“If I’d lived in Roman times, I’d lived in Rome. Where else? Today America is the Roman Empire and New York is Rome itself.”
It’s struck a chord with me so much that I’ve committed it to memory ever since. And in today’s world, as it was back when the film was released, it’s still a truism. American ideals, thoughts, language, products, and technologies permeate every fiber of our global lives as the world has grown smaller and more tightly knit through the internet.
It’s probably a direct effect of the longest-running worldwide branding campaign ever: The American Dream.
The land of the free and the home of the brave under the star-spangled banner, where opportunity is limitless, freedom is guaranteed, and equal chance to anyone who is ready to learn and work hard to amass fame and fortune.
This brings us back to the plot of the movie which is about this world-renowned Wall Street executive played by Nicolas Cage who seemingly thinks he has everything he will ever need. But that arrogant assumption invites in an angel, Karma, or a Christmas ghost, who magically offers him a glimpse into an alternate life path as a family man that he might be missing.
It’s a nice Christmas time family movie that makes people think about the values of warmth and support that being a part of a family provides to a person. It addresses how being self-centered is futile as a person eventually will have to wake up and face up the fact that they’ve missed on a lot of life’s most important joys.
It also points out how important decisions with long-term consequences must not be taken lightly or hastily. It’s an invitation to re-examine your life and your values.
I have recently been introduced to the Jeff Bezos decision-making model. Basically, Bezos compartmentalizes decisions into two distinct categories, Type 1 and Type 2.
Type 1 decisions are those easily reversible with no or negligible long-term consequences, and those should be swiftly made with no hesitation or waste of time. On the other hand, Type 2 decisions that have long-term consequences, such as what job to or career to start, where to go to college, where to live, or who to marry, should be taken slowly and carefully deliberated.
The tie in here is a personal memory that peers into my head from time to time. Back in my teenage years, right after I had just finished high school, I was presented with the chance to go study in the US. I remember how I was so excited about that opportunity that came knocking one day when a childhood friend of my dad’s, who had emigrated to the US straight out of college, came by and offered to assist me in applying to the university where he teaches. I applied and got accepted, but it never happened, and I don’t even know all the reasons why, but it was a hard decision that was deliberated carefully by my parents, who were going to eventually bankroll my education abroad.
Any life-changing decision, if not considered carefully, can really be a gambling coin-toss. Instead of the brilliant US-education and career that I might have had, I could have found my life derailed by addiction to drugs or alcohol. I might have dropped out and never had an education and drifted into a life of hardship.
Also, I wouldn’t have met the very few people I still to this day consider my lifelong friends, I wouldn’t have met my wife or had my son, and I wouldn’t have found myself in the specific set of circumstances that produced the kind of person writing these very words right now.
There’s no way of telling, but most importantly, there’s no point in dwelling in these thoughts.
Maybe the lesson I learned in retrospect is that it doesn’t really matter what happens to you outside of your control because you can always choose how to think about it and how you can focus on what you can control in the present moment, right here, right now.
Or maybe the real lesson here was that I didn’t really have to be bothered with the dream of living in the States, because America reached out and found me anyways.
Actually, it has found all of us.
Let’s think about that John Lennon quote for a minute. these were words uttered by a cultural icon and an international celebrity who was making a statement about why he chose to leave his birthplace in the United Kingdom to go live in New York of all places.
And it makes sense for him as a creative person, an artist, an international brand, and a musician, to stay in the milieu where he feels most at home. It’s where he can capitalize on his strengths, connections, collaborators, industry support system, and where he could garner more success.
This is the exact same reason why academics flock to the top universities in Europe and America, why artists travel to Paris and Rome, why egyptologists frequent the museums, monuments, and dig sites in Egypt, and why bankers dwell in London, New York, Tokyo, Singapore, and Dubai.
No matter where you are in life, you’re bound to seek to go near the center of mass in your sphere. You’d want to do better, get more, and elevate yourself.
Hence, comes the chase after the American Dream.
The American dream is probably the longest-running branding campaign ever. America promulgated its culture across the world through war, weapons, technology, medicine, education, art, fashion, and politics. It’s massively produced, packaged, and sold that dream to every single one of us all over the world.
It’s a name always synonymous with freedom, progress, and ingenuity.
The United States of America is also a name synonymous with might and power.
With its well-known massive stockpiles of conventional and nuclear weapons and its huge advanced fleet roaming the seven seas asserting its military might and buttressing its political say-so in the affairs of nations, not to mention it being the biggest arms manufacturer in the world, the US is synonymous with good old fashioned brawn and muscle.
But if that raw force is to be considered its long-reaching right arm, its other long-reaching left arm might be the US Dollar acting as the world’s reserve currency since the Bretton Woods Agreement, the official currency to purchase the world’s most in-demand energy commodity with the OPEC Petrodollar agreement, and most recently being closely intertwined with the Chinese economy.
The world pays attention and responds to who is in power.
During the golden age of the Ottoman Empire, there was a surge in science, art, and knowledge that has affected the entire world and launched the basis for modern medicine and mathematics. It was the center of gravity during its reign. The Roman Empire left its marks all over the local culture, street names, and relics still pay a tribute to its historical world dominance, even today.
Outside the Anglophone world, the second language, learned and spoken by the elite and professional classes, is an excellent metric for the nationality of the power that holds the most influence.
Today, English is that language. It’s the language of politics, commerce, entertainment, and the internet.
Realizing the scaling potential, American business capitalized on these grand ideals and hopes and effectively productized the American dream through the sales of American products all over the world.
It might have simply started with McDonald’s, KFC, and Starbucks, but along came the iPhone and the internet, and that effectively put the whole thing on steroids.
It heralded the exportation of the digitized version of the American Dream. A new age of abundant permissionless knowledge, where the only limitation to what a person can learn is their own desire. A new world of unprecedented freedom of expression that transcends borders, traditions, language barriers, and nationalism, where each and every single person can define themselves in their own chosen manner and subscribe to any ideology of their choosing.
The effects of long-term exposure to the internet are basically unknown since our children are now born into a world where the internet, English language, and smartphones are essential and integral parts of the human experience.
The internet is the new Roman Empire, your smartphone is the Library of Alexandria, and the American Dream has evolved into the concept of the sovereign individual. There’s an abundance of knowledge and opportunity, and you can choose whatever you want to become and your own level of freedom exactly where you are.
You don’t have to wait, you don’t have to make excuses about your current situation no matter how valid they may be, but you can always take charge of your own destiny and find your own place in the world.
Especially now, after the world took a left turn and found itself face to face with a global pandemic that demolished all previous notions of how the world should connect remotely. The internet has annexed a larger chunk of our time that we used to spend interacting with people in real-life situations.
This is not to be construed as a naive oversimplification or a condescending remark bathed in shame to suggest that it’s easy to change your life and adopt a new way of living in a world that is completely dependent on the internet. Most of us have regular real-world jobs, and this is the only mode of living we’re grown into and not everyone is proficient enough in the new languages of programming, e-commerce, freelancing, social media marketing, entrepreneurship, and decentralized blockchains.
The point is that the world is changing, and quite rapidly if you haven’t been paying attention, and it’s bound to take us all by surprise as it picks up the pace in the next few years. There is time still to learn, to engage, to find your place in a new developing economy where the individual can work from anywhere and offer a product or service to everyone, get paid according to the value of the work in a decentralized currency.
It’s no big stretch of the imagination to suggest that science fiction is becoming a reality… fast. We are, in effect, living inside the “Matrix.”
We all live in the heads of other people and alternatively, other people can find a permanent home in ours.
Your permanent home is online, your personality is whatever you portray online.
Simply look at the facts of how you’re reading this text right now, on an electronic device, through my blog link which is hosted on the internet, along with almost every other service, social media platform, marketplace, and entertainment venue you’re using.
You read books, listen to music, and play videos recommended by friends, people you follow, and your intellectual idols, and you learn their every thought immediately as they post it.
You make your professional choices based on opportunities that find their way into your social media timeline or by being mentioned by a friend on a post.
Your food is heavily influenced by the newest diet system that you’ve learned about online.
So let me get you back to that John Lennon quote, one last time. It’s true that powerful, talented, and creative people naturally gravitate towards the city, vocation, connections, and tools that will guarantee they achieve their goals, and excel in life.
That space is now the internet. The one place where you can get the knowledge you seek, and the inspiration you need to experiment with your life until you find your rightful place in the world.
I am not a stranger to having an existential crisis with life not going the way I imagined it would go when I was younger. But, the key lesson I’ve heard, read, and learned multiple times in the past 6 years, is that it is never too late to choose yourself and find your own way.
We can all become our own sovereign individuals, to claim our independence, and our freedom based on decentralized tools and systems that no longer require centralized governments or corporations.
In the same spirit of the “Family Man” movie, I am merely offering you a glimpse of another life, another mode of existence, and the permission to dream big and hold on to hope that things can change for the better.
You are not your past. It does not define you.
What ultimately defines you is the present moment and the actions you are taking to make a change in your life.
Steering your life path is akin to a big containership changing course in rough seas, it takes time and courage.
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