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Social scientist takes fast track to American dream

/ Source: TODAY

Adam Shepard, 25, holds degrees in business management and Spanish, but in his heart, he's a sociologist. In his self-published book, "Scratch Beginnings," Shepard recounts the time he spent living in Charleston, S.C. He started with $25, a sleeping bag, a tarp and the clothing on his back. Within a year, he had a job, a car and a furnished apartment. He explains how he achieved the "American dream" so quickly in his book. Here's an excerpt:

Introduction: Setting Up My mom is nervous. My pops seems more excited about it than I am. My brother anxiously awaits my departure so he can take possession of my bed and all of my clothes after I leave.

My friend Sana is stimulated by curiosity, while Matt thinks I may have simply gone mad.

And maybe he is right. I am very frustrated.

I am frustrated with the whining and complaining. Frustrated with the materialistic individualism that seems to be shaping every thirteen-year-old to be the next teen diva. Frustrated with the lethargy and lack of drive. Frustrated at always hearing how it “used to be” when people talk about the good ol’ days in the same breath as their perceived demise of America. I am really, really frustrated with the poor attitudes that seem to have swept over my peer group. Frustrated with hearing “I don’t have” rather than “Let’s see what I can do with what I do have.”So, I have decided to attempt to demonstrate that it doesn’t have to be that way.There are many ways that I could go about this. I could work my way through years and years of school, and when the time came for me to write my dissertation, I could turn my teachings into a book perhaps worthy of being published that talked about the science of change or the science of attitude. I would write a comma and PhD next to my name on the cover and, based on my experience, people would know that whatever I had to say was inevitably true. I could become the subject of a psychological case study on change that would highlight the importance of adopting a new way of thinking. I would find myself at the mercy of one of those aforementioned PhDs, hoping that he or she knew enough to use my talents — or lack thereof — productively.Or, I can take matters into my own hands. And that’s what I have decided to do. I have had the idea in my pocket, itching to come out, a plan that I have been toying with since high school. And now that I am fresh out of college, broke, and bordering on homelessness anyway, it seems like as good a time as any to let it out. Here’s my premise:I am going to start almost literally from scratch with one 8’ x 10’ tarp, a sleeping bag, an empty gym bag, $25, and the clothes on my back. Via train, I will be dropped at a random place somewhere in the southeastern United States that is not in my home state of North Carolina. I have 365 days to become free of the realities of homelessness and become a “regular” member of society. After one year, for my project to be considered successful, I have to possess an operable automobile, live in a furnished apartment (alone or with a roommate), have $2,500 in cash, and, most importantly, I have to be in a position in which I can continue to improve my circumstances by either going to school or starting my own business. There are a few ground rules that I need to establish in an effort to keep some critics at bay. On paper, my previous life doesn’t exist for this one year. I cannot use any of my previous contacts, my college education, or my credit history. For the sake of this project, I have a high school diploma, and I will have recently moved to my new town. Additionally, I cannot beg for money or use services that others are not at liberty to use.Aside from illegally sleeping in a park or under a bridge, I am free to do whatever I need to do within the confines of the law in order to accomplish my goal. Well, that all sounds simple enough. Now for a few disclaimers on my behalf.First of all, I feel it is necessary to establish that I have no political affiliation — right wing, left wing, conservative, liberal, Republican, or Democrat. For the next year, they’re all the same to me. Socioeconomically speaking, my story is a rebuttal to Barbara Ehrenreich’s Nickel and Dimed and Bait and Switch, the books that spoke on the death of the American Dream. With investigative projects of her own, Ehrenreich attempted to establish that working stiffs are doomed to live in the same disgraceful conditions forever. I resent that theory, and my story is a search to evaluate if hard work and discipline provide any payoff whatsoever or if they are, as Ehrenreich suggests, futile pursuits. Second, I am not an author or a journalist. I only mention this to establish that my intent in this project is not to produce a divine work of literature where carefully comprised prose seems to dance sublimely off the page. I’m just a regular guy, so whatever you read is straight from my thoughts to the paper. In a way, I believe that my untapped mind will add to the value of my writing. After all, I’m going into this without making any assumptions, which means unbiased reporting. Third, it is important that I note that evaluators of this project are going to call me on all sorts of technicalities. Whether it be the absence of a family to tend to, as is the case for many in the real world living in similar circumstances, or my innate sense of adventure or my overall health that plays to my advantage — all are fair criticisms and worth noting. However, my hope is that these thoughts will not take away from the tedious task at hand or the theme that I intend to represent.I also want to point out that I am not going to attempt to strengthen my story by flooding you with a wide range of statistics and information from books or magazines or other periodicals. While this is certainly a research project of sorts and there are points to be made, I feel it is important that I draw only from my own experience.

As you’re going to see throughout the course of my journey, this is not a modern-day rags-to-riches, get-rich-quick story. “I made a million, and you can too!” Nope. That’s too cliché, and, ironically, too unrealistic. Mine is the story of rags-to-fancier-rags. I’m not an extraordinary person performing extraordinary feats. I don’t have some special talent that I can use to “wow” prospective employers. I’m average. My story is very basic, simple. My story is about the attitude of success. My goal is to better my lot and to provide a stepping-stone over the next 365 days for everything else I want to accomplish in my life. I aim to find out if the American Dream is still alive, or if it has, in fact, been drowned out by a clashing of the classes.So, here we go. You, my audience:

The dad who can use this book when his twelve-year-old is complaining about not having the latest video game. The fifteen-year-old who doesn’t quite understand why he or she has to study so hard and take “all of these worthless classes that I’ll never use in real life.”The recent college grad who — drowned in student loans and limited opportunities (and, of course, living at home) — is searching for any little bit of strength and direction. The seventy-two-year-old grandfather who already has a firm grasp on the concept of my story and has doubtless lived many of these same experiences. The thirty-two-year-old mother of two who is working multiple jobs just to get by. The one making the sacrifice so her children can have a shot at the American Dream that she gave up on long ago.You, the underdog, sitting behind the eight ball, wondering when your number is going to be called.And me, with $25 and my personal belongings on my back, ready for the craziest adventure of my life …

Excerpted from "Scratch Beginnings" by Adam Shepard. Copyright 2008. All rights reserved. No portion may be reprinted without written permission from the author.