Yesterday I advised a client, “Do not complicate things that require no complication.”
These days I seem to use that quote more frequently than I used to. Whether we work 40 years at one job or one year at 40 jobs, understanding how to measure what getting ahead truly looks like does not require unnecessary complication, either.
With technology changing work habits so rapidly, lives are getting “busyfied” lives in ways that hamper happiness and efficiency. Because of this it helps to step back and examine the true purpose of a working career.
Since no one—not even the Federal government—can define what the “middle class” or “American Dream” actually is, let’s define both as a group of attained goals rather than a series of statistical economic thresholds.
Professional salespeople (and other achievers) tend to be goal-oriented; and goal-oriented people need targets to pursue. Winning matters, as does achievement; and although we live in a noisy, consumption-driven society that sells materialism, streamlining priorities into six categories will help us stay focused, driven, and in pursuit of a meaningful and fulfilling life.
This helps because of the directions in which our economic reality is stretching. For the 20-year cycle between 1990 and 2010, the Commerce Department reports that real median income grew at a rate of about 20 percent. This sounds okay. But it’s not when compared with the cost of a college education, which grew roughly 50 percent, the cost of housing’s 56 percent increase, and skyrocketing healthcare costs—which leaped upward by 155 percent.
Pursuit of the Modern American Dream (MAD)
As dispirited as the workforce masses are (note: surveyed attitudes are continuing to weaken), a simple six-point measurement can judge our attainment of the Modern American Dream. Its pursuit helps sustain a prideful sense of daily purpose.
Here are my six elements of the Modern American Dream:
1. Home of choice.
Whether we own it or rent it, we win the game when we live where we are happy with people we choose to be with. While for some the psychology of owning versus renting is important, for others it is not. More important than owning these days is why you are where you are: by choice or necessity. Choice is the success metric. Home must be a happy place, a place you enjoy opening the door and entering.
2. Healthcare coverage.
The second sentence of America’s July 4, 1776 Declaration of Independence reads, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Two of those three, ‘Life’ and ‘the pursuit of Happiness,’ are impossible if a person in need has no access to affordable health care. The MAD—Modern American Dream—does not include pain and suffering or financial ruin. Living where you want does zero good if injury, accident, illness, or lack of medicine causes a man or woman to unnecessarily suffer within its walls or risk being thrown outside them.
3. Freedom of movement.
Portability—vehicular or otherwise—eliminates reliance on the fixed schedules of others to determine when and where we wish to travel. If we can go where we want, when we want, then we are free to transport.
Restrictions are life inhibitors, so happiness rises with maximum freedom but falls with added restrictions. While cars are depreciating assets that decline in value the longer we own them, they do enable us to get from Point A to Point B and expand our life experiences. The freedom to navigate is vital to the Modern American Dream.
4. Enabling the next generation.
A loving parent wants his or her child to surpass their upbringing. Unless the child is a freak of genetic nature—a professional athlete in a big money sport—this requires learning opportunities in an area that blends personal interest with marketplace need. Getting there typically demands higher education. Squirreling away enablement options for loved ones is important. Those tick this box.
5. Having more than hope for retirement.
Since most people spend more time planning their annual vacation than their career or retirement, something as simple as paying you first—socking money away where you can’t see or easily access it—pays accumulated dividends over time. The dichotomy of that simple point, which we’ve all heard umpteem times, is that the younger you start the more you’ll have; and yet the younger you are the less urgency you feel.
Money compounds brilliantly when given a chance. But when time is short and the need is great, it tends to balk at the concept.
Effective money management is un uncomplicated concept: spend some, waste some, invest some. Monitor your ratios. If you waste a little and invest a lot, you’ll be all set. If you waste a lot and invest just a little, you will end up relying on Social Security and eating generic hot dogs. Not good.
6. Play time.
Recharging batteries is important to the mental health of everyone, which means it is also tied to physical wellbeing. Vacations are not an unnecessary expense—they are a necessary investment. What may change from year to year is the destination or experience, but the need to take personal time to unplug, empty the noise from your head, and replace it with grateful, positive, and happy thoughts is unrelenting.
Bob Spooner, a buddy of mine years ago at Xerox, always used to walk around reminding us to manage the intensity of quarter’s end by saying, “Life ain’t no dress rehearsal.” Spoon’s message was to stay balanced and live it right the first time. This remains a very sage suggestion.
How to Get There
- Budgeting. Understanding where your money goes each month can help you determine the exact makeup of the benchmarks you are trying to match. If you’ve never done this, shove a note pad in your pocket and log it for a month. This will be an illuminating experience.
- Planning. Do not condemn your future to unnecessary debt. Executing a plan when you have one is a heck of a lot easier than thinking one up when you’re in a shortsighted mess.
- Working. A second job or a side business might be just what you need to boost your income and help achieve goals. When you do something you love, doing more of it is not difficult. When you are doing something you do not like, too much of it can suck the life right out of you. Workers are more flexible than they used to be and the workplace is more acceptant of job-hoppers. What you do for income is a choice. Do what you like; and if the money matters, you will find a way to make it.
- Awareness. Create options. Fiscal responsibility relies on balancing two things, “above the line” income and “below the line” expenditures. Manage both. If you need more, figure out how to make it. If you blow too much cash, police the habits causing it. Sometimes it helps to look at the price of something and add 25 percent to the price tag, because that is how many gross dollars you must earn to buy it. The price is net dollars—after taxes—but you must earn more than that to pay your taxes and be left with that much money.Just because you can afford something does not mean you should buy it. Respect the difference between wants and needs. Shop with a list and buy what you need—pass on less-valued wants.
- Making decisions, taking action. Hard work and luck create breaks. But sometimes being in the right place at the right time (or taking one particular course of action over another) changes life’s expected evolution and trajectory.Watch for opportunities. When you see one that can positively impact the six pillars of the Modern American Dream, make decisions and take action.
As the late self-made multi-billionaire Jack Simplot was fond of saying, “Sometimes you just got to do it.”
Jack would know. He left home at 13 with an 8th-grade education and ended up founding three separate billion-dollar corporations.
Then as now, the Modern American Dream is alive and well. It is there for the taking. Have fun with the chase.
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