Sometime ago, in high school, I had a simple assignment — write a persuasive essay. As a teenager, who was relatively sheltered, I wanted to question convention and tradition. I was probably that annoying kid who always asked “why?” — Though far fewer times, just because of my shy personality. But nevertheless, I was always always curious about why the status quo was what it was.
But I remember having a particularly hard time trying to come up with a topic for this particular assignment. I was a good, but sheltered kid, naive in my pursuits, never rebellious. But what I did know is that I was able to live such a sheltered life, because my family was relatively comfortable with its finances. So I went ahead and wrote an essay titled:
“Money CAN buy Happiness”
The thesis of my essay was not particularly controversial. It simply stated that to be comfortable people need money in order to strive for happiness. Without money, people cannot be happy. What I was not saying was that money leads to happiness.
I then went off to university, pursued accounting.
Fast forward to today — I have my comfort: a stable income and a job with benefits — the antithesis of the millennial!
Much of what I learned in school was that money important because it provided point of reference for people. Of course, not overtly, but it was implicitly the reason, as we learned about intro to accounting and business classes: making sure financials were accurate and complete, valuing different financial instruments or lessons in supply and demand. Money was essentially created to get out of a bartering economy. So it makes sense that $1 to you means $1 to me — I know what you’re talking about when you say “Can I borrow $10.”
In hindsight, what money meant to me was an important lesson. I had not yet formalized my thinking on money but it was an important ideology. Because I might miss that $10 you borrowed from less or more compared to another person. But what is important to think about is, why I might miss the $10 is important more or less relative to someone else is important. Yes, it might be because those $10 may make the difference between making rent and not making rent this month for someone. But see, I have lived a comfortable life so my frame is from a level of comfort. It is from a perspective of what will I do with those extra $10. And that is where I struggle.
I always knew that for me, money was not the end all, be all. I am not a lavish spender, and I definitely don’t care for the white picket fence and a large backyard. I’m pretty much that millennial who wants to live for experiences. Only difference is, I thought I was being practical: that once I got to this level of comfort, I would just be able use it to pursue my passions…make my mark.
For me, money means comfort and freedom of choice. But now that I am here, what is that choice that I wanted to make? What do I want to do with my level of comfort that I have built for myself?
This is a struggle because I was told that this is the pattern my life will/should follow:
Get a job → Buy a house → Get married → Have Kids → Raise Kids → Retire
Needless to say, due to many macro factors, this is no longer the pattern my life will take. (Read on to any number of “Millennials are doomed” posts — one of which I’ll be sure to dedicate some time to in the near future).
I foolishly thought, okay others have done it, I’m not unique, so this must be what I need to do to be successful in life — and I’ll be happy working that routine 9–6 desk life, because it means that I’ll have that steady pay cheque to live for the evenings & weekends.
But again, I was so naive to think that was all it took. (Un)fortunately, I live in a city that is saturated with lots of great talent, willing to work not just 9–5 but rather 9–9 plus weekends. So my bar needs to be higher. That life that I thought I could get in return for my 9–5 commitment now means giving up evenings and weekends. Not only that, my masters and accounting designation are not enough to be competitive. So really not only do I need to work more hours, I need to spend more time writing exams and garnering additional letters to move ahead.
What does this mean? Well, if I am expected to commit 9–9 plus weekends to “make my mark” why not do it with something that I enjoy?
But all of that is easier said than done.
Money has given me the ability to be comfortable for my current lifestyle. To me money was always going to be a stepping stone to my next challenge. But it has trapped me — because I have become comfortable with what I have and I might be too afraid to let go of this comfort and may be falling for its temptation.
But I want to get out of it before it is too late.
What does money mean to you?