I don’t know where I first heard this concept. I just know that I have heard it repeated throughout my life. Every generation should do a little bit better than the previous one. So, I grew up with the idea that I was in a competition and when the economy went south and I was laid off, early in my working life, I thought that it was a competition I was destined to lose.
Then, after reading and reflecting on my situation, I realized that another option exists. I don’t want to be in a competition with my parents about who is more successful. I want my family to be just as happy as I am. So I found a way to think differently about my goals in life and tailor a life that suits me.
But let me back up a bit. Let me breakdown all the problems with the idea that every generation needs to do a little better than the previous one.
- The first, and most obvious, is that this is impossible. The economy works cyclically. There are ups and downs. Plus, individuals are different. A kid isn’t given his parent’s genes +10% ability to succeed. The gene pool ebbs and flows.
- Even if a kid had +10% ability to succeed over his parents, what does that even mean? Is a smarter person guaranteed more success than a less intelligent one?
- For that matter, what is success? Most of the time I have heard this sentiment, it is implied that success means higher earning power. More money = more success. Is that really how we should be measuring success? Perhaps we should be focused more on happiness and fulfillment?
- If you are doing better than your parents, that means your parents did less well. Do you really want that? Why are we pitting child against parent here?
- What should you do if you realize that you won’t be more successful than your parents. Is it time to give up on your goals? Do you decide to just accept your fate as a failure?
As much as I didn’t want to admit it, the pressures that stem from comparing yourself to your parents weighed on me for a long time.
But then, I found my path. I decided to create goals and systems that helped me maximize my happiness. Suddenly, that weight was lifted off of my shoulders. I was no longer competing with anyone as my definition of success was tailored to me. I also had a much clearer vision of what I needed to do to reach my goals and I could start working towards them immediately instead of trying to claw my way up the corporate ladder, just so I could fit the boring, standard definition of successful.
Now I am hustling and making the money I needed to finance my needs, wants, and goals. I am on my way to becoming financially independent, but more importantly, I know all the reasons WHY I want to become financially independent. I have renewed vigor and purpose. I will never have a higher net worth than my parents, but that concept seems so inconsequential to me these days. I’m working towards my happiness and I certainly don’t need a ton of money to attain it*.
Of course, I am aware that my perspective is shaped by my surroundings. If I graduated from college in the early 90s and went to work at a hedge fund, I don’t think I ever would have found this path. Perhaps I would have been just as happy in that scenario and found other challenges and goals that inspired me. I can’t say that I’d like to find out, though – I am perfectly happy right now.
* Funny thing about happiness is that you can achieve it while working towards it. It’s a strange, but awesome phenomenon.
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