Success Does Not Lie in Education
The American Dream typically does not involve dropping out of college or high school, arriving into America as an immigrant, or being incredibly poor. However, individuals who have dropped out of college or high school, arrived in America as immigrants, or been incredibly poor, have been some of the most successful and important figures in America’s history. If icons like Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, and Elon Musk abandoned their ideas for the sake of the American Dream, which involves getting a college degree, being rich from the start, and being one-hundred percent American, companies like Microsoft, Apple, Tesla, PayPal, and SpaceX would not exist today. It would be hard for the Smiths to research the housing market in whatever trending neighborhood without a Windows operating system, or Mac operating system, and no search engine like Google. If Changez from The Reluctant Fundamentalist or Jeannette Walls in The Glass Castle were not limited by the idea of the American Dream, Changez might have stayed in America and found happiness, and Walls and her family would have found been more successful early on in their journey. The American Dream limits potential, because it convinces people success is black and white. Luckily, many icons did not allow themselves to buy into the idea of the American Dream. If Gates, Jobs, and Musk had decided to pursue what the dream defines as success instead of pursuing something unique and different, like they all once did, then America, and the world, would never have logically progressed.
Although it is a commonly-held belief that in order to achieve the type of success promised by the American Dream, one must earn a college degree, this is not always the case. On some occasions, college can even hinder people’s success by blinding them to other opportunities. Bill Gates, the co-founder of Microsoft, is worth billions. Bill Gates’s success did not have a basis in getting a college degree. Gates attended Harvard University, but to Gates, “Harvard was expendable” (Dalglish). In 1974, Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen visited Gates at Harvard while Gates was a sophomore. During this visit, “Allen urged him to leave university so that they could form a partnership to develop software” (Dalglish). Allen believed that if he and Gates waited any longer, the two would lose the chance to enter the software industry in its infancy. Gates agreed and soon dropped out of the Ivy League university. To Gates, an education was never the most important thing. To Gates, technology was the most important thing. Even in high school, “Bill began cutting classes to hang out at all hours at his private school’s computer center” (Biography). In college, Gates still spent most of the time working in Harvard’s computer center. The duo went on to create Microsoft, which is now worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Gates was a billionaire at age 31. If Gates had not dropped out of college, there would be no Microsoft today. If there was no Microsoft today, chances are personal computers would not be where they currently are. In 1992, Microsoft’s MS-DOS computer operating-system was “used in 90 per cent of the personal computers in the world” (Dalglish). Today, the Windows operating-system is the most popular OS, and Microsoft has other products beyond operating-systems, such as Microsoft Office and Xbox. The American Dream tells a tale of success that revolves around many different factors, one of which is earning a college degree. However, Gates did not buy into this mantra. Instead, Gates believed that he could do without a higher education, and he was more than right. “Gates insists that he does not measure success in purely commercial terms” (Dalglish). For Bill Gates, success is having an intelligent peer tell him if an idea of his is a good one. Gates did not follow the path set out by the American Dream, and changed the world of technology because of it.
Coincidentally, Gates is not the only tech visionary whose success did not rely on a college education. Steve Jobs, the founder of Apple, dropped out of Reed College after only one semester. “After six months, I couldn’t see the value in it,” Jobs stated. “I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life and no idea how college was going to help me figure it out. So I decided to drop out and trust that it would all work out” (Goodell). Along with not getting his degree, Jobs was also the opposite of the clean-cut business executive that people imagine when picturing a Fortune 500 company. Jobs tripped on LSD and smoked marijuana, all while wearing tattered jeans and practicing Buddhism. Jobs’ vision with Apple relied heavily on his unique personality, and his resistance to the norm. Ironically, even Bill Gates “was mystified that people wanted color computers” (Kahney 154). The American Dream does not usually come in the form of a man who trips on LSD while starting a business out of a garage. However, he changed technology, including the way it’s designed and how users interact with it. If Jobs had gone along with the stereotypical idea of the American Dream, he never would have become the visionary behind Apple. Jobs did what everyone else was not doing. In “The Steve Nobody Knows”, Goodell noted that “At a time when software was the model, he built hardware. At a time where everyone focused on the macro, he focused on the micro” (Goodell). Along with being a college drop-out and a hippy, his biological father is Syrian, and he is adopted. He partially grew up in Silicon Valley where “there were no stuffy traditions, no cultural baggage. You could be whatever or whoever you wanted to be” (Goodell). Despite all the ways Jobs was the opposite of the American Dream, he was worth more than $100 million when he was only 25. If Jobs had instead stayed in school, Apple would not exist. There would be no art to the design of technology. Also, cell phones would not be where they are today. Shortly after the iPhone’s launch in June 2006, Leander Kahney in Inside Steve’s Brain notes “the iPhone is already radically transforming the massive cell phone business, which pundits are saying has already divided into two eras: pre-iPhone and post-iPhone” (Kahney 3). If Jobs had not been alternative in his ways, there would be no unique vision that changed the way technology is created and how people use it, and teenage girls may not be able to update their Instagrams.
Along with mandating a college education, the American Dream, ironically, often fails to include immigrants. The American Dream typically involves a white family born and raised in the United States. However, one man who could shape American history is South African Elon Musk. Musk is the founder of PayPal, Tesla, and SpaceX. Musk is the “Steve Jobs of Heavy Industry” or the “Henry Ford of Rockets” (Junod). Musk’s primary goal is to go to Mars with SpaceX, which is pretty crazy, but not to Musk. Musk was born in South Africa, but moved to America after graduating high school. Despite not being born an American, “when he was a very young man, he gave up everything to become an American” (Junod). If Musk had believed that the story of the American Dream was reserved only for Americans, there would be no PayPal, Tesla, or SpaceX. PayPal has made it easier to buy goods online. Tesla has made electric vehicles popular and desirable. SpaceX could change the course of human history with its attempts at space travel and getting to Mars. All of this exists because of a man who emigrated to America. It is important to note how crucial the space program is to American pride. The space program, especially the Apollo 11 mission, is the peak of what Americans have achieved. Now, an immigrant man in America is working to surpass this peak. Musk is confronting the next big goal in the space program, one of America’s most important parts of history, and he is not even an American. Musk is the type of man who does not care about what is the norm, and in that way, he is very American. Typically, Americans appear to embrace conformity. However, the Americans who have led to America’s success have all ultimately embraced individualism slightly more. Europeans came to America for the sake of individualism. Musk is definitely no exception to this pattern of individualism among historical Americans. For example, the Tesla Model S has a volume control that goes to eleven. This minor detail sums up Musk, along with the $100 million of his own money he put into SpaceX and the numerous failed attempts with the rocket Falcon 1. Musk did not get where he is today by trying to appease any standards; he got where he is today through ignoring the common and striving towards the unimaginable. Musk’s attitude does not fit into the mediocre, no-risk style of the American Dream, especially as an immigrant man whose spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a goal that he may never reach. However, if he does, the effects of his work will be felt for centuries or more, and this effect could not exist if Musk believed that the American Dream was only for those born in America.
Although Elon Musk’s story is a real one, a similar reality can be found in fiction in The Reluctant Fundamentalist by Mohsin Hamid. In the book, the protagonist Changez migrates to America from Pakistan to attend Princeton University, where he majors in finance. Changez leaves Pakistan to come to America for better opportunities. After attending Princeton, Changez joins Underwood Samson, a consultancy firm, as an analyst. Changez excels at Underwood Samson, but Changez’s life in America turns sour after the attacks in America on September 11, 2001. After these attacks, those who resembled the perpetrators faced great scrutiny, and Changez was no exception. The scrutiny Changez faces leads to Changez being fired from Underwood Samson, shunned by his superior, and an unfortunate return to Pakistan. However, the scrutiny is not what has led Changez to lose his life in America. Changez’s reaction to the scrutiny is what led to Changez to lose sight of what is important. To Changez, the American Dream is life or death. In response to the scrutiny, Changez negatively amplifies his identity as a Muslim, creating suspicion among his peers. Changez did not embrace his identity as a Muslim in an honest and pure way; instead, Changez was attempting to instigate an already troubled situation by pouring gasoline on a fire through instilling fear and paranoia with his appearance and erratic behavior. Changez believes that achieving the American Dream is the only way he will find success in America. However, unfortunately, the stereotypical American Dream does not involve a Middle Eastern man. Changez needs to realize that success is obtainable through other avenues beyond achieving the American Dream portrayed in the Hollywood movies he had watched back home in Pakistan. Changez limits himself and his potential by buying into this American Dream, convincing himself that the American Dream was the only way he could be happy and successful. If Changez realizes that there is more to success and happiness in America than what is portrayed by the common American Dream, then he could find true happiness and lasting success.
Despite how often success is gauged by monetary wealth, success can be found in other facets of life. In the non-fiction book The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls, Walls recounts the story of her childhood. Walls’ childhood was one riddled with poverty. She was born to Rex Walls and Rose Mary Walls. Rex’s employment history is incredibly unsteady, and Walls and her three siblings find themselves moving from place to place with their nomadic parents. Walls’ father has a dream of building a “glass castle”. This glass castle is symbolic of the amazing life Rex wishes to provide for his family, and the castle’s existence is influenced by the American Dream. For the castle to be built, Rex needs a stable job and consistent cash flow, along with land and stability within his family. However, Rex is never able to keep a steady job or a consistent source of income, making the glass castle nothing more than a fantasy and an eventual book title. Rex, and the rest of the family for a long time, believes that the key to happiness and success is through this castle. However, Rex fails to realize that happiness can be found in other parts of life, such as with his family. Rex’s obsession with this glass castle and his desire to be the perfect husband and father leads to drinking and repeated mistakes, which results in his children beginning to view him in a negative light. While so infatuated with what could be if he were to somehow build this fictitious castle, Rex fails to see the joy he already has in front of him. Rex’s fixation on the American Dream limits his ability to ever be truly happy, along with limiting his potential as a husband and father. If Rex was to take a look around him, he would see he has fortunes that surpass any sort of castle he could ever build, and he is already living dreams as a father and a husband.
Overall, the stereotypical American Dreams may have its merits for some, but the dream can also limit many. Through its strict path and promises of simplistic joy, the dream convinces people that happiness and success have no room for gray areas. The idea that if you accomplish Objective A and B you will live happily ever after is completely ignoring the fact that no two humans are the same. A higher education may be the right path for one individual, but it could also close doors for another. An American identity may be important to some, but placing that importance over progress and happiness is misguided and would ultimately lead to a loss in numerous advancements for America. While monetary wealth may be nice, there are more important things in life than owning a nice house with a two-car garage. If people develop tunnel vision over what they believe the American Dream will bring them, they will likely come out the other side finding themselves disappointed. Sometimes, it may be crucial for people to ignore the American Dream and pursue what is truly best for them. If Gates fell to the belief that he needed a college degree in order to be successful, personal computers would likely not exist. If Jobs never allowed his unique philosophy to come through, there would be no art in design and likely no smartphones. If Musk believed that he could not be successful in America because he is an immigrant, PayPal would not exist and we may never travel to Mars. If Changez were to realize that he can be both successful in America and a Muslim if he simply paid less attention to American Dream, he could find lasting happiness. If Rex Walls had spent less time obsessing over monetary wealth and the idea of being a perfect husband and father, he would have found happiness through his family. The American Dream, while it can make for a decent movie and story, can ultimately lead to many missed opportunities through its limiting of individuals.
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