The American Dream

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Contributing Writer
Paul Leone

Work hard and play by the rules and you will be rewarded.

I have known my share of hard workers, not all of whom have played by the rules, whose rewards have appeared to me hardly commensurate with the demands of their work. This is not to disparage entrepreneurship. Who cannot admire the fool with a vision, the blithe naïve innocent who takes on against all odds a monumental gamble?

What quality is required to succeed? (Of course, we are speaking here of the narrow definition of success, the commonly understood measure of the achievement of the American Dream, i.e. material success.) Perseverance, my college friend said. Life is a marathon not a sprint. Judged by his own life marathon he was speaking sense. On the other hand there are those whose every endeavor seems to result in bitter disappointment. There are many a Sisyphus out there.

The myth of the American Dream seems to me anachronistic. We of a certain age are aware in this social media world how random postings on Tik Tok or Instagram have a way of going viral, creating in a moment the latest underage overwealthy adolescent. Permit me to be snarky. In my day the serious among us aspired to the lofty position of doctor or astronaut or other such visionary dream. Who ever heard of an influencer?

Okay, I will concede a grudging admiration (envy?) for the tech savvy entrepreneur who strikes it rich. It is not always a matter of luck. Consider the juvenile (actual or metaphorical) who painstakingly hones her song or dance to a peak of perfection and places it before the world only to find it wither and die in cyberspace. But will she persevere? Some do and receive their just rewards. No matter that she may not have strictly played by the rules.

Not strictly playing by the rules, I don’t think, tarnishes the integrity of the persevering entrepreneur. My Sicilian grandmother did not strictly play by the rules. Married at sixteen and snatched out of her peasant village by a headstrong male, a Sisyphean whom through heroic perseverance she finally tamed, she was dragged against her will to the land of opportunity. Hers is a story of necessity being the mother of entrepreneurship. From the garment district of New York to a tenement owner in Hartford to the long suffering wife of a failed tobacco farmer in the Connecticut countryside, she never wavered. (She did befriend the police charged with enforcing Prohibition.) Such a woman surely would achieve some slice of the American Dream. In the end she ruled over her neighborhood realm, her own boss, from her own kitchen out of which she sold her own pizza and bread to discerning palates.

I have a large tinted photograph of her on her wedding day. Even then, it is clear, she was not a woman to be trifled with.