In his brilliant new book, We are the Weather: Saving the Planet Begins at Breakfast, Jonathan Safran Foer recites a common definition of the American Dream as “having a better life than one’s parents – better primarily in the sense of affluence.”
He describes how his grandparents had a better home than his great grand parents and how his parents had a better home than his grandparents AND how he now has a better and more valuable home than any of them. He concludes by saying that this defining of “having enough” as “having more” is the mentality that created both America and global warming.
Writing, “It is problematic on all scales, and self-destruction is built into the model because nothing can grow forever.” Ouch.
Conversely, I recently went to an event featuring a discussion with Lin-Manuel Miranda. He was asked if the success of Hamilton was paralyzing in determining what to do next. After all, how could you possibly top its success?
Instead of talking about pressure and writing blocks, Lin said how freeing this success was — “I’ve accepted that this will be the first line of my obituary and I’m cool with that.” Because he was proud of that work in its own right, he can now be free to pursue projects without feeling like they need to live up to Hamilton in order to be successful.
Rather than self-destruction, his relationship to success was infinitely more sustainable and presumably satisfying.
It is perfectly natural to want a little more, to continue to grow, challenge yourself again and again and again.
But to what end?