This is something I suffered from for a chunk of my life, and oddly enough it really only subsided once I started making some real money. Before, I was busy trying to convince the world that I had made it, that I was stacking cash and could do what I wanted. And I was doing it with $37.00 in my bank account. I lived in a great part of town and hung out at the nicest health club in the area. Truth is, I had a room mate and I worked at the health club. Details, details….
As with a lot of things I write about, this is straight from my own experience. And, in retrospect, I seem to be a slow learner. Eventually I figure things out, but there seems, at least when looking backward over the course of my life, that I should have learned these lessons sooner, but just didn’t. Which is why I write a blog, do public speaking and have my own phone app on these exact topics. I am trying to shorten the learning curve of others. If I would have been in my current life’s position ten years ago, imagine where I would/could be right now. How many more people I could have impacted sooner. That is the frustrating part for me, I look around and know that I could have been farther down this path sooner, but I am not. In some ways, the path and the timeline are perfect, and I could not have done this any sooner, because each experience I have lived contributed to me getting right here right now and cannot be skipped over. But still…I wonder…
When I look around the world today, there are so many examples of what I am referring to about the disease of validation. Everyone wants so badly to fit in, keep up, and be one of the cool kids. If you haven’t had the benefit of going to a ten year high school reunion yet, you will know what I am about to say first hand once you do. Many of the “cool kids” from high school peaked in high school. That was the highlight of their lives, and now they are paying the price of having rich parents and having a good appreciate for things that aren’t just handed to them. Or some of the athletes that were popular didn’t make it in the college ranks and didn’t turn Pro, so they are shells of their former self that you think of in your head when you say their name. Ironically, you know who is doing the best these days? Most likely its the “nerds” who focused on school, did well in college and toiled in social obscurity for much of their lives. To some degree, they shunned the empty attention that popularity in high school breeds, and just put their heads down and worked. Now they are the ones with the good jobs and stable, successful lives. They show up at the reunion totally transformed, and they walk around laughing at everyone who used to make fun of them.
Realistically speaking, we as a society do a lot of things wrong. We faun over pretty people and athletes and practically ignore those who become teachers and other important part of the infrastructure of the world. We are all so focused on the outward trappings of wealth that we drive cars with $900 monthly payments, we live in homes that we can barely afford and we buy things now that steal money from our future selves. We trade the long range, solid plan for the instant gratification of looking cool right now. We spend money to impress people we don’t even know. Its crazy, and it has gotten so out of control I am not sure, other than through an outright economic reset, how we change the trajectory we are on.
So, I guess you are going to need to make a choice on how you want to live your life, and in some cases the example you set for your kids. Do you want to work a job you hate, for more hours than you are compensated for, in order to fund a lifestyle that is not what you want it to be? Or do you have the internal strength and character to do it differently, to live modestly and focus on experiences and saving for the future versus buying stuff right now? Can you live to set yourself up for an easier future, maybe distant future? Or do you fall prey to the disease of validation now, where you need to have a Tesla in the driveway and a house with rooms in it that you never need? Do you feel the need to be seen at the nightclub of the month, and the sporting events, do you need to buy the latest gear and clothes? These trends change every few months, and so you are constantly spending money to keep up. Is it worth it?
Think about it…do you really need external validation to feel comfortable with who you are? The answer should be a resounding NO. Maybe you even thought that at first. But really think about it; are you living in a manner that reflects that? Or did you just give a knee-jerk answer that you thought was the correct one? I would say an awful lot of people did the latter example. And if you happen to get it, how long does it last? For two or three of the 84 months worth of car payments? There is no doubt that we are influenced by the society in which we live, but to what degree is the real question? Can you really do your own thing, and break free from that trap? I hope so, because that is a much healthier way to be. I have been fortunate to have lived my life chasing a dream and amassing experiences that I will never forget in most cases. Yes, I drove a better car than I could afford at the time by leasing it instead of buying. I lived in a better zip code by having a roommate to afford the rent. I wracked up credit card bills by spending money I didn’t have. Guilty as charged. But I did eventually learn. My hope is that you can just learn now, and skip that dreaded “eventually” part.
Long gone are the days of driving the sweet sports car that I leased, now I own (outright) a six year old SUV that is “Soccer Mom” reliable instead of cool looking. It is a great vehicle, and I took it on a 1200 mile road trip over the summer, getting WAY better gas mileage and having the room needed for ten days of fly fishing all over Colorado than my sports car would ever dream of. This is how I want to live my life. Sure, I’d like a Tesla Plaid, but I am not going to pay the cost of this vehicle just to be seen in it. The fishing trip with my Dad had way more value to it than driving that car ever could. And my home is a two bedroom, nothing fancy, in a middle class neighborhood kind of place. My wife and I don’t need a bigger place, even though we could easily afford it. We could assume that our financial status will never change, and move into a neighborhood with bigger homes and a guard gate out front. But that is not us. We live below our means, and do things we want to do, like traveling. If things go according to plan next year, we will be traveling together out of state at least three times, maybe more. One of those trips will be to Hawaii, another to Chicago, and I am hoping to get some more out of state fishing trips in as well. Now THAT is the lifestyle we want, and living the way we do affords us these opportunities, all of which we will pay cash for….
No where it is written that you have to live your life according to other’s rules. Society’s laws, yes, but the rules and how you map out your life is ENTIRELY up to you Don’t fall into the traps and find yourself $70,000 in debt like I did. Be smarter than I was, and live a life that brings you value and joy, not outward trappings of yet to be earned success. Once you become successful you are likely to start finding your wealth anyway, so why don’t you do what the majority of millionaires do, and drive an older car, save and invest, and build a life with options and value. Avoid the over-leveraged, house poor slave to the grind that far too many people become trapped by. Give yourself breathing room financially by not living beyond your means, and get a year’s salary in the bank as soon as you can. This alone will bring you freedom and piece of mind that a condo or a new car never could.