This Is Not Who We Want To Be

*I’m on a two-month blogging vacation while I backpack around Southeast Asia. Until I return, I’m posting excerpts from my book, Freedom Twenty-Five: A 21st-Century Man’s Guide To Life. If you like this post, you should buy a copy for yourself and everyone you’ve ever met in your life.*

Here’s a story about a friend of mine. He’s a successful guy, a few years older than me. Good job, MBA from a top school. Works hard and does quite well for himself. By any conventional measure of late-20s career success, he is in the top 1% of his peers.

Last week, I told him about how I had just quit my job to travel the world. His response, like many others, was: “Wow, I wish I could do that!”

I replied (as I always do) “You can. It’s a lot easier than most people think.”

But then he explained to me why, in fact, he couldn’t:

– He just put 20% down on a really nice condo. Selling it would cost him 5-10% of the list price in realtor fees and moving expenses.

– He’s locked into a lease on his new BMW, with major penalties for getting out early.

– He’s spent a ton on nice furniture, from which he could recover maybe half of what he paid.

– His company financed his MBA, and he’s obligated to keep working there for another two years, or he’ll have to repay the tuition and a generous signing bonus.

– He’s still paying off his undergraduate student loans.

If you were to look at his paycheck, the clothes he wears, and the lifestyle he leads, you might be deceived into thinking: “This guy is rich!”

But from another perspective, he is extremely poor. He is a slave. He does not have the freedom (in the short term) to do anything except exactly what he’s doing right now. He can’t quit. He can’t travel. He can’t make any major purchases. He is trapped by his own success, pinned down in a life that – from what I can see – isn’t really making him that happy.

The problem he and so many others have, is that they are trying to fill the spiritual hole in their lives with material goods. When you’re young, lost, and wondering if this is all there is to life, it’s easy to turn toward reckless consumerism as a way to fill the void. And that’s how you wind up a 20-something guy with a 6-figure income who can’t afford to go out for a beer after work with his friends unless it’s one of those special months where he gets three paychecks.

This is not who we want to be.