hardly ever studied for anything. An exam would be coming up and all those people who never came to class would be bragging about the all-nighter they spent in the library or the hundreds of flash cards they had made. What did I do to prepare for an exam? I would read over my notes the night before the exam but go to bed at a reasonable hour. So I probably spent maybe an hour doing leisurely studying. Before the exam I just hoped that what had been sinking into my head during all those lectures would come back to me, and it usually did. Using this strategy, I made the Dean’s list several times and ended up with a 3.49 GPA. Looking back, I could have tried just a little bit harder, but I don’t think it would have had a major effect on the outcome of my life.
#5 Graduate Early and Get a Job
Since I went to governor’s school in high school, I was able to graduate from college a year early. I could have lightened up my course load and taken some fun classes but I decided it would be best for me to finish as soon as possible so that I could start a career. Before graduating, I happened to get an internship at a great bank. They were not advertising any internship at all, but my dad told me to just go and ask about one. I didn’t really want to because if it’s not advertised then it’s impossible to do, right? Well, once again, he was right as always and I got an internship. A semester before I graduated, the same bank offered me a full-time position which I graciously accepted. Another thing that I owe my parents gratitude for. Sometimes it pays to just ask.
My parents and I after my graduation from Virginia Tech
#6 Don’t Stop Learning
Just because you finish school doesn’t mean you stop learning. You should constantly be trying to learn something new and trying to make yourself more valuable to your company. The key to earning is continual learning. If you don’t keep trying to grow, everyone else will bypass you and you’ll be left in the dust.
Listen to podcasts or audiobooks in the car instead of music. Read a book in the evening instead of that reality television show. I try to read about a book per week which gives me the drive and motivation to achieve my goals.
#7 Set Your Goal and Stick With It
In 2014 I wrote out some of my 10-year goals on a sheet of paper and hung it on my wall. Included on this list was “purchase a home”. Every day I had to look at this paper. I couldn’t let myself down. An ultimate goal, such as buying your first home, doesn’t just happen automatically. There were a lot of small things that had to occur first. Everything I’ve mentioned previously about the discipline from my parents, getting good grades in school, landing a successful career, were all building to set me up to achieve this dream of being a homeowner. Upon getting their first adult job, most people would probably increase their lifestyle from how they lived in college. I was the opposite. I actually decreased my lifestyle and any excess spending. Every time I thought of buying something I didn’t really need I would say to myself, “this could be used to save for the down payment on my house”. I probably said this to myself a million times. I didn’t go out to eat, didn’t go on trips or vacations, nothing. This may sound extreme but I really really really wanted to buy a home!
My list of completed goals
Finally, 2 years after writing down the goal of purchasing a home, my dream became a reality! It is such a huge sense of accomplishment to know that you accomplished your ultimate goal.
My first home!
#8 Don’t Quit
Just because you achieved your goal doesn’t mean you’re finished! You need to set an even higher goal and work to achieve that one. And then another. And then another. Since I achieved my goal of home ownership, my next goal is to be a landlord and purchase rental properties. This will give me passive income which will eventually allow me to retire early so that I can travel the world and spend as much time as I want to with family. That’s my ultimate life goal, and of course I have written it down.