Breaking Free From The American Pipe Dream

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joy elan

When a prospective employer looks at your resume during an interview and sees that you graduated from two prestigious universities, usually they are impressed. When they see that I graduated from UC Berkeley and Stanford University, I am usually asked, “When it is the big game, who do you root for?” Or “Aren’t you overqualified for this job?” I smile, roll my eyes in my head, and politely answer the questions. Sometimes I wonder if the White candidates or candidates of other races are asked those questions.

As for the “Aren’t you overqualified for this job” question, I did not know that being overqualified would be such a huge deal. Sometimes I have answered back by saying, “My student loans don’t care if I’m overqualified,” as if to say, “I just need a job, regardless if I have too much education for it.”  It has been nine years since I received my Master’s from Stanford and I am still not in my field of study. I have met other people who have a Bachelor’s and Master’s and they are in professions such as grocery clerks or janitors because they need to pay their bills. Shoot, there a lot of us working two or three jobs to keep up with our student loan payments and take care of our households.

The American Dream has long evoked the idea that the next generation will have a better life than the previous one. Today, many Americans feel that dream is in jeopardy.

The American Dream has long evoked the idea that the next generation will have a better life than the previous one. Photo:

How many of you are like me, applying for any full time job with benefits because you want to be able to retire hopefully by 60? I am waiting for those Baby Boomers to retire so I can hopefully assume their positions, if they do not reduce them to part time or positions that are almost full time but no benefits. Ugh! The American Dream has become the American Nightmare. Whether we are stuck in a job that we cannot stand, struggling to pay bills on time, raising children and hardly being able to see them, that was not what we wanted in our future. I think that my generation was sold an American pipe dream.

american dream is over


I found an old letter that I wrote to myself in 10th grade where I asked myself five years later, “Do you go to UC Berkeley and are you with your boyfriend from high school?” I was so full of hope and now, I am so full of determination to bring my goals to life. Things have changed so much, but I am slowly getting there. I do not want my degrees to go to waste so I went ahead and put them to use by pursuing my writing career. All those years of writing essays gave me an advantage in how to write under deadlines and to express myself. I see a lot of posts on social media about “Pursue your passion,” or “Do what you love and you’ll never have to work a day in your life again.” I may not make a lot of money in writing or doing the work that I do in the community, but I am hella happy and I live my life on my own terms!

We are in the times of the new hustlers or entrepreneurs. People are tired of waiting to be told that they qualify for the job, so they make their own jobs by putting their skills and hobbies to use. I learned that the college degree did not make me special; I made the degree special. I may not be a CEO of a company, but my life belongs to me the moment I sign out at work. At least, I do not have to answer emails or calls once my shift is over (unless I did something wrong at work, which is very rare). So, do not be trapped by the American “pipe dream.” Break free from that idea of what success is supposed to look like. I learned that being happy and living carefree is as successful as you can be.

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Joy Elan

Joy Elan

Joy Elan is an award winning author and spoken word artist from Oakland and Berkeley, CA. She received her BA degree in African American Studies at UC Berkeley and her MA degree in Education at Stanford University. Her books are available on (poetry, non-fiction, and fiction genres). For more information, go to