a building mental storm

“Success in highest and noblest form calls for peace of mind and enjoyment and happiness which comes only to the man who has found the work he likes best.” – Napolean Hill, author of “Think and Grow Rich”

cognitive dissonance (n. Psychology) A condition of conflict or anxiety resulting from inconsistency between one’s beliefs and one’s actions, such as opposing the slaughter of animals and eating meat. – from American Heritage Dictionary

The quote and definition above describe my current mental state about my work these days. I thought for many years that I could achieve happiness through one of about five different ways. When I write the list out now, several of them seem terribly trivial to me now, but bear with me:

  • Making a lot of money
  • Travel throughout the world
  • Nonstop nightlife
  • Working at a big corporation with a good title
  • Keeping myself free of obligations as much as possible

If I redid the list today, it would probably read more like this:

  • Achieving financial freedom
  • Travel throughout the world
  • Safe and comforting home environment
  • Going to work for myself doing something I like
  • Loading myself up with obligations that please me; exercise, family time, etc.

Here is the real problem, though: although I have read many books on financial freedom, productivity, etc. I am often suffering from cognitive dissonance trying to pursue my “old” goals (with the exception of the nightlife) even though I know better! Even though I know, for example, that I should do something for my work different than what I do today, I have taken very few steps to pursue it. I still avoid obligations out of laziness or simply fear of setting priorities. I still worry more about making money to pay for things (although when I say things, I mean “our house” rather than “my iPhone”) than achieving financial freedom. I talk the talk, but often I don’t walk the walk.

So why is this? I think the problem is that your thought patterns and objectives are often set more firmly in stone than you realize in your youth – and by youth I’m talking about the years from, say, 13-30. All of the patterns set then are interrelated. Your exercise (or lack thereof), your entrepreneurial spirit (or lack thereof), your creation of a lifestyle where financial freedom is a forseeable future or even your ability to easily change goals all intertwine and make a tangled mess where changing one goal means changing all of them.

I debate, therefore, how to smash through these bad habits that prevent my goals. Should I:

  • Abruptly quit my job and launch a private company doing something interesting?
  • Massively restructure my work life to free up more time to prepare for something ‘new’?
  • Work like crazy ‘on the side’ (although at the expense of my time with my family)?
  • Just suck it up, hammer down at work and try to grit my teeth through to 60 years old when I’ll achieve freedom?

This is my building mental storm – the idea that nothing will change with a continuation of the daily rotation of wake, brush teeth, ride train, stare at computer screen, attend meetings, ride train, brush teeth, sleep. This daily rotation is a part of the steady progession: Birth, School, Work, Death. But finding the right moment to make that break, to take that leap, seems to me to require a spark of inspiration.

But what I’m really afraid of is that there’s no inspiration needed.
What I’m afraid of is that Nike is right and we should just do it. Don’t wait, just change. And doing that without seeing the guiding star of inspiration seems really scary to me. And so I will wait for inspiration and thereby find none. Or, hopefully, I will simply just do it.

8 comments

  • Does this mean that I won’t suddenly start exercising if I don’t make myself do it?

    When you don’t like what you do (or some aspect of it) I find it easy to concentrate on that, its much more productive to focus on what I want to do instead. Is there anything about your job that you do like? Or anything else that you are really passionate about? Once you’ve got a destination clearly in mind, its easier to work out how to get there – especially if you have bills to pay.

  • I hate to be the voice of de-inspiration but I’m going for number four (suck it up). I’m planning on a retirement at 55 however, not 60.

    Whether I want to do something different or not, the fact is that I’ve set myself up to be extremely dependant on a good steady wage. I have a nice house (and big mortgage), and wife who is not working and a child. When I was single and renting an apartment I had a lot more flexibility in terms of work or even areas to live in but those days are over.

    Mike

  • Part of achieving financial freedom is paying for things like basic shelter. I think you should worry more about paying for your home than achieving financial freedom. I’m trying to work briskly (not crazy) on the side in hopes of being able to quit my job and focus on things that have less of a “earnings ceiling.”

    As I look at your list, I wonder if moving to an area of lower cost living could give you most or all of the things that you are looking for on your second list, with the exception of working for yourself. From what I gather you might be able to consult part time and giving you more time to do the things you want to do.

  • Man, but those two lists of five look familiar.

    From your description of your financial state (debt free, savings, educated, marketable) and your financial interests (real estate, investing), it seems that your choices are many and and that maybe you’re tied to this path for only one reason–geography.

    With respect to FourPillars and acknowledging that our choices are bound by real constraints, I still can’t accept that our (or maybe just my) choices are only so much sacrifice now to reach a final destination of retirement. Rather at some point, if the endgame as we’ve defined it only allows it to be achieved by waiting until 60, maybe we’ve got the wrong endgame.

    Holy cow. I guess you struck a chord with me.

  • Mike-TWA – I would argue that in my case since I have a big mortgage and a wife who isn’t working, we’re not really sacrificing now – those are choices that cost a lot of money that we didn’t have to make.

    Mike

  • Interesting comments, all.
    @plonkee: You’re absolutely right that it would be easier to be productive at my job if I enjoyed it more. I had one reason and one reason only for going into the world of accounting/auditing/etc. – to travel. For about 8 years I was able to travel heavily all over the world, and despite not really being interested in the actual day-to-day job that made it worth it. Now that I’m not traveling since I’d rather be home with my family I find that the day-to-day job is not appealing at all once you remove the travel. So short answer – yeah, I need to find something different, because I don’t think there is anything I could find about my current job to ‘reenergize’ me. I’d rather be teaching…

    @Mike (Four Pillars): I agree I’m not exactly “sacrificing” now, it’s all been conscious decisions, but Mike-TWA’s point is fair: it is a sacrifice of MY time to provide the home, stay-at-home mother, etc. The question is whether making that sacrifice is worth having a big house near the big city…

    And @lazyman and @Mike-TWA: Funny you should mention moving. My wife and I actually visited a small town in Pennsylvania last weekend with the idea of relocating. We want to stay within reach of New York for family reasons, but we really want to find an inexpensive place to live that’s cleaner and safer and has better schools than our current urban home. The little town (which is between NY and Philly but closer to Philly) was perfect, and we may end up doing just what you suggest – relocating to a less expensive area. We saw homes the same size as our current home going for half as much. We have a lot of equity in our very-expensive-but-normal-for-the-area townhouse now, so it’s raised the interesting possibility of being able to pay cash for a house and really have the option of being debt-free and very-low-expense if we move there, meaning we might be able to get by on much less. Won’t happen for another year or two but that may be our plan.

    Great minds run in the same direction! 🙂

  • @FourPillars-Mike

    My comments are certainly not intended to be a judgment on choices, more of a thinking out loud (or, um, “out typed”?) about some of the struggles that I go through in looking at what I “have” to do now to get to what I “want” later. For instance, you mention your wife is a stay at home parent–a choice that I great respect and imagine based on your values is pretty close to “have to”. But then there are choices like the big mortgage or living in an expensive area that I wonder about. I have many of my own similar choices. And, I guess my point is that sometimes I wonder about being in a race that we don’t particularly want to be in for many years for sole purpose of finishing. And maybe sometimes, we could just decide to move the finish line a little closer and take the silver rather than the gold.

    Well, the discussion helps me think about it anyway, so thanks all.

  • I so agree with Mike-TWA!!!!! We do have the WRONG endgame – retirement. Everywhere you read, all financial news or advices, it’s all about how to save for a decent retirement. It really gets to me big time. What about NOW? What about while I am 30, 50, 70 and just enjoying what I do and not worrying how much I need to save for my big retirment? Seems like all our lives need to revolve around concentrating on the future retirement, from the time we start working or even earlier (yeah, start teaching your children how to save for retirement). The reason all the financial sites hammer us with this idea is because our American Government cannot sustain to support seniors and pay them decent pensions (we’d rather pay for the war nobody cares about)………
    Sorry, I am so angry now.
    Mike-TWA, you are RIGHT, definitely wrong endgame. It’s not the destination but the journey we need to worry about.