Courtney Martin Discusses Reinventing The American Dream

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How do you define success? It’s a question Courtney Martin asked herself and others while writing her book, The New Better Off: Reinventing the American Dream, which attempts to help all of us think about redefining our measures of success. She encourages us to “reject the tired narratives about success” because our motives and lives will change when we shift our focus, instead, to community.

The New Better Off most succinctly is realizing that our quality of life is more determined by the quality of our relationships than by our own individual achievements as we’ve historically thought about it,” Courtney says. “It’s more about meaning, relationships, community and fulfillment – as opposed to status and stuff.”

The book asks questions many of us have asked ourselves, and it challenges what many of us have come to accept as the status quo. One of our favorite lines in Courtney’s book is: “I don’t want to get a good job, a house with a white picket fence, 2.5 kids and then just go to sleep.” Host Polina Selyutin speaks with Courtney about this desire for meaning, purpose and community in our lives and a fear of where the traditional path can lead us in episode 46 of I Want Her Job: The Podcast.

Other topics of discussion include how the traditional 9-to-5 job structure created in the ‘50’s for those without caretaking responsibilities simply doesn’t work in the world we live in today. (For example, by the year 2020 it’s estimated that half the workforce will be freelance, she cites.)

We also discuss her decision to put community first by living in a co-housing community in Oakland, Calif., where individuals practice radical hospitality by dining together weekly, sharing homeownership activities and helping one another. And if you aren’t the co-housing type, Courtney shares ideas on how similar principals of community housing can be easily integrated into our lives – from hikes with family and friends to group dinners. After all, Courtney says, the relationships in our lives are the things that make us the happiest.

Topics Discussed In Today’s Show:

  • Scholarship To Internship: Growing up in Colorado Springs, Colo., Courtney made a cross-country move to New York City to attend Barnard College on a lacrosse scholarship. She ended up quitting lacrosse so she could expand her passion for journalism – interning at the now-defunct JANE magazine.
  • On Developing Her Writing: “I got steeped in what it meant to be a writer – particularly what it meant to be a strong woman who thinks differently about the world at Barnard College as an undergrad,” she says.
  • Life Inspiring Art: Courtney received her first book deal at age 26 and has been writing ever since. Writing is how she processes the world, she shares, and she writes the books she feels she needs to read herself. “I use my life as the material and the inspiration for the questions I want to ask, and then I do a lot of reporting using my journalistic background to give the answers I’m seeking a backbone and research,” she says.
  • More Stuff, Less Happiness?: “The more stuff we have, the more energy we have to expend on that stuff – keeping it up, giving it away, etc.,” Courtney says. “The less stuff we have the more time we can spend doing things we love.”
  • On Chasing Money: Courtney discusses how chasing a lucrative path can oftentimes lead individuals to feeling lonely. The more time we spend chasing a check, the less time we have to spend with our families and our communities, as well as exploring personal interests that fulfill us. “We’ve been on auto-pilot in America in so many ways. We think the more money we can make the better,” she says. “We need to think more critically about the bargains we make when we make more money. Sometimes making more money means less time with those we love [and] less time doing things we love.”
  • Co-Housing Communities: The San Francisco Bay Area is the epicenter of the co-housing movement, and Courtney considers her decision to live in a co-housing community with her family as one of her best for leading a happier life. “We all live in a centrally-located area, but we all have our own homes with everything a usual home would have – our own kitchen, bedrooms, bathrooms, living rooms, etc. But, in addition, we have a shared industrial-sized kitchen and eating area, shared living space, shared tool shed, bike shed and exercise room,” she says. “Two nights a week we eat meals together and one Saturday a month we work on the land together … Beyond that, we have this notion that we’re there for each other … For a working parent, living in this kind of community is amazing.”
  • On Community Nourishment: Courtney says, “We just expect too much from one another … It’s hard to meet all of one another’s physical and emotional needs … People just need wider circles of support,” when referring to the current societal expectation that our spouses and immediate nuclear families should provide everything that we, as individuals, need. In a co-housing community, Courtney explains, one can more easily find people to share struggles, to talk, to socialize, or to get the assistance you need (like childcare!) if your immediate family is unavailable.
  • Think On This: In her book, Courtney boldly asks: “Did we trade in our courage for responsibility?”
  • What’s Next: “I have a bit of a book hangover, which always happens to me after I finish and promote a book, where I say, ‘I’m never going to write a book again.’ But that is absolutely not true. I will do it again!” Courtney says. In the meantime check out her weekly column at On Being. “I think that’s where the seeds of my next book will form,” she hints.
  • Connect: Follow Courtney on Twitter, visit her website and watch her TED talk, “This Isn’t Her Mother’s Feminism” here.
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