I was sitting in a meeting a few weeks ago with some folks in senior management. Two of them were discussing the impact of some of the decisions that were being made that day and one says to the other “this needs to work because you and I aren’t capable of retiring yet”. The other responded “well, we could retire, but we sure wouldn’t be able to maintain this kind of lifestyle”! At this statement there was general laughter around the room, because of COURSE the lifestyle mentioned was the one that everyone desires, right?
As I looked around the room, I realized that these were all high-powered people working in a couple of industry-shaping businesses. They had been working themselves up to their positions for many years, and are good at what they do. But their expectations of what their lifestyles should look like (or perhaps what others‘ expectations of them are) are going to keep them enslaved to their paychecks for just as long as the next guy.
Over the next few days I kept thinking about that word, “lifestyle”, and the far-reaching impact that it has on our lives (and finances). Obviously there are tangible, material differences in the way people choose to live their lives. But there are also other things to consider when we think about how we want to live our lives. Here are a few that came to mind as I thought about how my lifestyle looks.
Our lifestyles are maintained by our job and career decisions. Higher paying jobs typically require longer hours, or having a cell phone or tablet attached to you at all times, which distract you during (what should be) non-working hours. We facilitate our jobs by living in debt, many times, because saving up for a home before getting a job is really difficult.
Our culture screams at us “yes, you’re always short on time, but so is everyone else, so don’t worry about it”. We live hectic lives with long days and short nights. We eat poorly because we don’t have time (see above) to make proper meals or shop for quality food. We eat fast food because we’re “on the go” and try to make up for it with roller-coaster dieting and exercise routines, which also steal our time.
For most of the working world, our job controls our schedule and not the other way around. We’ve made a commitment to being on time every time, working a full day, and asking permission well in advance if we want a vacation or personal day. And usually the more high-paying the job is, the more we’re tethered to the office or our customers. As the pay goes up, so do the expectations.
It’s amazing how the company we keep influences our daily decisions, especially when it comes to spending our money. We pay close attention to what our friends buy and maintain, and we feel the need to earn their trust by living similar lifestyles. Peer pressure in high school wasn’t even close to being as expensive as peer pressure as adults! Our friends influence the houses we choose to live in, improvements we make to those houses, cars we are willing to drive, events we attend, schools we send our kids to, clothes we purchase, and much more.
We quickly find, after we experience our consumer-driven society for a few years, that money (and stuff) doesn’t buy happiness. Yet on a daily basis we succumb to the notion that we can do just that. We so quickly will spend 8 hours of our life energy on a new pair of running shoes that look awesome, so we’ll look better when we go to the gym (after eating so much fast food). We don’t stop to look around and really understand what it is that provides us joy in life. Not just a temporary high of happiness, but a joy that lasts because it’s not influenced by the “stuff” we own.
It’s Worth Thinking About
Obviously I’m not advocating quiting your job today, or eliminating your friendships, based on how our money is being spent. What I am saying is that it’s a concept that is worth thinking about. Most of the poor decisions we make on a day-by-day or moment-by-moment basis could be improved if we just put some forethought into them. Painting a picture in your mind of what your goals are for your life and lifestyle would be a great start.