What IS the American Dream Exactly?

To earn lots of money, do what you love, or both?

Or perhaps to get a cushy job without the degrees & experience and thinking that showing up to work long enough, is enough to get you promoted.

This totally reminds me of a friend who is going through some awful things with her insubordinates and via our email conversation, I’m appalled at her employees’ lack of discipline, professionalism and general attitude.

A recent New York Times article caught my attention American Dream Is Elusive for New Generation, and some very insightful comments here.

For those of you who don’t want to click to another link, here are the key parts I’ll be opining upon:

$40,000 is not chump change

Mr. Nicholson, 24, a graduate of Colgate University, winner of a dean’s award for academic excellence, spent his mornings searching corporate Web sites for suitable job openings. When he found one, he mailed off a résumé and cover letter — four or five a week, week after week.

Over the last five months, only one job materialized. After several interviews, the Hanover Insurance Group in nearby Worcester offered to hire him as an associate claims adjuster, at $40,000 a year. But even before the formal offer, Mr. Nicholson had decided not to take the job.

Rather than waste early years in dead-end work, he reasoned, he would hold out for a corporate position that would draw on his college training and put him, as he sees it, on the bottom rungs of a career ladder.

$40,000 is standard salary for an entry level job. Actually, it is better than standard entry, because I think $30,000 is the standard salary for what is considered “professional” white-collar work.

To put things into perspective, ~$30,000 is the average family income in North America.

But yes, I feel bad for him.

And yes, it sucks they’re entering a glut market.

….. but the job paid $40,000. So what if you’re a claims adjuster, and “on the bottom rungs of a career ladder”?

Everyone has to start somewhere, and you have so many years of your life to give away, to work up towards earning $75,000 or more.

Confident, or cocky?

Yet surveys show that the majority of the nation’s millennials remain confident, as Scott Nicholson is, that they will have satisfactory careers. They have a lot going for them.

“They are better educated than previous generations and they were raised by baby boomers who lavished a lot of attention on their children,” said Andrew Kohut, the Pew Research Center’s director. That helps to explain their persistent optimism, even as they struggle to succeed.

32% of unemployed Young Americans (18 – 29) are not seeking work (Source)

Who am I to talk right? I mean, you all know I went all of 2009 without working, guessing that I could hold out for better once the market picked up.

I, in the eyes of some (namely my family) was an unemployed freelancing BUM!

The difference however, is I had decent money saved, enough to see me through 1-2 extra years of unemployment, seeing as my expenses were also quite low.

Don’t get me wrong, because I also know when to give up & go into fight or flight mode.

Sometimes you just have to swallow your pride, roll up your sleeves and just freaking work.

If in 2010 I didn’t manage to land a single contract and was nearing desparation, I would have started looking hard, for work. Applying for permanent jobs, moving, switching industries or areas.. you name it.

I can totally understand how these graduates are way more optimistic about having a satisfactory career, and while everyone wants to encourage everyone else to follow their dreams — however sometimes you just aren’t going to get what you want even if you check of all the checkboxes and follow all the steps.

Sometimes it just doesn’t pan out.

Sometimes you just have to take the crappy jobs that SUCK and hate your life every morning you wake up to it, because you’re just waiting to grab a better opportunity around the corner, and be recognized for doing grunt work with professionalism & discipline.

Nobody who graduates from college, deserves a job that pays higher than $40,000.

Scratch that.

Nobody who graduates from college, deserves anything.

You don’t get things handed to you just because your parents (or you) managed to fork over the tuition required for a piece of official looking paper.

It puts you in a better position than others, but you still have to work for it.

(“Deserve” is a tricksy word with me.)

Here he is, saying he turned it down because it was just a claims adjusting position and not a high-falutin’ management job, but for goodness sakes, he was a POLITICAL SCIENCE MAJOR!

Note: Am not knocking political science itself, but it is unrealistic to expect the world on a platter when you are aiming for something that isn’t even related to what you studied.

First, if he wanted to get into a management job for a corporation right out of the gate, I would have probably chosen .. oh I don’t know, business as my major.

Second, not even business school graduates enter into management positions right away. Every one of my friends spent their formative career years working as a peon on the lowest rung of the ladder, and THEN they slowly moved up the food chain. Even now, some haven’t moved anywhere at all.

Third, just graduating from a college (Colgate or not), doesn’t guarantee jack. People who go to college have a higher chance of landing an awesome job and making money.. but this is by no means a set in stone rule. What going to college guarantees, is in the event you are pitted against someone with less of an education than you, in an all out, no holds barred interviewing death match, you have the slight edge.

But ultimately, experience will always win.

My parents will always bail me out

“I am beginning to realize that refusal is going to have repercussions,” he said. “My parents are subtly pointing out that beyond room and board, they are also paying other expenses for me, like my cellphone charges and the premiums on a life insurance policy.”

His brother in Boston lost his roommate, and early last month Scott moved into the empty bedroom, with his parents paying Scott’s share of the $2,000-a-month rent until the lease expires on Aug. 31.

*face palm*

You know what? I did move back in with my parents on one occasion for a project that was in their city. I am not ashamed to admit it, because the difference is I paid my way, helped out and covered all of my personal expenses as well.

This wasn’t even a “OMG look at me!” sort of situation, it is just what you do, and what is expected of you, as a working, contributing adult.

Sure, your parents can help cushion the blow a bit, but not when you are turning down $40,000 jobs because it isn’t exactly what you want!

Then again, if his parents can afford it, and want to help out — why not? I’m all for that.

Still, I have to wonder if this is just another situation of parents coddling their precious children financially, ill-preparing them for reality and telling them sunshine will burst out of unexpected places if they just believe it to be possible.

As the sayings go: You have to pay your dues sooner or later.

Now where’d I put my silver spoon?

“Scott has got to find somebody who knows someone,” the grandfather said, “someone who can get him to the head of the line.”

Scott Nicholson also has connections, of course, but no one in his network of family and friends has been able to steer him into marketing or finance or management training or any career-oriented opening at a big corporation, his goal. The jobs are simply not there.


It was in pursuit of a solid job that Scott applied to Hanover International’s management training program. Turned down for that, he was called back to interview for the lesser position in the claims department.

“I’m sitting with the manager, and he asked me how I had gotten interested in insurance. I mentioned Dave’s job in reinsurance, and the manager’s response was, ‘Oh, that is about 15 steps above the position you are interviewing for,’ ” Scott said, his eyes widening and his voice emotional.

In early January, a Marine Corps doctor noticed that he had suffered from childhood asthma. He was washed out. “They finally told me I could reapply if I wanted to,” Scott said. “But the sheen was gone.”

Tough break, man. Tough break.

If people who graduate have stellar connections, they are the lucky few. Many of us graduated without stellar connections (yeah, I am still in my 20s, so I am apparently lumped into this group as well), and sometimes you get a break and sometimes you don’t.

Turning down a job just because it isn’t a management position right off the bat, is just sheer lunacy.

So what if your first job is claims adjustment and not a manager of a department? You don’t have the bloody experience nor the credentials to apply to a management training program. Heck, how can you even be an effective manager if you’ve never worked in the industry as a peon before?

Know what’s missing in this article above? EXPERIENCE.

Even if you start out as a crappy, “low” paying claims adjuster, and then decide to leave in 3 years for another, shinier position, you have 3 solid years of corporate experience behind you.

If you are interested in working in the insurance industry, then get your foot in the door and show them that you know how to do the grunt work from the ground up — this will help you in later jobs, believe it or not.

Many managers and executives started on the lowest of all possible rungs, and they learned the entire business from end-to-end that way.

It helps them be a better manager or executive if they can remember what the problems and frustrations were like, of the people they are managing instead of guessing.

Wait, there’s more!

Like most of his classmates, Scott tries to get by on a shoestring and manages to earn enough in odd jobs to pay some expenses.

The jobs are catch as catch can. He and a friend recently put up a white wooden fence for a neighbor, embedding the posts in cement, a day’s work that brought Scott $125. He mows lawns and gardens for half a dozen clients in Grafton, some of them family friends.

And if Scott does not have a job by then? “I’ll do something temporary; I won’t go back home,” Scott said. “I’ll be a bartender or get work through a temp agency. I hope I don’t find myself in that position.”

Doesn’t earning $40,000 a year as a “lowly” claims adjuster in an industry he wanted to start out in anyway sound better and better by the second?

To get a better job in the industry you want, you should have a job in the first place. Preferably not as a general labourer, if construction is not your deal.

Employers always feel better when you have a job when they’re trying to poach you, because it assures them that you have been vetted by another company to be a decent employee (or so they hope).

It also adds a level of sexiness to the hiring game: “Oooo we stole him from _______ & ______!”

If you are temporary bartender, they are likely going to read your resume and peg you as “the out-of-college bartender who applied for a clerk’s position”, rather than “the claims adjuster who knows a bit about the industry at its core, and wants to grow in it”.

Whaddabout working for yourself?

On the bright side, maybe he can set up a lawn mowing business.

Become an entrepreneur of some sort.

In times of true hardship, people can surprise you in the most unlikely ways, and I can only hope Scott will do that.

I think treating this more as an adventure, rather than being able to hop into a cushy job right away, would serve him best in this situation.

Don’t paint us all with the same brush, please

So readers of an older generation, please keep in mind that not all of us have this entitled attitude as painted in this New York Times (I’ll bet they did it on purpose).

Many of us have made the same mistakes, and can relate to what Scott is going through, but I daresay we are nothing like his current portrayal.


“Of course, the work young men didn’t want to do back during the Depression was more like plowing and farming and, you know, smashing rocks with a hammer and stuff, not working as an associate claims adjuster for $40K a year in a suburb of Massachusetts, but you know, same diff.”


So readers, what do you think?

(I’d especially love to hear from those of you who are going through something similar, to get another perspective)

About the Author

Just a girl trying to find a balance between being a Shopaholic and a Saver. I cleared $60,000 in 18 months earning $65,000 gross/year. Now I am self-employed, and you can read more about my story here, or visit my other blog: The Everyday Minimalist.