Why The Joneses Will Hold You Back
Both my daughters go to a private school. It's a decision we made back when we were riding high on property renovations; when we believed all of our dreams would soon come true. But as you know, life often has other plans.
A few years later, it all imploded. Some of it was my fault, and some (like a 50% wage cut and a market that tanked) were beyond my control.
Either way, our dreams of a big house with a garage full of toys evaporated almost overnight.
But financially crippling as it was, pulling my girls from an environment they'd grown accustomed to was much harder to do, so they stayed. I just couldn't bring myself to pull the rug out from under them.
As the months passed and the lifestyle downgrades ensued, the picture of my former life became clearer by the day. The senseless pursuit of my imaginary Joneses also brought other people's behaviour into stark relief.
Was I really that bad? Had I always been that shallow?
An Outsider Looking In
I recall stepping out of my cheap 4WD (a back-trade from a $100k Benz) and observing the mothers alight from leased chariots with their Prada bags and diamante-encrusted phones held high enough for all to see.
As they gathered and gossiped, I'd see the veiled glances towards the trinkets each carried and their looks of envy poorly masked. It was a parade of gloating and suffering in equal measure, which left me both cold and bemused.
With each passing year, the stakes went up. Japanese cars became German cars and the German ones, Italian exotica. Prada went out, and Hermes became the new standard. Holidays to Bali were dumped, as Western Europe became de rigueur.
The one thing that stood out more than anything was that no one seemed happy. There was always another level to reach; another peak to scale, and so their pursuit of the elusive mountaintop remained just that – elusive.
As a certified outsider, I wallowed in my smugness at the futility of it all.
Free at Last
Because of my misfortune, I found myself in unfamiliar territory. For the first time in years, the pressure to outdo my contemporaries was absent, and I felt free. Free to set my own rules of success. Free to enjoy simpler things. Free to determine what mattered to me and what didn't.
No longer anxious about my station in life (and particularly, people's perception of it), my journey out of the hole soon began. Instead of my usual frenetic pace, my work became measured and deliberate.
A big reason for this was a decision I made to extend my timeline for the goals that mattered most. I figured taking ten years to achieve a milestone – and enjoying the journey along the way – made a lot more sense than compressing it into three and suffering a rolling heart attack every step of the way. I'd still get there in the end, but I'd have fun with the process, too.
This, I think, highlights a huge mistake a lot of us make.
We're so focused on the outcome – the destination – we forget the buzz of reaching our goal always dissipates quickly. We race towards our heart's desires, postponing our happiness, our satisfaction and oftentimes, our peace of mind. To us, the end-point is everything, even though we know from past experience that every achievement always leaves another void to be filled.
It's the satisfaction we draw from the journey that matters most. Seen in this way, the process becomes the goal. Without this mindset, goals are nothing more than mile-markers, leaving us empty, anxious and unfulfilled.
There's another important lesson, too. No one gives a shit how well you're doing (except perhaps your mum). In fact, more people will hate you for doing well rather than cheer you onward. A bit of Darwin's theory resides in all of us. Your Joneses want you to fail.
Blame in on western culture, blame it on marketing, blame it on the Kardashians if you want to. Most people are playing their own version of this game – just the levels of folly vary.
And everyone who plays this game is chasing shadows because the only place the Joneses exist is in our heads.
In a few years' time, my girls will be out of school and onto the next stage of their lives. My wish for them is that they treat life as both a gift and a game – one where they set the rules, where they define their own version of ‘success' and the meaning behind the outcomes they seek.
If they do this, they'll win.
Most of all, I hope they never take up the offer to play Keeping Up With The Joneses, because that's a game where no one wins.
*I've written a book about killing off your debts, called Breathe Again – Debt Free in 3 Simple Steps. In it, I explain exactly how I got myself out of debt and how you can do it, too. Fully illustrated and only 40-pages long, you'll knock it over in less than 45 minutes. Download your copy now.
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