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The Middle Class is Not Dying – It’s Changing

Steven Pressfield has written a wonderful post about a yet unnoticed, but soon to be seismic shift in the American economy and sense of work and purpose.

Maybe I’m delusional, but I think a sea-change is taking place right here, right now. I mean a good change. It’s below the radar. The government has nothing to do with it. The government doesn’t even know it’s going on.

What is this change? It’s happening on ten thousand blogs like this one and at a hundred thousand informal academies and webinars and one-on-one teaching exchanges or one-to-a-hundred mentoring events. Individuals on their own, driven by necessity and by their own dissatisfaction with their lives and their futures, are teaching themselves a new way of working in the world.

The change is reflected, even championed, by words like Seth Godin’s, “Don’t wait to be picked, pick yourself.”

People are becoming entrepreneurs. The mind-set of the employee is vanishing like the factory where it was born. It has to. We’ll all die if we wait for some force outside ourselves—business or government—to bring us jobs or teach us who we are or how we ought to live.

We have to invent our own ways, and that’s just what we’re doing.

. . . Nothing earth-shaking has popped up so far. But the change is percolating. It’s underground. It’s silent. There’s no movement, no spokesman. It doesn’t get a lot of press. Most of it is part-time. It’s being done by individuals who haven’t quit their day jobs. But there are millions of people in this country who, one by one, are making themselves over. I don’t mean just “learning skills” or “reinventing livelihoods.” I mean Major Overhaul. Emotions. Dreams. Focus. Professionalism. Mental toughness.

Thucydides quotes this great sentence from Pericles’ Funeral Oration, addressing the citizens of ancient Athens:

Taking everything together then, I declare that our city is an education to Greece, and I declare that in my opinion every one of our citizens, in all the manifold aspects of life, is able to show himself the rightful lord and owner of his own person, and do this, moreover, with exceptional grace and exceptional versatility.

I’ve always had a beef with the American Dream when it’s defined in purely material terms. That definition comes perilously close to, “I’m getting mine and the hell with you.”

But when that dream is defined as Pericles did—” … to show himself [let’s add ‘herself’] the rightful lord and owner of his own person … “—I like it a lot better, and I suspect the Founding Fathers would too.

That dream isn’t dead and it isn’t failing. In fact I think we’re closer to it now, as a nation and as individuals, than we’ve ever been.

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