The Twisted American Dream

[Originally published in the Simple Parenting Column by The Dispatch]

For the past 100 years, we have been fed lies by marketing and advertising schmucks about what it means to be free and prosperous. Tragically, we have been passing those same lies down to our children. Lies that say that to be successful and free you must own a house with a picket fence, own a car, dress a certain way, pay to attend a certain college, wear your hair teased approximately 2.5 inches above your head, successfully produce one male and one female spawn (in that order), and probably own a happy golden retriever that fetches your mail for you, too. What we have learned to believe about this “American Dream” is that what we own determines our worth.

The founding dream for America was based on a very limited, but still forward-thinking for the time, concept of peace and opportunity. During the 1920's, that dream changed from being about freedom to being all about consumerism. The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald illustrates how the American Dream transformed. Suddenly, it was all about money.

When I was 21 years old, I was living in Portland, Oregon and finishing up two degrees in Education. These were not degrees that I wanted, but they were the ones I thought I needed to be successful. I was also working in an office right in the middle of downtown. Every morning, I would begrudgingly get my ass out of bed, drag myself over to the mirror, and give myself a morning pep talk. “This is what life is all about, right? You are good, right? You are happy, right?”

Then I put on a corporate costume to play a game that I didn’t even want to play. Fake it until you make it.

The internal dialogue came with me on my commute. “I have everything I need to be happy. I am 21! I have an apartment, a car, a closet full of clothing and shoes, I can buy whatever I want or need. I have the freedom to do whatever I want or to go wherever I want to go….or do I?” The questions poked out from the shadows of my mind until I heard the ding of the elevator doors opening on my floor. Day after day.

Until one day when I arrive to work early, but my boss said I wasn’t early enough. To that, I thought, “Fuck this!”

Fuck this so-called Dream. If this is it, it is not for me. I quit and took a part-time barista job. I cut my hours in half, and cut my pay by more than half. In return, I gained freedom, sanity, and more than anything, I gained time to live. I traded money, materialism, and possessions for living.

Ten years later, this is still how I live and how I parent. My Rosalie and Elias are only 4 and 2, but I remind them that we don’t need much to be happy. They have a few small toys in their room, a basket downstairs, and that it is it. Rosalie is starting to understand that the less we buy, the more adventures we can go on, and she likes the adventures best.

The original American Dream was for freedom and peace. Whether it has ever been achievable is up for debate, but at least the concept has gone far off of the original track. As parents, we get to reteach the “Dream” to our children. We can teach them to accumulate, or we can teach them to value. We can live fast, or we can show slow. We can pass down our values by explaining why we buy less so we can prioritize time together. We get to teach them that peace and freedom are found in simplicity and that we’ll never reach an internal dream if we measure ourselves against someone else.

The Crowding Out Method
Lillie Duncan Writer

[Originally printed in the Simple Parenting Column by The Dispatch]

Last month, I had a conversation with a friend over text in which they explained how they only liked wearing colored socks. Ever since that conversation, I have seen advertisements on my phone via Facebook, Google, and Instagram for fancy socks, work socks, and even for a monthly colorful sock club.

This strange coincidence makes me giggle. By giggle, I mean that I have developed a slight conspiracy theory that someone is reading my conversations.

It may just be a theory, but I’m aware enough to know when someone is trying to sell me something. My four-year-old daughter Rosalie, though, has no idea that some of the cute Youtube shows she likes are made by influencers who are paid by brands and products looking to hook a younger audience.

Kids as young as two are spending nearly two hours a day looking at a screen. For American children eight and up, that number nearly quadruples to more than seven hours. Nearly all of this time staring at silly cartoons and colorful screens is chock-full of advertising. In the 80’s companies spent $100 million marketing to kids. Today, they’re spending nearly $17 billion. Whether on the television, a computer, tablet, or walking down the street, American children are inundated with advertising.

The data shows that marketing strategists are targeting our children, and even Advertising Executives admit it. In the article “How Marketers Target Kids,” former Advertising Executive Barbara A. Martino, said straight up, that advertisers are “relying on the kid to pester the mom to buy the product.”

This makes me mad, so I’m trying to protect my children. When I say “protect,” I don’t mean that I’m burning every TV they come into contact with and throwing my mobile devices out of the window. No, I’m just saying that we need to make things simple.

Let’s take advantage of every moment with our children and fill our time with things other than screen time. I like to call this the “crowding out method.” In my home, we fill our days with so much in-person face-to-face play, art time, music, mud pies, cookie making, food eating, and serving other people activities that, before you know it, no one has even twitched towards the tv remote.

During this time, I get to shepherd their little minds, helping them understand the world around us, including the inner workings of mobile devices, advertising, and marketing strategies. It is in this time together, not in front of a screen, that I am preparing them for the world that they will one day be free in; free from the bondage of advertisements, social norms, and social media, which is less social these days and more marketing anyhow.

So let’s be known for what we are for, not what we are against. Let’s crowd out what is ruining childhoods, and fill the time that magically opens up with memories that don’t include screens, remotes, or ads designed to direct us to the sugary cereal aisles. Let’s keep parenting simple.

Things to  do together instead of allowing marketers to get to your kids earlier and anywhere:

  • Bake cookies for your neighbor

  • Ask your other neighbor if you can wash their car for them.

  • Have a dance party.

  • Write cards or letters to friends or family.

  • Volunteer at an animal shelter.

  • Make a cardboard box house.

  • Go camping in your backyard.

  • Learn about a different culture then have an international dinner.

  • Visit the fire station.

  • Then play with fire. (just not without supervision)

  • Plant a garden.

  • Learn to use a compass.











For more resources visit Common Sense is a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to improving the lives of kids, families, and educators by providing the trustworthy information, education, and independent voice they need to thrive in a world of media and technology.

Just Write

I am terribly tender these days. Each season as the leaves start their phases of change and descend to the earth, and trees let go making space for their much needed and timely dormancy…I feel it too. I feel winter coming laying its quiet blanket over all living things. I feel it in and through me and there is nothing I can do about it.

I have best described it as a wave that rises up. You see it coming before you feel it. You can sense the retraction of air and the pull of the sea as it prepares to rage up and crash forward. It is an act of nature and just like the change of season…there is nothing you can do about it.

For the past few years, I have warred against it though. I have fought the feelings. In some years I have disconnected to not feel what is coming “I am fine, I am fine, I am fine…” In other years I have been overcome with grief and feeling with no hope, no guidance. It has felt much like being pulled under a wave and instead of surrendering, instead of letting nature run its course. I was fighting the wrong fight.

I was fighting against myself and against my God instead of fighting for myself and fighting the Good Fight for the sake of others, for the sake of my story.

Since I was a child I have been plagued with this concept of purpose. I pondered the purpose of most things around me: life, joy, and pain. There are some things we never grow out of, as though we think we should, as though that is the goal. Instead, there are things we grow into through the means of the story we are given.

All of the trees barely have any leaves left. Christmas lights are everywhere. Songs of joy are being sung everywhere I turn and yet I sit here with tears because I feel, Oh how I feel so deeply. A few days ago I wept at the feet of my Christmas tree right after I hung an ornament with my brother's name on it. I wept because the moment was beautiful. I wept because it hurt so much at the same time. I wept because of the balance of life and death, in this world and in me.

My weeping was a prayer, a wordless prayer and God answered with an impression deep on my heart…

”Write. Just write. Keep writing. Let others in on the interworking of your heart and mind and journey. Be a voice. Just keep writing….”

Lillie DuncanComment
We Are Oceans
Lillie Duncan

The more I evolve in the knowledge of self, others, God, and wisdom the more I realize the possibility of mystery outweighs the possibility of certainty. To delight in the unknown bares more joy than to hold life and others tightly bound by lines and expectations.
There are moments where the finality of a moment, that fleeting breath of my body, invites me to confess I have no clue what the day really holds. Today, tomorrow, or the next. Perhaps, the true key to fullness is fluidity. To hold everything so loosely, whether it is happiness, pain, beauty, or trials. It is life, not passing me by but yet, passing through me, evolving me.
Who I am, who you are... we really are not that different in this manner. Who you are now isn’t who you used to be. Who you are now will not be the same person that wakes tomorrow, the next, or even a year from now.
We are oceans. Tides constantly returning to the depth and mystery of life that beckons for our surrender. Internal growth riding on the waves of uncertainty.

Lillie DuncanComment
In Pursuit of Rest
Lillie Duncan- David Whyte Ireland Tour-8.jpg

[Originally published in the Simple Parenting Column by The Dispatch]

“There is more to life than increasing its speed.” ~ Gandhi

Recently, I dedicated 20 hours of travel, a few thousand dollars, and over six thousand miles of distance to ensure some rest for my soul. After recovering from a full day of travel and jet lag, I took an old-fashioned paper map, my little French car, and drove myself to the west coast of Ireland. I had no signal, no internet, no connection to anyone, and no one was with me.

I could barely remember the last time I spent more than 24 hours alone. Hell, I could barely remember the last time I spent more than 12 hours alone. Being a mother of two small children, ages two and four, as well as an entrepreneur, means I’m always on: on it, on call, on top of things, there to help, there to clean up, there to pick up, there to give, but hardly am I there for myself in the way that I need.

I let myself get lost walking around a beautiful coastal village. Everything came to life: the movement of the grass, the sound of cows in the background, the sway of a horse’s tail, the buzz of mayflies, the scent of wildflowers, the sensation of the sea in the air, my own thoughts—nature’s fine details seemed so much brighter once my phone was put away and dimmed from my mind. I even took a film camera so I wouldn’t get distracted by the small convenience of a digital camera or my phone.

For a time I forgot that I was a mother, an artist, a business owner. For a moment in time, I just existed. Time went along slowly, matching the sunset that tends to last for hours during early summer in Ireland. As I found my way to some hidden coastal walk along part of the cliffs of Moher, I felt rested and full—honestly, two things that the rhythm of my life back home had not given me. I was exhausted in ways I couldn’t even express until I had experienced the rest I needed, in comparison.

Our culture likes to impress upon us that happiness is the ultimate pursuit, but it sure as hell doesn’t come free—so what is the cost?

Wayne Muller, author of Sabbath: Finding Rest, Renewal, and Delight in Our Busy Lives writes,

“When we live without listening to the timing of things, when we live and work in twenty-four-hour shifts without rest—we are on wartime, mobilized for battle. Yes, we are strong and capable people, we can work without stopping, faster and faster, electric lights making artificial day so the whole machine can labor without ceasing. But remember: no living thing lives like this. There are greater rhythms, seasons and hormonal cycles and sunsets and moonrises and great movements of seas and stars. We are part of the creation story, subject to all its laws and rhythms.”

I laid upon the highest point of this cliff, reading those words and thinking to myself. As I rested there longer I realized, perhaps for the first time, just how tired I was. Not just physically tired but soul-tired. Tired of being on war-time, tired of the over-stimulation in life, tired of the endless pursuit, tired of the lie in our culture, tired of hiding grief, just tired. I need rest—and not just once a year. I need it daily. I don’t need to spend a ton of money or travel the world to find it. It is offered to me every day: a gift, seldom taken.

It was the time I took in nature to rest that made me see how full I already was, that just maybe what I really needed was time to sit in gratitude. There is nothing more in my life that I truly need except for rest and the time to say thank you.

It doesn’t have to take a trip across the world or thousands of dollars to accept the gift of rest that nature continuously has to offer. It is offered to us for free, every day. I think it is a matter beginning a conversation, first with ourselves, then with those around us, including our children. What if our pursuit in life was fullness and rest? What would that look like? What things would change? What type of rhythms do we need to be the best versions of ourselves? What type of rhythm do our children need to keep the balance of rest and play?

As we become brave by asking the hard questions, we invite awareness into our lives, and ultimately into the lives of our children. We model how to live and how to rest. At some level, what is important to us becomes what is important to them. As you explore what it is you need to be the best you in this world, I implore you to look to nature, where rest and solitude wait for you.

Lillie DuncanComment
You are not your weaknesses

We were intricately created with great strengths and intentional purpose. It is easy to forget this and hard to really identify those giftings or strengths at times. In my own journey of self growth, my mind would basically collect all of the feedback the world gave me to identify what my weaknesses were. My philosophy was… identify weakness, eliminate the weakness, then I would be able to continue my personal growth. The huge problem with this is that I was letting other people balance my strengths and weaknesses for me. In all honesty, it left me feeling defeated at times, until I gained the understanding I needed.

We all hear it to some think too much, feel too much, too motivated, too laid back,  not enough of this, or not enough of that. Just fill in the blank. Perhaps those things that are intricately unique to you are your best giftings to this world.

As a culture, I firmly believe we don’t spend enough time celebrating the strengths and giftings of those around us. We don’t speak life into people nearly enough. We don’t look at people and appreciate how they are different from us, instead we set expectations that everyone (to some degree, whether conscious or subconscious) should think and act like ourselves. And when they don’t, the words we use can break others.

A few weeks ago I was part of a intellectual conversation about that created a paradigm shift for me. This individual introduced me to Clifton Strengthsfinder. Maybe you have heard of it, I know it is used a lot in corporate and business settings but it is profoundly beneficial in all areas of life. He told me a fascinating story… during the 1950’s there was a study done using 6,000 students. These students were given a speed reading test with no prior teaching. They took the data for comparison, taught these students how to speed read, then tested them again...the results were fascinating! For the students that were not naturally good at speed reading...their results went up minimal BUT for the few students that naturally read around 300 words per minute, after they were taught skills on how to speed read, their results went up to almost 2,900 words per minute. The greatest gains in human development are based on investment in what people do naturally...areas or talent, strengths, gifts.

I thought about this study for a long time. It puzzled me and went against every notion I have worked mindset has always been focus on the weakness. Fix it and you will grow but in reality, when we identify our natural, God given strengths and invest in maturing them and using them, we grow exponentially. We are then in the best place for God to use us as He created. We have the ability for true success and accomplishment.

It’s beautiful and freeing.

I loved this quote from the StrengthsFinder page:
All people have a unique combination of talents, knowledge, and skills -- strengths -- that they use in their daily lives to do their work, achieve their goals, and interact with others. Gallup has found that when people understand and apply their strengths, the effect on their lives and work is transformational. People who use their strengths every day are six times more likely to be engaged in their work and three times more likely to say they have an excellent quality of life.”

After I took the test I was a little surprised to see certain items show up as my strengths. I actually had to wrestle through the majority of my top strengths. I will explain why in a moment…

When Gallup was doing all of this research all of the strengths were narrowed down to 34 strengths, and from there are four main domains in which these strengths fit under:  
Relationship Building
and Strategic Thinking.

When you get your results back, the focus is typically on the top 5. People can have a a few strengths from each domain, it varies for most people...except me. Mine was extremely heavy on the Strategic Thinking!

This is the part that stumped me...I had come to view my intense thinking as a weakness. I have been told over and over that I was too intense, too deep, too complex, think too much, it is something that always hurt me because I felt that this is how I was created. I saw it as my greatest weakness, the more I tried to suppress these things the more it burdened me. I had no idea that within this domain of thinking holds my greatest gift to the people and world around me. And more than that, this is how the Lord of All creation designed me.

I have been passionate about sharing this with people because it offers a level of freedom and grace within relationships and connections. I love that these are used in a corporate setting, I hope that more and more people will invest into this test for their own personal growth. It offers such a grace and appreciation to look at someone and say, I see that this is what you are gifted in, I may not be gifted the same, but I can appreciate your gift and praise your gift.

It gives an opportunity to speak life into others.


Lillie DuncanComment