Do You Have to Be More Successful than Your Parents?

ParentsI 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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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?
  3. 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?
  4. 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?
  5. 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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14 thoughts on “Do You Have to Be More Successful than Your Parents?

  1. Kristin Wong March 31, 2014 at 1:14 pm

    Nice post! I agree–I think when we stop competing with others and instead focus on maximizing our potential, whatever that means to us, then we flourish.
    Kristin Wong recently posted: Ways to save money on 5 types of insuranceMy Profile

    • Mr NYBudget March 31, 2014 at 1:50 pm

      Thanks Kristin! Right – if you compete with another person, you may achieve THEIR goals faster, but not necessarily your own.

  2. Andrew@LivingRichCheaply March 31, 2014 at 2:25 pm

    I’ve often heard the concept that every generation should do a little bit better than the previous one. For me, as a child of immigrants, I think it is the mindset that they want their kids to have a better life. And generally it is much easier as I had much more opportunities than they did. Of course, if a child’s parent is a doctor/CEO, etc…it is much harder to be “better off” at least financially. I think you just have to define “more successful” differently. And honestly, if you’re happy with your life, there really is no need to compare yourself with your parents or to your peers.
    Andrew@LivingRichCheaply recently posted: What’s an Extra Million Dollars or Two?My Profile

    • Mr NYBudget March 31, 2014 at 3:52 pm

      Absolutely – I think it is sometimes hard for people to separate what it means to be happy with their lives from the definition of success that society has set out for them.

  3. Phil March 31, 2014 at 2:28 pm

    I learned from early to not compete with others and do what makes me happy. I couldn’t care less what others do or how much they make. As for my parents they were successful at what they did, and happy for me that I am now doing well. It’s all abourt perspective I guess.
    Phil recently posted: Ticket giveaway winner and my own dating disaster in NYC!My Profile

    • Mr NYBudget March 31, 2014 at 3:53 pm

      That’s an awesome mindset. The comparison that many other people do is dangerous, but it sounds like you have a much healthier outlook.

  4. Stefanie @ The Broke and Beautiful Life April 1, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    I don’t think I’ll ever be able to be as successful as my parents. My mom went from lived the American Dream from being born to an immigrant family in poverty to becoming an executive at one of the larges corporations in the world.
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    • Mr NYBudget April 1, 2014 at 12:53 pm

      Impressive! But, right – all the more reason to redefine success to your own terms!

  5. Mel @ brokeGIRLrich April 1, 2014 at 5:12 pm

    I’m not sure that it’s great to really emphasize being “more successful” than your parents, I mean, what does that even mean? Success is a pretty broad spectrum. I mean, if you make more money but are way more miserable? Is that really successful? Vice versa, is that a failure?
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    • Mr NYBudget April 1, 2014 at 5:28 pm

      Yup – that’s why it’s not so great that the sentiment of doing “better” than your parents is so pervasive in our culture.

  6. Ryan @ Impersonal Finance April 3, 2014 at 1:10 pm

    Excellent thoughts here Dave. I think that each parent hopes their children are more successful, but I think they hope the success is in life, and not money. That each child is happy doing whatever it is they are doing. At least, that’s what I hope for my (future) kids.
    Ryan @ Impersonal Finance recently posted: emergency fund in actionMy Profile

    • Mr NYBudget April 3, 2014 at 2:11 pm

      I feel the same way about my theoretical future kids! I guess the biggest problem comes when parents start getting happiness confused with money (with the term “financial stability” bridging the gap between the two).

  7. Tara @ Streets Ahead Living April 7, 2014 at 9:31 pm

    I don’t think we’re better than before… it’s more that we have the greater ability to do more because of the belief that our parents overcame struggles that we may not face. My grandparents had serious money troubles and raised 5 or 6 kids respectively. My parents did not grow up with luxuries that I myself had, like access to youth sports, a part time job where I could keep all the money myself to spend on fun things, and a heck of a lot more free time in general. In that sense, we can become “better” than our parents, if with the more luxuries we have can lead us to do even better in our studies, our careers, etc. I don’t see it as a competition, more so that we just have a lot more things making our lives easier than our parents did which can enable us to be better. But not everyone has a life better than their parents or else we wouldn’t have the cycle of poverty that continually exists.

    • Mr NYBudget April 7, 2014 at 9:51 pm

      It’s interesting – in terms of net worth, I probably could achieve levels greater than my parents, but I doubt I ever will, just because I have different priorities.

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