As I continue looking deeply at the world around me and the life that I choose for myself, I’ve identified several areas of what’s considered “normal life” that I find false, problematic and just plain wrong. This isn’t necessarily new territory for me, I’ve always felt a strong sense that the world around me often doesn’t align with my personal beliefs and values. When I was younger I tried my best to fall in line and live the way I was expected to live. I focused on my career, I made and spent ridiculous money on frivolous stuff, I bought homes and filled them with all the trappings of a successful young professional. But along the way I’ve matured a bit and learned a lot and I’ve come to the realization that my instincts were correct all along. The prescribed and expected path of life is 100% NOT for me. I have found that the American Dream is just that, a dream. We fool ourselves into believing that the myth we’ve been sold is real, that if we go to college, work hard, make lots of money, buy a home and retire with a large bank account we will find happiness and fulfillment. But like any myth it’s a fantasy, a fairy tale and the reality of chasing that life falls far short of the dream we’re expecting.
Myth #1: College is Mandatory to live a successful life
I finished high school and a year of community college but do not have a degree and yet I worked my way up the corporate ladder into several well-paid leadership positions. Having a college degree is mandatory for some careers, obviously. Physicians, attorneys, scientists, engineers – these are all careers where formal education is a must. But high school kids these days are sold this false idea that without a degree their life will be a certain failure and this could not be further from the truth. Recent studies show that 40% of college graduates take positions outside their course of study that don’t require a degree, and 70% of college grads leave school in significant debt. So millions of young adults leave school carrying huge loans to be repaid while unable to find meaningful employment using their sometimes useless degrees. Meanwhile, skilled trades are desperate for capable workers! For years we’ve told kids that trades jobs are menial, uncivilized, and only for those that aren’t smart enough to go to school and get a “good job”. But the guy who went straight from high school into a trade apprenticeship now has a successful career and valuable skills, makes good money, has no college loans to repay and contributes meaningfully to his community. So who’s really doing better?
Myth #2: Your Job and Career give you Meaning
I personally don’t know one person who is fully satisfied and fulfilled solely by their career, do you? So why is it that we place such significant value on that one small aspect of ourselves? The very first question we’re asked when we meet someone is What Do You Do? and many people use our answer as the basis by which to treat us. Our job or career is used as a gauge to determine where we fit into the social standings, the ladder of success or failure. But so many of us don’t find our personal fulfillment through our work because it’s just that – work. It’s not how we would choose to spend 8-10 hours of every day if we didn’t need the money. It’s not what gives our lives joy or meaning or happiness. Work is what we must do in order to make money so that we can strive to fulfill the rest of our lives, to buy the ever-important home and car and toys and stuff….
Myth #3: Home Ownership is the Pinnacle of Success
Having worked in the real estate industry most of my life, I know that this one will be hardest to swallow because it’s pounded into us non-stop that buying a home is essential. “Of course you should buy a home, otherwise you’re just wasting money on rent, right? Buying a home is investing in your future, you’re gaining equity and property is always a sound investment. Your value will increase and you can sell and upgrade to your heart’s content, the sky’s the limit!” Sound familiar? What no one ever talks about is the downsides to owning your own home. Things like expensive maintenance, insurance, taxes, etc. What happens when unexpected life changes come up? Job changes, family emergencies, medical emergencies, so many different events can mean the need to move suddenly and when you’re locked into home ownership that means that you are stuck until your home sells. Unless you’re independently wealthy and can cover two homes at once, you’ll need to sell your home and use the proceeds to finance another and if your home is in a stagnant or down-turned market you may be stuck for quite a while. Let’s face it, the vast majority of us don’t own our homes outright, we have mortgages that we owe payments on every month. The only real difference between mortgaged home “ownership” and renting is that with owning, you have to pay for all repairs, maintenance, taxes and insurance while also being tied indefinitely to the property until someone else decides to buy it. Meanwhile you’re praying that your property is increasing in value instead of decreasing, which would mean you actually have to come up with money in order to get out from under it. Unless you’re absolutely certain that you won’t be leaving for the next 30+ years, I don’t find home ownership to be a particularly good idea and it’s certainly not the only “smart choice” that it’s sold to us as.
Myth #4: Money is Real, Important and Necessary for a Happy Life
I don’t fool myself by thinking that money isn’t something necessary in the world we live in. To be a part of this world, we all need a certain amount of money in order to eat, drink, travel and live. The myth enters in when we let ourselves believe that money is more important than it really is. Money comes and goes, we all go through prosperous times and lean times. For the most part money isn’t real or tangible, it’s simply electronic numbers that we collect for work that we’ve done and then redistribute to others for goods and services that we need. The key is to take a real, deep look at what we need and want in our lives and to determine what we need to achieve that. 78% of us live paycheck to paycheck and when that’s the case, it makes no difference how big that paycheck is. We’re all overextended and spending more money than we have. We’re all one job loss or medical emergency away from losing everything. No wonder we’re all so stressed out and anxious and nasty to each other, we’re on edge all the time! And all for what? Because we’ve been told that this the only option, this is the way life is, this is what we’re supposed to do.
The good news is that all of this is a myth. The life we’ve been told we’re supposed to live is not mandatory, it’s not set in stone. Having tasted the American Dream, I have personally found it to be a nightmare that I’m just now waking up from. While this path may work well for some, it’s crazy to believe that the exact same plan will or should work for everyone. Working a job you don’t like to pay off debt while incurring even more, purchasing stuff you don’t need to impress a bunch of people you don’t even like all that much, pretending life is just wonderful and all the while stressing like crazy, trying your hardest to keep up the completely false appearance success and happiness……no thank you. This is not a ride I ever wanted to get on, I was fooled just like everyone else into thinking it was the only option but it’s NOT. I finally got off of that crazy ride and life has gotten better and brighter every day since. So instead of blindly believing these myths, let’s all decide for ourselves what we want for our lives and how best to achieve the goals we set for ourselves, not the ones the world tells us we should strive for.
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