In We Are All Weird, Seth Godin describes being rich as having choices. When you have choices you have influence over your own world. When you can choose whether to eat Cheetos or celery, buy a new car or repair you old beater, fly to see family or drive cross country, save more for retirement or go on vacation, buy a new house or continue renting you have choices that many in the world do not have. Those choices vary across the world and vary across socioeconomic strata. But having a choice is having a form of wealth. Now, with that wealth…don’t be stupid.
And I think us middle classers can really be stupid. I chose to go back to school to get a second masters degree, running up $60,000 in debt at the age of 32 because it was something I was “passionate” about. We buy houses bigger than our parents’ because banks will allow us and because someday we may need all the extra space or because it’s in a really good neighborhood, schools are great or we like our neighbors. We lease two new cars because we need a safer car for winter or more comfort room for travel and we leverage ourselves up to our eyeballs and wonder why we’re stressed and can’t pursue things that matter. None of these things in themselves are bad. Not at all. It’s great driving nice cars and living in a nice home in a nice neighborhood. But, when we over extend, we limit our own choices, we limit our freedom. We stupidly take on so much that we get stuck in circumstances that suck our souls dry because we have to support our choices.
Our financial system has created great freedom for us and has made so much permissible, but not all of it is beneficial. Just because I can buy a half million dollar house doesn’t mean I should. Just as there are costs to taking on too much, there are costs to living below our means. There are costs to pursuing dreams wisely and with discipline. That cost is delayed gratification and relinquishing my entitlement to having what I want. The course may be slow, but there’s freedom in it. Learn from my experience. I made choices to limit my freedom. It took three years of my wife and I putting in hard work to recover our ability to choose.
I know it probably doesn’t feel like it, but you’re rich because you have the freedom and opportunity to make choices. Take risks, bet on yourself and be wise while doing it! Learn from others who have done it well or from their mistakes and understand that your choices either limit or reinforce your freedom.
Where are your choices taking you?
How are you creating the freedom of choice for others?