You don’t own a unicorn. The yeti isn’t going to knock at your back door. And it’s safe to say that unless you’re tight with Elon Musk, you’re not heading for Mars. So does that mean your life is boring?
Although it might be nice to have a unicorn, if only to take it to kids’ parties.
Here’s the thing: It’s easy to fall into the mindset that you’re not living a fulfilling life just because you can’t afford a Maserati or take a three-month-long vacation. We all—myself included—can slip into a “grass-is-greener” mentality. It’s easy to believe that lifestyle inflation is somehow OK, despite knowing that comparing yourself to others isn’t a healthy pastime.
So how do you avoid keeping up with the Joneses?
By learning how to be content living your own life.
Of course, knowingthis and doing it are two very different things. But when you ask the right questions and match how you live with your goals, you can lose lifestyle inflation for good. Remember that no person or thing has the power to make you feel content. True fulfillment comes through deep soul-searching and being honest about what you value most.
Welcome to the quarter-life crisis
Have you heard of the mid-life crisis? According to LinkedIn, about three-quarters of young adults in their 20s experience serious career- and debt-related meltdowns. Living in today’s fast-paced, image-centric digital world has increased people’s feelings of anxiety and uncertainty.
A perennial late bloomer, I had my quarter-life crisis at 27. I felt uninspired and lost. Something was missing. Thankfully, I had the forethought to ask myself some tough questions, starting with “How much money do I want and need to make?”
See, lifestyle inflation often begins with fiscal envy. We see people with nice things, and we confuse our wants and needs. That’s why it’s hard to pinpoint what “enough” looks like. But right now, the national student loan debt is at $1.74 million, and in 2020, the total U.S. consumer debt totaled $14.9 trillion. Living above your means isn’t an ideal lifestyle, which is why I’ve never regretted budgeting.
Getting a grip on my personal level of financial stability and risk helped me temper my quarter-life crisis, yet lifestyle inflation still haunts me.
I compare myself.
I consider myself a high achiever until I start looking at other high achievers. I see what they’re doing and, in some cases, the things they’re buying, and I think to myself, “I am not enough.”
Here’s what I’m coming to grips with: Other people, including the high achievers I see, are doing the same thing. They’re wondering where they failed. They’re asking whether they’re good enough. I watched a documentary about a 20-year-old whiz kid who invented a self-driving truck. Know how he felt after his accomplishment? Hopeless. He wondered what he had done with his life. (No, really.)
Basically, everyone measures themselves using someone else’s yardstick. While you’re looking at someone else’s family with a hint of jealousy, another person’s staring at you with the same green glint in their eye.
The only way to stop these feelings is to get in touch with yourself. You have to understand when you’re satisfied emotionally and financially, and you need to reach for that moment without constantly trying to up the ante.
How to be content
In a poem Kurt Vonnegut wrote for The New Yorker in 2005, he talked about someone having something a billionaire could never have: “The knowledge that I’ve got enough.” Of course, you probably know on a theoretical level that true wealth isn’t about money, but it’s hard to put some things to practice. Here’s how you can start living your ideal life—meaning a life better suited to your personal goals:
1. Discover the power of saying “no”
Being able to say “no” will help you become more powerful. You don’t have to be rude—simply turn down assignments, projects, and even opportunities when they don’t mesh with your personal mission. You’ll find that being the one who doesn’t answer “yes” to everything gives you a surprising boost of confidence.
2. Stop imitating the pack
There’s joy and freedom in being yourself. Don’t try to imitate someone just because he or she has more than you do in terms of perceived power or money. Accept who you are and where you are. You can change if you want, but do it only if it’s good for you (not because you want to be someone else).
3. Surround yourself with other unique people
Sometimes, the best way to figure out what makes you unique is to be around people who come from diverse backgrounds. Listening to them will either challenge or cement your beliefs. Remain open to changing your mind and learn from the way others see the world. If you do this, you’ll be a more well-rounded individual and feel less uncertain about making decisions.
4. Embrace your history
You won’t always like thinking about your past, but the past is part of your story. In fact, it’s the only part of your story that’s been written! Take time to ruminate on your failures and successes. Let self-discovery help guide the next chapters of your life, including the financial choices you make along the way.
5. Remain gracious and humble
Emotional intelligence is often underrated, especially in the business world. Nevertheless, if you were to describe the people you’ve most enjoyed being around, they were probably humorous, unassuming, and kind. The next time you feel your brain and tongue striking out, pull yourself back and take a breather. Most of the time, a few minutes can make all the difference.
Do you still think you’re not living a fulfilling life? Maybe you’re right, but you could be wrong. You’ll never know until you take intentional steps to live your ideal life and learn how to avoid lifestyle inflation.