We Need to Be Better Than Normal
The other day I came across a powerful quote on Get Rich Slowly, written by J.D. Roth:
“In life, there are often default options. If you don’t consciously and deliberately choose something different, you get the default. Most people live their lives in default mode. They accept the default without question.”
I love this quote. It stopped me in my tracks and has been on my mind all week.
So much of life is prescribed for us. We have expectations placed on us by family, friends, and society.
From ages 5-18 we go through school, listening to what our parents and teachers want from us. Then we’re told to go to college for the next four years. After that, we get a job making enough money to support our lifestyle, save 2-3% of our money, work until 65, and then retire.
Now I’m not saying there’s necessarily anything wrong with this traditional path, if that’s what we want. Unfortunately, many people don’t make these decisions mindfully.
Choosing Our Own Path
Did you go to college because you wanted to? Are you working a job you want to work? Are you living the life you want to live, or the life others expect of you?
This is what the above quote is alluding to. If we don’t make mindful decisions in our lives, we hop onto a conveyor belt and do what everyone else is doing, whether it makes us happy or not.
Rather than following along with what everyone else is doing, choose your own path. Make the decisions you want to make and pursue the areas that interest you. Social media traps us into thinking we need to validate our lives and decisions, but the reality is that you don’t have to explain your decisions to other people. Live your own life, without comparing yourself to the people around you.
Most People Don’t Know What They Want
One of Steve Jobs’ famous quotes was about why focus groups didn’t work:
“It’s really hard to design products by focus groups. A lot of times, people don’t know what they want until you show it to them.”
The significance of this quote is in that second sentence, people don’t know what they want. This is one way where we can set ourselves apart from being normal, by clearly defining our long-term goals and aligning our actions with those goals.
This is another reason why it’s important to save and invest our money. The more savings you build up, the more options and freedom you have to pursue your own direction in life. This direction could be traveling, changing jobs, moving to a new place, retiring earlier, pursuing hobbies, or any other number of options.
Even if you’re happy with your life right now, circumstances can change in the future. You may love your job today, but then your boss or role changes. Money is a tool that gives you the freedom to make changes in direction more easily. Building up savings helps you protect yourself against changes outside of your control.
Be Better Than Normal
This is what normal looks like in the United States:
- 76% of people live paycheck-to paycheck
- 2.4% average personal savings rate
- 46% of Americans couldn’t cover a $400 emergency
- $15,654 average amount of credit card debt per household
- $27,669 average amount of auto loan debt per hoursehold
- $46,597 average amount of student loan debt per household
- $173,995 average amount of mortgage debt per household
Note: Statistics found on Nerd Wallet
There are many reasons for these numbers. Costs have risen on almost everything, while wages haven’t. The fact of the matter is that “normal” is broke, stressed, and unhappy. In our lives we need to strive to be better than normal.
Putting This Into Practice
It’s much easier to say we need to be better than normal, but harder to put into practice. So what are some ways that can help us avoid settling for normal?
- Career: build up marketable skills, learn continually, read
- Health: exercise, eat fruits/vegetables, get more sleep, drink water
- Finances: Track your expenses, build up an emergency fund, automate bills and savings, pay off your credit card balance
- Reflect on choices you make to ensure they remain aligned to your long-term goals
By striving to improve ourselves in various areas we can surpass “normal.” Instead of adhering to outside expectations placed upon us, we can make mindful choices and live the lives we want to live. Gaining control of our finances can be an important step in this process as well, since building up savings helps provide more options and flexibility to make changes in our lives.