Allow me to preface this blog by stating that I have never wanted to be average, middle of the pack, or a face in the crowd. As I have gotten older I have lost my penchant for being famous and recognizable everywhere I go, but that doesn’t mean the new bar is mediocrity. It means I want to be great at things and still be able to live a life that offers privacy and no real reason to try to cancel.
Here is a little foreshadowing for the main points I am going to cover in this blog. If you live in the “bottom one-third”, you are vulnerable. These are the people that get let go during a recession, get passed over repeatedly when new opportunities or promotions are available. If you are a bottom third income earner, your life is likely difficult, and you live paycheck to paycheck. One unforeseen financial issue and you are facing a major problem. If you have health issues that lump you into the bottom third of most people, this is a major issue as well.
I skipped over what some may consider an obvious “bottom third” example, and that is life as a student. I may be biased on this one, so in full disclosure, I was not a standout student. I didn’t have a good understanding of who I was and where I wanted to go in my first two years of high school. If I did, I think I would have applied myself better. When I did hone in on something that I was very passionate about, I applied every ounce of my being into it, and I excelled. But school wasn’t my thing; I knew I struggled with math, and the idea of force-feeding me concepts I was never going to use other than to pass the next test I had to take was gut wrenching for me. I hated it, and I am still bitter about it today; I think our educational system needs a major overhaul, but that is a topic for another blog.
Here is the thing…ALL of this is within your power to change. Yes…ALL OF IT. As I have stated before, I don’t care where you started from, everyone has the chance to improve their lot in life. It is NOT the hand you are dealt, it is how you play those cards that matters. Alright, let’s get to unpacking these points…
The first point I will start with is going to assume we are into the working phase of your life, after school. Regardless of your level of education, once you hit the working world the rules of life hit you in the face like a right hook. We were not taught some very basic things in school that you need to know when transitioning to this next phase of life. Things like how unfair life and work can be, how you really are the low person on the totem pole when you start, and how to navigate your way out of this role as soon as possible. Whether you are an apprentice bricklayer or a new employee at a finance firm, it is similar territory. You don’t have a clue what you are doing, and no one know what you are capable of, including you. You’ll get harassed to some degree, given extra stuff to do, not given as much help or instruction as you may need, etc. By some degree, this is by design. It happened to everyone else who came before you, and in some ways it is a great way to weed out those who are gonna make the cut anyway.
The sooner you can get yourself off the bottom rung of the ladder, the better. You need to strive to get out of the danger zone, that bottom one third. These people are expendable, they are the first to get culled out of the herd when there is a need for cut backs or other cost saving measures. You will continue to get the crap assignments, the worst sales territories, and the weekend shifts. Nothing guarantees your future, but living in the bottom third can guarantee you live in a vulnerable position. If your goal is to get a job, show up and do the bare minimum for your paycheck, you are off to a really bad start. You have bottom third mentality. You’d better change that quick or decisions that are gonna sting will be made for you…
How do you reverse or change this? Here are a couple of tips: Do everything with a smile on your face. Fake it if you have to, but don’t let anyone see you unhappy about your role. If you are new and light on experience, understand that you are learning key things that are necessary for other roles in the company, even if those things are how to “return the favor” to someone else when you do move up. Next, ask for more. Go the extra mile, stay later, show up earlier. Whatever it takes to prove that you are willing to do more, do it. BUT HERE IS THE THING… this is a temporary approach. If this behavior is not recognized and rewarded, take your work ethic elsewhere. This is not meant to be a default setting, one where you get the crap assignments and shifts, and don’t improve your lot in life. This is meant to be a short term strategy to pay off over the long haul. DO NOT LOSE SIGHT OF THAT.
If your health rates in the bottom third of Americans, you are in serous trouble. According to the latest statistics, 41% of the country is obese, and the total shows a whopping 74% of people are at least overweight (if not obese). This is directly from the CDC website and it is from 2022. Think about that, the U.S. has a major problem of excess, and it shows. Everything from food deserts and costly healthy food versus junk food, to poor education on nutrition and health, we are clearly the after-affect of a society where life has been easier than almost everywhere in the world. We are lazy, fat, and unhealthy. And one of the worst things being done is to try to normalize that someone who is morbidly obese. Changing the definition of healthy does not change these stats below:
People who are obese have higher rates of medical problems. The chance of problems such as heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and premature death increases dramatically as weight increases. Morbidly obese men between the ages of 25 and 35 have a 12-fold greater risk of dying prematurely compared to people of the same age who are of normal weight.
You need to get into the top 20% of health to improve the quality of your life as well as avoid the typical health concerns associated with being in the bottom (in this case) two-thirds. I am talking about basic things, like playing with your kids and grandkids, walking to safety if your car dies on the highway, etc. This is not running a marathon that I am advocating for you to do, I am talking about basic functions that need to be possible without taxing yourself mightily. Get a dog and start walking every day. A walk around the block twice a day will do wonders to start with. If you’re in rough shape at the moment, start there. I hike with my wife frequently; when I first started, I was struggling to get up the trail to the top of the mountain, Now I do it with relative ease and at a much faster clip. It is all relative, so start where you are and go from there.
And when it comes to financial health, if you are in the bottom thirty percent of wage earners, your life is probably fairly difficult. According to the Pew Research Institute, the average annual income for a lower middle class family is $29,963. Think about that number, that is about $2,500 BEFORE taxes per month, and when you remove taxes at 20%, you are left with just over $1850 per month. If rent is $1,000 (extremely cheap in today’s economy) and you have a car payment of $350, you have about $500 left per month to buy food, gas, and pay your internet and cell phone bill. THAT is a tough existence, and it is ultra vulnerable, as you are unlikely to have the capacity to have built any kind of safety net of savings. If your car needs a repair, you get sick and miss a week of work, etc., anything can quickly put you in serious financial peril.
Here is some good news…ALL OF THIS IS FIXABLE. Nothing is a life sentence if you don’t allow it to be. I know plenty of people personally who have come from real poverty to do well in life. I come from a humble background, small town farm boy life. I didn’t know we were struggling until I finally made some money myself and would struggle with spending money even though I had it. I would assume it would go away and I would not be able to earn more. I worried about money far more than I realized, it was a weight on my shoulders to far more of a degree than I ever admitted. But I did something about it, I went back to school and got a degree online WHILE I was working about 70 hours a week doing medical sales. I took my laptop with me to the hospital and in between orthopedic and trauma cases on Saturday and Sunday I would do a week’s worth of work and save it. Then during the week I could come home after a 14 hour day and log into my classes, post a few comments and assignments and get credit for the class. I didn’t graduate first in my class, but guess what, my diploma reads Graduate nonetheless.
Having a degree to put on my resume was an expensive endeavor, but it opened up a few doors and gave more opportunities that I may not have gotten otherwise. It kept me in the mix when sending my resume in for consideration for a job. It got me to the table, I had to take it from there. But again, it gave me a shot at a higher paying job and I don’t regret borrowing the low interest money to do it.
Having been there, I am speaking from experience when I say that you do not want to be in the bottom thirty percent of any kind of measure. Your future life depends on what you do now, and the choices you make every day moving forward. If you are gonna hide your pain in fantasy football and alcohol-fueled weekends, you are going to pay the price. This will delay or greatly limit altogether any type of financial freedom, your choice of life partners, where you live and how you raise your kids. It is not going to be easy when you occupy space below that 33% mark. Elevate yourself out of this group and move on. Yes, you may end up leaving a few friends behind, but that is a necessary sacrifice to do the best for yourself. If they truly want what is best for you, they will willingly let you go, or they will help and elevate themselves in the process.
PREPARE for a better version of life. And I am not talking about getting that Lambo in the driveway, I am referencing an easier overall lifestyle, one with options and mobility. Build a life that allows you choices, freedoms that others only dream about, and a level of security and peace of mind that is tough to live without once you have touched it. All of this is possible with enough of the right effort. You can’t go rob a bank to solve your problem, otherwise that new lifestyle you have acquired may feel a little “confined” if you know what I mean. You need to earn your way out, learn the lessons along the way, and avoid those mistakes and thought traps moving forward. You can do it, many people seemingly less qualified or capable than you have done it, so what are you waiting for? This is not going to get better on it’s own, and no one is coming to rescue you. GET TO WORK.