Let’s say you had two choices: 1. Go to Prison, lose certain freedoms, but you can do what you’re passionate about every single day or 2. Accept a job for the rest of your life that you don’t enjoy, but one with stability that provides you with the means to take care of yourself and your family. Which do you choose?
To most older generations, this is not a question; number two is the obvious choice. But to the younger generations this may be a more difficult choice. To some, number two is its own form of prison. The prevailing advice we hear much of today is to follow your dreams and follow your passions. Do what makes you happy. With the internet, social media, and the ever-connected world we get a barrage of success stories by people who followed this advice, turned their passion into idea, and idea into a business, and grew or sold that business into a lucrative exit. They were fortunate enough to find both passion and freedom in this life. And those are the stories we hear about, remember, and envy.
I was taught quite the opposite growing up. It was about grades. Do well in school, get a good stable job and take care of yourself and your family. That’s what I did. I completed degrees in engineering and business and have had a decent career; at least one that could pay my bills, and put food on the table, and fund the occasional vacations.
I find myself now however, at the tail end of a midlife crisis. I picture myself stuck in a corporate job for another 20-30 years, and I begin to panic. Did I miss my chance to pursue my dreams and passions? Now that I’m married with kids, will I ever have time to pursue something meaningful for me? I wasted my 20’s on career and social life and never really tried to find whatever my passions are. I’m not even sure what I’m very good at. Are knowing how to get by by and doing enough to complete my job objectives worthwhile skills?
There is also a darker side of the quest to find passion and happiness. The journey doesn’t always end well. I know a few and have heard of others, who have abandoned or stalled their forward progress because they simply can’t find what makes them happy and are not sure what they should be doing. They weren’t instilled with the discipline to think of independence first, to invest in the insurance policy that is your education and foundational career experience. Then again, amassing debt with today’s increasing college prices is also a daunting burden in itself. Maybe that’s why so many younger college grads and those who didn’t go to college or finish their degree are living with their parents. Debt is a difficult trade-off to get stuck in a job you may not enjoy. I suppose these difficulties don’t make the social media and new feeds very often.
And where does freedom lie in this struggle? We live in a country where we are told anyone who works hard can accomplish their dreams. We have civil liberties, and certainly more rights, freedoms, and a higher quality of life than most of the world. But are we truly free? Women and minorities may not feel as though they are. They still make up smaller portions of our elected government and smaller portions of the workforce in many industries. And even if we do find jobs where we are paid well enough, is that enough? Is working 40-60 hours each week, with two days during the weekend to chase our children around enough to live a life of content? For the next 30 years? I suppose those are questions only each individual can answer.
Seems like a 1st world problem, and indeed it is. But don’t all humans everywhere question their existence, purpose, happiness, and progress towards fulfillment?
The conclusion that I’ve come to during my contemplation through this mid-life crisis is that the only freedom that matters in this world is financial freedom. For those of us who haven’t discovered our passion, perhaps we would have the time, energy, and peace of mind to pursue our heart’s direction if we only had enough financial security to alleviate our anxieties and our obligations. I don’t simply mean a well-paying job or enough income. I mean having enough wealth saved that my family is taken care of for life. Enough wealth to where I make my own destiny. I can pursue my passions as I please. Write a book? Go for it. Volunteer? Sounds noble. Public service? Go fight for change. Binge watch Netflix? Why not.
So the answer to our opening question is: it’s a trick question…for many of us anyway. The only way to have true freedom or follow our passions, at least with all of our being and without undue risk to our family, is to have wealth. That can be a somber goal, and one that may never be achieved. And if you put all of your hopes on reaching that destination, life may not be a pleasant journey.
In life, sometimes you have to find content in the worst-case scenario to mentally not be afraid to move forward. If I’m unable to achieve wealth, and even lose money, will I be satisfied in my life? I have to come to grips with that as a possible end point. But once I do, I’ll set my sights on that ambitious pillar. One that many people both more and less intelligent than I have certainly accomplished. I’ll fight with all I have to find the one thing that will allow me to pursue my passions without shackles – the freedom of wealth.