Dear America, Follow your Dreams, Not Fame

Americans Value Fame More Highly Than They Would Like to Admit

Amsden Klinghard, Staff Writer

Follow your dreams. American high school students are all too familiar with this phrase in relation to career choices and ambitions. And from my limited knowledge about the world, it seems like a great piece of advice. It certainly is a part of the American dream, being able to find success in what you love despite difficulties. However, I feel like a lot of people who hear this phrase often misinterpret it. Whenever I hear it, I feel like there’s an expectation to respond with “My dream is to become the most rich and famous ___ ever”, depending on what their talents or passions are. This interpretation shows a focus on fame as a career goal, and this is the wrong idea. 

According to a Gallup poll, the vast majority of US adults (97%) say that “A person is successful if they have followed their own interests and talents to become the best they can be at what they care about most”, as opposed to being “rich, having a high profile career, or being well known.” Another poll (the link to the study may not work, here is an article about the same study) reveals that 85% of Americans think “having freedom to choose how you want to live” is the American dream.  It’s certainly clear that most Americans are not interested in being “celebrities” as most people think of them now. 

Mindsets of Success (Populace)

However, the same Gallup poll revealed that 92% of respondents think that “society” defines success as being rich and well known. This is challenging, because 97% of Americans disagree with the statement according to the same poll! If fame and wealth is how society defines success, then where did that societal belief come from if most people don’t believe it personally? 

If the poll is taken at face value, it means that society regards fame and money more highly than almost every individual person does. This could be because the three percent who do believe fame is the most important indicator of success are the ones who are more likely to become famous, and therefore will have a larger influence on the culture. However, the more likely answer is that seeking stardom for its own sake is generally considered bad in society, but many Americans put emphasis on fame in subtler ways.  This is especially true for high school students getting ready to begin their careers. These students are encouraged to “dream big,” but it seems like “big” often just means “famous.” Fame seems to be pushed as the most important career goal for young people, although often in less overt ways as the survey question suggests. While these students will never admit they’re aiming to become a “celebrity,”

How Americans view success. (Populace)

I believe that the 97% of people in the poll are correct: there are more important things than  in life having everyone recognize your accomplishments. Having good relationships, helping those in need, and enjoying what you do will certainly be more rewarding. “Follow your dreams” should mean seeking happiness from within and from loved ones and your community, not from strangers. While a large majority of people recognize this, the drive for fame is still ingrained in our minds. If all the people who claim to prioritize happiness over fame looked more closely at their true motives, they realize they are chasing fame more than they might realize. If these people used the same talents that could make them famous to help others, without looking for applause, they might feel more fulfilled and happy, making for a better society. 

As nice as this would be, completely eliminating this desire would be impossible – everyone wants people to like them – but if Americans could recognize this and put less emphasis on fame as a career goal for high school students, it would be a step in the right direction.