Do you remember the moment you found out that Santa Claus wasn’t real? My best friend delivered the news as we stood on her sunny back porch playing with Barbies.
I ran home to ask my mom about it, racing as fast as my little legs would take me, through the yard and up the wooden steps to our house. I burst through the door with tears streaming down my face and bumped into my grandmother in the kitchen. “Is Santa real?,” I asked. It was part question and part accusation. The expression on her face told me all I needed to know. I collapsed onto the floor sobbing.
That memory is so vivid and heartbreaking. I had a hard time catching my breath, my head hurt and I felt incredibly sick to my stomach. I remained crumpled on the floor for quite awhile crying. Rehashing the news while simultaneously questioning everything I’d ever been told.
Fact or Fiction
Some say Santa is the biggest lie ever told, but I think parents tell their children many things that aren’t exactly true. The line between fact, fiction and reality is a blurry one.
From an early age we are taught to study hard, ace our tests, go to college, find a job and move up through the ranks of our career. Many of us follow these instructions fully believing they will lead us to the mecca of happiness. It’s not hard to see why we follow these paths. Some parents blatantly hide the truth about work from their children.
We spend years, sometimes decades, marching towards these goals. We aim for the crowning achievements of a successful career: a high-paying salary and noteworthy title.
To be a model employee we follow the rules and obey the laws of corporate America. We bend and mold ourselves into a cubicle and work well beyond the hours of 9-to-5. Along the way we willingly sacrifice our time and energy.
Our hard work pays off. Just as the Christmas gifts appeared under the tree so does the money in our bank accounts. We receive promotions, bonuses and salary increases. We can now afford to take that vacation, buy that car and fill our carts with groceries.
As our income grows so does our desire for continued success. We hit one job related target and immediately aim for another. It doesn’t matter if our starting salary is $30,000 or $100,000. As time goes on we desire more.
We feel proud of our accomplishments, but pride and happiness are not one and the same. Our lack of satisfaction may be based on a limiting set of beliefs. In particular the belief that we can never have enough money. A fundamental conviction that the next raise, bonus, or promotion should be waiting for us right around the corner.
The Definition of Success
As we narrow our focus and strive for success our life goals become intertwined with our careers. Our houses and bank accounts feel so utterly and unimaginably full, but our souls begin to feel empty.
In the pursuit of financial success we become increasingly dissatisfied with our trajectories. We may begin to dislike our jobs and find our passion for work diminishing, yet we still push towards the same objectives. We wake up, shower, put on our clothes and drive back into the same office day after day.
If we are lucky, hard-working and determined our careers may be boundless. This was the case for my husband. Every year his salary increased and his influence widened. When he couldn’t reach any higher he forged out on his own and started his own company.
He was the epitome of perseverance and success. As a young company owner he had the ability to hire employees and make gobs of money.
To anyone looking in from the outside his life appeared ideal. Through hard work, determination, eagerness and planning he could continually increase his income. There were no limits to how much he could earn.
Reviewing Your Goals
It’s easy to focus all of our time and energy on our careers and finances. These two facets of life can quickly become our primary focal points, our top priorities, the first thing we think about when we wake up and the last thing we consider before going to bed.
My husband will tell you he was happy for the first few years after he started his business, but over time that joy faded to misery. There are many reasons for this change of heart. A few of them nearly ended our marriage.
After graduation we started our careers with great vigor and momentum. In the beginning we used the energy of our youth to propel us forward. We asked for new assignments and greater responsibilities.
Some of us continue to act this way decades after we begin working. We follow the advice given to us as children. We view plaques on the wall as signs of our achievements, higher salaries as proof that we are wise and accomplished. Some of us will continue this pace in perpetuity.
The Value of Work
Let me be clear, there is nothing wrong with having a deep desire to contribute to the world and to earn a solid living doing it. If your work provides you with fulfillment there may be no need to slow your pace.
My goal is not to convince you to give up on corporate America or to believe that working in a 9-to-5 job is soul crushing work to avoid and fear. There are many benefits to these positions.
I’m not promoting a mass-exodus from work. I am simply suggesting a review of the definition of success from time to time. More specifically if money is your goal are you focusing too much time and energy in the pursuit of it?
The point is not necessarily to halt your progress, but rather to scrutinize it. This is especially true once you reach financial independence.
While my husband took great pride in his company he received little satisfaction beyond the money he made. He was bothered by the inefficiency of contracting with other companies and frustrated by a sea of coworkers who complained about their daily lives.
As his business grew he had less time to spend on nerdy things like fixing problems and writing code. Instead he found the majority of his time overtaken by business-related tasks he didn’t enjoy.
His satisfaction continued to diminish over time, but he never considered walking away. Who could blame him? Who would willingly leave so much money behind?
Satisfaction Beyond a Paycheck
One day, completely unexpectedly, my husband’s business came to a screeching halt. After dealing with the initial stages of shock and sadness he started a new job working for a large corporation. His current salary is less than half of what it used to be, but his overall satisfaction is remarkably higher.
How can that be?
In this new position he is able to telework multiple days a week. He can also pick and choose which days and hours he wants to work. His new coworkers are young, eager and excited. The work environment is upbeat and positive.
He is no longer dreading going to work. In fact, he is excited to go into the office to share new ideas and pass on thirty years of technical experience and wisdom.
The long nights of working on boring administrative tasks are long behind him. He writes code now and focuses on the technical aspects of building applications, which is what he loves and yearns to do.
It turns out that owning a business wasn’t the dream he hoped it would be. Income is not the only important component of a worthwhile career.
I’ve spent a good portion of my life thinking about money. In fact, I’ve been blogging about it for the past fourteen years. When my husband began working for a new company our quest for wealth came to a standstill. This blip in the road occurred long after we reached financial independence, but it still gave us great pause.
We are no longer chasing wealth with the same vigor we once were. As a result our lives have reached a greater state of balance. In particular my husband’s pursuits have widened and his outlook on the world broadened beyond his company.
As children we read a lot of fairy tales. Some themes from those childhood stories permeate our subconscious. Maybe we remember to leave a trail of breadcrumbs behind so we never get lost in the woods or to build a house out of the strongest materials.
Some of us will hold on to the belief that success is defined solely by our financial figures. We will live our whole lives in the pursuit of those ideals.
I am not minimizing the importance of working hard in a worthy career. I am just saying that income and titles should not be the sole weight by which we are measured.
After all, what is the point of all of that money if you spend your days feeling miserable?
Some people can break free of the stories of our youth. Others, like myself and my husband, have to watch something crash and burn before we can build a different vision.
Objectives Beyond Money
When my husband owned a company we never stopped to ask ourselves what we really wanted out of life. What would make us feel alive and joyful? We simply followed the trail of money laid out before us.
It’s time to break free from the ideas that bind us. For some that means leaving corporate America to find happiness. For others it simply means searching for satisfying careers that provide value beyond money.
If you aren’t careful the limiting beliefs about success will keep you chained to a job and a life you don’t love. Life is too short to be miserable. Find the balance.