Tony is a buddy of mine. He runs a couple chiropractor clinics in San Francisco as well as the successful blog The Paleo Fix. Despite my own successes in life, he’ll likely be far wealthier than I am (assuming he isn’t already, which he probably is). Sometime after high school our paths diverged and he developed a hustle spirit that I don’t possess. As such, he’ll reach the promised land of financial independence before I do–despite the fact that he’s a couple of years my junior. I’d like to be okay with that…but, I’m not. Whenever we talk, I can’t help but get some nagging pangs of jealousy. Just a little, mind you, but they’re there. This happens not just with Tony, either. When I look at bloggers that have passed me up in wealth or influence, the pangs surface again. I’m benchmarking. I’m tallying the numbers in my head. If I’m doing better, then I say, “Phew, that’s a relief.” If I’m doing worse, then I say “What am I doing wrong?” I do this even though I’m rational enough to realize that it’s a futile endeavor.
Sometimes you’re ahead,
Sometimes you’re behind.
The race is long, and in the end, it’s only with yourself.
– Baz Luhrmann, Sunscreen
No matter how successful you are, somebody will always be ahead of you. If you are the most successful person in your circle, you will naturally be attracted to other successful people, and your circle will expand to a point where you’re once again behind somebody else. This process can continue forever, and is known as the relative income hypothesis. We also might call it “Keeping Up With the Joneses.” The relative income hypothesis proposes that absolute wealth is not nearly as important as relative wealth. In other words, a person will be happier being the richest, most successful person in a poor neighborhood than they would be being the poorest, least successful person in a rich neighborhood. This is saying a $50k salary in Biloxi is better than a $500k salary in 740 Park.
– Chris Rock
If the universe turns and I vastly increase my net worth and influence overnight, and I leap ahead of those I envy, that will only cause me to move the goalposts. When the universe turns again, I move the goalposts again. Which brings me back to the subject line of this post…
Today, November 5th, 2015, Facebook stock rose about 5%. As a result, Founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg (age 31), increased his net worth by about $2.5 Billion. We’ve gotten accustomed to hearing absurd numbers, so let me put it another way. In every single minute that passed today, Zuckerberg increased his net worth by $1.78M. At a 4% annual withdrawal rate, that’s $71,000 a year—enough for a family of five to comfortably retire just about anywhere on the planet. So, Zuck made enough in a given 60-second period to forever change the lives of a workaday family. And what huge event caused this? Some random buy rating change. Zuck made enough in a normal day to buy the Dallas Cowboys. How can I, or anyone else, possibly compete with that?
Answer: I can’t, and I never will. So, stop competing.
Nope. Not Good Enough.
Somehow, “stop competing” isn’t helping me. I still find myself competing…benchmarking. I’ll still take a yardstick and measure my life, my money, my blog, or my body against that of others. That yardstick might be measured in net worth, or passive income, or page views, or Alexa ranking, or number of abdominal muscles showing, or my 5k time, or whatever.
So, I have another problem: I’m obsessed with using the yardstick.
Solution: Change the yardstick.
What’s a mob to a king?
What’s a king to a god?
What’s a god to a non-believer?
Who don’t believe in anything?
– Kanye West, No Church in the Wild
If you, like me, have a tendency to measure your success against that of others (and if we’re honest with ourselves, I bet most people do this*), then we have no choice but to redefine our definition of success. I you don’t believe in the traditional definitions of success (fame, power, influence, or wealth), then you can trick yourself into believing that you are, in fact, the most successful person on the planet.
*Note: One of the funniest things I hear people say is “I don’t care what people think.” I find that oxymoronic, because if you’re saying that, you at least care enough to make sure others are aware of your indifference. Whenever I hear somebody say that, I immediately see them as the most insecure person in the room.
What Is Success?
Let me tell you the stories of two real people that I know.
Karen is a Wall Streeter. She’s 52 years old, married without children. As a director, she makes about $330,000 per year with a bonus of about $100k. Her husband works as a management consultant and professor, and he makes a similar salary. The husband’s job requires that he travel about half the days of the year. They have a large home in New Jersey, paid off. Karen’s day starts at around 5 a.m., she arrives in the office at 7 a.m., and she’ll leave 12 hours later. Her days are filled with meetings. I mean, packed with meetings (I’ve seen her calendar). Several times per year, schedules will align and Caribbean vacations will ensue. Money is not a relevant factor in their lives.
Katrina is an 19-year-old American nomad and one of my favorite people on earth. Straying from the traditional path, she moves from location to location and hustles her way through a mix of modeling, couch surfing, and odd jobs. She doesn’t have an ID. I mean that literally, she neither carries nor has a form of identification. It’s not the life I’d choose, but it makes her happy. She’s a little like Spicoli.
Spicoli: What for?
Brad: You need money.
Spicoli: All I need are some tasty waves, a cool buzz, and I’m fine.
-Fast Times at Ridgemont High
So, who’s successful here? Karen?
Spicoli Katrina? Both?
Of course, it all depends on your definition of success.
Retire29’s Definition of Success: You Are Doing Exactly What You Want To Be Doing
By my definition, Katrina seems to have the pole position in this race. Despite her untraditional lifestyle, she is making it work, and is doing so happily. In ten years, she’ll probably have a set of life stories and experiences that rivals The Most Interesting Man In The World. At a house party with 99 Karens and 1 Katrina, Katrina will command all the attention with her stories of struggle, sacrifice, and eventual grandeur.
Now, let’s take me. I have a very flexible job. I spend my afternoons and evenings playing with my favorite person on earth. I genuinely laugh several times every day. I smile real smiles, like with my face getting warmer and all that, every time I look at the lock screen on my phone (baby’s face). My wife and I somehow get along super well and we have a lot of fun together. We encounter problems and arguments, but just enough to keep things interesting and keep the relationship growing. We have the only one-year-old on earth that regularly stays up and active until 1 a.m., which makes sleep (which was never a priority anyway) cumbersome and a daily routine impossible. We travel a lot, and have almost no responsibilities outside of our little bubble. Except for the hours where I’m forced into the office (which I’m actively working toward eliminating altogether in a few years), I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing. I’m a success.
Does my arch-nemesis, Tony, have all of these things in his life? Probably not—but that is totally cool. He’s also a success because “exactly what he wants to be doing” is probably a completely different set of items.
Maybe you have things all figured out. Maybe you already knew everything I just said and you wake up each day 100% happy with everything occurring in your life. (Liar.)
Or, maybe you’re like me, and you need a little nudge to remind yourself that, for your life, the scorecard you’re using doesn’t make lot of sense. Maybe you need a little reminder that things are actually pretty sweet just the way they are.
In life, to be honest, I failed as much as I have succeeded.
But I love my wife. I love my life.
And I wish you my kind of success.
– Dicky Fox, Jerry Maguire
Thanks for reading Retire29.