We ought to spend time and money in a way that’s aligned with our values. In reality, our spending habits are often tied to other people’s expectations of us.
Humans are social creatures. The people in our lives influence us, both consciously and in subtle ways we never realize. We decide that we “should” climb a career ladder, buy fancy appliances and live behind a white picket fence.
There’s nothing wrong with these choices, as long as it’s a conscious, deliberate decision. Our only error is buckling to the expectation that we’re a failure if we don’t follow the script.
But influence is a two-way street. If we break away from the mold, we challenge other people’s assumptions. We create chaos without saying a word.
Being Yourself is Disruptive
Being yourself is a disruptive act. Your lifestyle becomes a mirror that forces people to re-examine their own decisions.
The result? Some people will criticize you.
The rude ones may overtly condemn you. But the polite ones will mask their assumptions in the form of a question. It’ll often be tied to age and/or an arbitrary timeline:
- “Aren’t you too old to be living with roommates?” (There’s no age limit.)
- “You’ve been in a relationship for 5 years? Why aren’t you married yet?” (I live by my own schedule.)
- “No kids yet? The clock is ticking.” (OMG. If I hear that one more time …)
- “Your project still isn’t profitable? Shouldn’t you quit?” (I’m not going to honor that with a response.)
- “Shouldn’t you have a nicer car/house/wardrobe by now?” (Shouldn’t you stop questioning my life?)
These questions have nothing to do with you. They pertain to the person posing the questions. They want you to confirm their assumptions so that their worldview can persist intact.
(By the way, my friends who followed the so-called ‘right’ path still get hassled. “You’re getting married and/or having kids already? Aren’t you too young for that?” Pleasing other’s expectations is a no-win situation, no matter what side of the fence you’re on.)
No One Asks How You Afford Conventional Things …
From 2008 to 2010 I backpacked across Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Australia/New Zealand. I heard tons of assumptions about how I paid for the trip.
Roughly 50 percent of the assumptions involved some imaginary benefactor, usually a male figure like a father or boyfriend. “Did your Dad pay for it?” or “You snagged a rich boyfriend, huh?” (Why is it so hard to imagine that a girl can pay her own way?)
The other 50 percent assumed that I maxed out credit cards to fund the trip. (Newsflash: noodle carts in Cambodia don’t take Visa.)
Almost no one guessed the obvious – I saved money. You know, the old-fashioned way.
I lived like a cheapskate. I wrote freelance articles until my fingers hurt. I saved aggressively. It’s not rocket science, folks.
No one questions us when we spend thousands on dollars on conventional things: Buying a house. Buying a car. Paying for grad school. Having a baby.
Those are massive, big-dollar expenses, yet no one bats an eye at how we afford it, especially if we do these things at a socially-appropriate age.
But the moment we spend that type of money on something extraordinary, questions form.
Stick With Those Who Inspire You
The solution? Ruthlessly cull the people in your life. Surround yourself with yay-sayers. Keep company with those who inspire you. Don’t waste your time trying to “educate” people who aren’t willing to learn.
This world holds plenty of beautiful people, ones who handle challenges with grace and enthusiasm. When you tell them you’re spending your time and money on something unconventional, they’ll be the first to say, “Sweet! That’s awesome!”
Here’s the true test: they’ll show enthusiasm regardless of whether or not your tastes mesh with theirs. They understand that it’s valid for you to spend time and money on something they would never want, buy or do themselves.
Here’s one of my favorite examples:
A few years before we started dating, my boyfriend Will and a few of his friends bought an $800 school bus at an auction. They retrofitted it into a house on wheels, complete with a kitchen sink, beds, couches and a veggie-oil-powered engine. Then they set out from their home in Colorado to tour the West Coast.
Most of Will’s friends share his lifestyle tastes, so this didn’t rock their assumptions about life. They’d do the same thing.
But one of his friends holds different preferences. “That sounds miserable,” he said. “I’d never want to live with a bunch of stinky people on a school bus.”
Nonetheless, this guy was one of Will’s chief supporters. He never uttered a word of discouragement. He never planted seeds of self-doubt into Will’s head about how this decision would “derail his career” or “cost thousands.” When Will needed help troubleshooting the transmission or fixing the engine, this guy pitched in with enthusiasm.
“Have fun,” he told Will. “Call me if you need anything.” Then he went home to his white picket fence in the suburbs, a conscious, deliberate lifestyle choice that suited his own taste.
He aligned his money and time in the way that suited him. And he allowed others to do the same.
Live and let live. It’s a simple concept, really. But few people do it.
Most people question their friends’ dreams, especially when those choices are framed in days and dollars. “You could buy a house with that money!,” they’ll say. “You could finish grad school in that amount of time!”
Life involves a series of trade-offs. Know what you’re willing to sacrifice for the life you want. Surround yourself with people who support it. The rest will follow.