Thursday, January 31, 2013

Men & Success: An American Epidemic


Growing up in the Amway business, I was surrounded by success-driven men preaching from a podium night after night about the quest for the American Dream. And although my parents climbed that ladder of positivity to reach the upper ranks of Amway’s pyramid in the 1980’s, they still stayed stuck in mid-century roles.  My mother was the sweet and pretty “Ama-wife” who reveled in, and lovingly encouraged others to recognize, how positively the products impacted her family. My father was the charming, heavy-hitter salesman who, as a man's man, embodied every stereotypical quality of a modern day superhero. He commanded respect and ran the show.  He wore double-breasted suits, a Rolex watch and parted his hair neatly to the side. He relied on corporate and religious leaders to motivate him to "keep on keepin’ on."   He modeled himself on the American paradigm of business success set forth by a generation of men before him.
             Amway founding fathers Rich DeVos and Jay Van Andel were two guys from Michigan who wanted a piece of the booming dawn of free enterprise in the 1950’s.  It was a time when white men ruled the country and women were still expected to stay home in the kitchen.  This post-World War II era created a role for men in this country that left very little wiggle room.  They were head of the family, breadwinners, and the good old boys at the office who were entitled to come and go as they pleased - so long as they kept the world spinning on their shoulders. This Hercules syndrome created both power and a burden for American men, and we're still feeling the trickle down effect today.
            The pressure for a man to become a “success” propels many into an ego-driven bravado that has become all too acceptable in this country.  Whether a man has joined the ranks of a prominent financial firm, been elected to political office, become a famous actor, or graduated college and entered corporate America for the first time, the good old boys club is alive and well.  They’ve joined the Fraternity of More.  Today, and without any shame, image, accolades and material possessions are the clear markers of a successful American man. This is how we now measure our worth.  But with the country having maxed out its collective MasterCard, it may be time to reassess what it means to be successful in America.
            Men who want more money, more cars, more houses, more praise and titles are caught up in a vicious cycle that we, as a society condone. Our current financial crisis is a direct result of entitlement and a misrepresentation of how we measure our worth.  No doubt, I have struggled as a man to find my place in this rat race and at times have lost myself in the process. I understand why men turn to sex and other vices to escape their current reality. I watched my father build a dynasty and lose it in the recession of the early 90’s over fear of a crashing market. Indeed, these sorts of material "values" are so entrenched that plenty of men commit suicide if they're lost or threatened.  The weight of what we become is getting heavier and heavier in this country.  I think it’s time to regroup and become a more cohesive and humble society.  Don’t get me wrong, I love living in America with all of the opportunity, freedom and luxury that goes along with it. I like nice things. But I think if we want to preserve that we need to reassess our values and how we view each other and our relationship to money.
           Truth be told, there are other values that are more important.

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