A central tenet of capitalism is perpetual growth.
The system is a positive feedback loop that both encourages and thrives upon ever increasing rates of consumption – more products, available more cheaply, purchased in increasing volumes; and then suddenly made obsolete by new releases, updates and upgrades.
Evolutionary glitches in our psyche are ruthlessly exploited by the synergistic forces of consumerism and social media, resulting in an insatiable urge for more, whilst happiness remains just out of reach.
The phenomenon varyingly referred to as ‘the rat race’, ‘climbing the corporate ladder’, and even the American dream, is an Escherian staircase of chasing promotions, bigger pay cheques, bigger houses and cars and televisions, then another promotion with higher pay, more houses, more cars, more stuff.
Some claim to be aware of this staircase to nowhere and that it is part of a grand plan, which often involves the phrase ‘financial security’.
“Another couple of years with a good bonus and I can put a deposit down on a second home, earn a rental income, then repeat the process or diversify my investments, grow my passive income and attain financial security.”
And then what?
Retire at 50, maybe earlier if you’re lucky, and swap super salaries for simplicity for the rest of your days? (Which you will realise or at least hope by that point could amount to another 50 years)
The trap here is that having more often leads to wanting more – making it increasingly difficult to walk away from high-paying jobs into a more spartan existence. Simplicity begins to look stark and financial security begins to feel like financial insecurity. And so you keep trudging around and around the Escherian staircase.
Those that have thought this through more clearly will say they intend to pursue a passion – something they really love, a second career of sorts but not one focused exclusively on accumulating financial wealth like the first one.
Why wait so long to do what you love?
If you are driven enough to win (at least by some objective measures) at the rat race – doing something you do not truly enjoy – surely you can find success doing something you believe in, have a real passion for or care about deeply?
The crux of the ‘financial security’ strategy is knowing when to step off the treadmill. Clear targets must be set and adhered to: both for the ultimate goal – the milestone at which you step off – and for prudence along the way.
Otherwise it is all too easy for consumption habits to inflate in proportion to earnings. This defeats the ultimate purpose and makes it more difficult to turn one’s back on a big salary and embrace more modest means.
The flaws in our neurochemistry that are so ably and gleefully exploited by consumerism and social media threaten to ensnare us in a dopamine-fuelled stairway to nowhere, with ever-present promises of prosperity and happiness just a few clicks away.
The escape from this is to value how you spend your time, rather than how many things you own.
Find meaning and a purpose and take pride in its pursuit.
Love what you do rather than what you posses.