Follow Us

I’ve been chasing the American dream for 40 years!

Here’s one of my favorite stories about how we settle for a life of success instead of a life that counts. God spare us from this fate:   Rick Smith was a VP of a large pharmaceutical firm.  I met him on a mission trip to Mexico. We walked around the downtown square in Matamoros. It…
By Seth Barnes
By Seth Barnes
Here’s one of my favorite stories about how we settle for a life of success instead of a life that counts. God spare us from this fate:
Rick Smith was a VP of a large pharmaceutical firm.  I met him on a mission trip to Mexico. We walked around the downtown square in Matamoros. It was a fall night and getting cool. We walked by vendors and people sitting on benches. 
Rick had seen a lot on the trip. He was telling me the difference it had made, “I’ve seen how much I have in contrast with the poverty of those we were helping to build homes for. It put things into perspective. God has given me a lot, yet I get caught up in the details of my life. And I have to wonder if there isn’t more?”
Months later he was in line for a flight with a friend of mine, Clint Bokelman, who was at that time in his early 30’s. Rick was telling this story to him. “I was able to make a difference,” he said. “It felt so good to give that family a house and to see the smile on their face. And I sensed that it’s not too late for me.”
In front of them waiting for his first class seat was a sophisticated businessman in a black Armani suit and a leather briefcase and he was listening to their conversation.

“I don’t care who this guy is – your brother, your Dad, your friend or a stranger.  You listen to him.  I’ve been chasing the American dream for 40 years and it’s all empty!  I’m enslaved to it!  It’s too late for me, but it’s not too late for you!”

With that, he picked up his briefcase, boarded the plane, and sat in his first class seat.  When Clint and Rick got on board and passed him, he was still sitting there, red-faced and fuming.

Comments (11)

  • I love it! I went to business school, and then set out to achieve “success.” That’s what I was told was the best thing to do. I was taught to aspire to a fancy house and a sports car.

    And I remember staring up the ladder. I remember my boss saying, “You could be really great at thisyou could really make a name for yourself.” And I looked at what he had done to get as far as he had up the ladder, and what my co-workers were doing to climb the ladder. And I thought, “I don’t think this is my ladder. I don’t think I want to climb a ladder unless I know where it goes to.”

    I haven’t regretted it ever since.

  • Great story! All depends on your view of what success is I guess. Read Revelation and you find the crown of life goes not to the neat, financially successful, got it all together, multi-tasking, white teethed “in” crowd, but to the more bedraggled sounding crew – those who hold on and endure to the end. They sound such a raggle taggle bunch of scruffy urchins to me, with nothing in their hands the world thinks anything of, but they have the gold running through them of faithfulness despite everything. To God that would appear to be a most precious commodity.

  • Actually, I feel sad for the gentleman who felt he was enslaved to it. Because he could have chosen to get out – there is always a choice, always time to redeem what time we have left in this life, to make it count. How very sad that so many people let that kind of mentality hold them back from pursuing not only other life-long dreams, but also the life that God really intends for them to have. I would rather be the keeper of God’s dream and chase after Him, than to have all the wealth the world holds.

    That’s my two cents worth…..well, actually I could give at least a quarter because God always provides!

  • A share with you a word the Lord gave me about my American dream. It is written on the back of a water disconnection notice for my American dream home. I now use it as my bookmark.

    “you are suffering from the weight of the American dream, heavily burdened by the lifeless toil and consumption you embrace. This is the yoke of oppression that I will set you free from. Your new yoke is not easy it is a cross for heaven’s sake. But carry it, it is good and lead to rest even for my weariest traveler”

    He has been true to this word and I am free! Let the world have the American dream I no logner want it!

  • Thanks, Seth. Good story and insights as always. You always have something worthwhile.

    I think the greatest burden of all is to be a follower of Jesus, tormented by His truth, publically pronouncing the “acceptable year of the Lord” for orphans, widows and prisoners knowing that in most private moments there is a quick retreat to an excessively comfortable life allowing any of us to make an orphan “it” and not “us”. They are easily discarded that way. We all should test our hearts knowing pronouncements (especially ones supported by rock stars and popular mavens) are easy and the real test is always what we are willing to let go of including security, popularity, self promotion and needs for public affirmation. I love what General Booth (the founder of The Salvation Army) said when asked what the mission was. He answered with one word. “Others”.

  • Is it a success to have learned that with out the corner office, six-figure income and exclusive housing?

    Today I will be happy to not be a slave: to sin, to work, or to the world.

    Amen, Seth.

  • A life by faith…

    My wife and I stepped out on faith several years ago to be missionaries. Most everyone thought we were nuts especially all the non-christian family member we had. “How will you survive?” “You have to have insurance.” “You have to this and you have to that.”

    Oh really now?

    I bought into that for years…skirting on the edge of a life by faith although I was journeying with Christ. Not really having the fortitude to take the plunge. But when I did, I found that it is not really a “plunge” at all but more of just the “truth.”

    This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t have good things… you are a co-heir with Christ, a prince and princess for His sake.. but priorities do change when you life by faith…

    We let go of the American Dream and have been seeking “God’s Dream” for our family and our calling. I wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Thanks Seth,


  • I think Rick has a lot of power to influence people for Christ in his position and he does not need to be angry feeling like he wasted his life. Rather he can turn his mindset into Christ like and see that he can influence his employees. He can direct a trustworthy business. Christian leaders in business are desperately needed. He can sell his house for a smaller one or he can even just use his big house now to host people often. He can use his money to send missionaries. Be angry because of your mindset, not because of the type of job you were in. Now he can understand his coworkers and influence them to not get so consumed with climbing the ladder. I hope he won’t run from his job because he can be a huge influence to some of the loneliest people who are slaves to worldy success.

  • FYI – Rick quit his job, raised support and came to work for me for a number of years. He felt led to go into medical missions several years later. To my knowledge, he’s been successful and changed many lives.

    To Rachel’s point – you can certainly be just as successful staying in the high profile job as you are following the path Rick ended up taking. But for me the issue is, “What is Jesus asking you to do?”

    Jesus asked a number of people to follow him, but they weren’t able to give up their paradigms of success in order to do so. We need to let him define success for us.

Comments are closed.

Subscribe to Radical Living:

Receive updates on the latest posts as Seth Barnes covers many topics like spiritual formation, what if means to be a christian, how to pray, and more. Radical Living blog is all about a call to excellence in ministry, church, and leadership -as the hands and feet of Jesus.

Seth Barnes

I'm motivated to join God in his global reclamation project. He's on the move, setting his sons and daughters free from their places of captivity. And he's partnering with those of us who have been freed to go and free others.

© Adventures In Missions. All rights reserved. | Privacy Policy | RSS Feed | Sitemap