A number of years ago, I found myself reflecting on the decisions that have changed my life. Specifically, I examined the turning point of my financial life.
Like any 18-year-old, I entered adulthood with high expectations. It wasn’t much but I felt I deserved to have a big house, fancy car, beautiful wife, and a perfect job.
Was I being rational? I thought so.
For the next 12 years I worked away at my list and one-by-one I crossed each off. To my surprise, as my list shrank, it also grew. I’d check off the house and I would replace it with art. I’d check off the fancy car and collectible comics would appear. It was never-ending and worse yet, I didn’t have a problem with it.
I fell victim to conspicuous consumption or as you may know it, “keeping up with the joneses.” Upon realization, my mind began to spin out of control with questions: Why does this happen? Why did it happen to me? How did it happen? How do I get away from it? Am I the only one?
At first, I didn’t have any answers. Frustrated, I sought out help.
I learned that three things were responsible for my uncontrollable spending.
- My insatiable lust for to prove myself
- Pervasive marketing
Let me explain.
I conditioned myself to believe that through the things I bought, I achieved a certain level of power, superiority, and social status. If I wanted to be better than those around me (which I did) then buying things was my way of proving it.
What I didn’t realize was subconsciously I was looking around for the approval of others. This approval gave me a sense of mattering and mattering fulfilled my desire to be better.
It was a game I was playing and I was losing.
Dopamine is a chemical in the body strongly tied to motivation. Like heroin, it’s highly addictive and left me wanting more. It is the chemical that when the end is in sight pushes you to work a little harder, walk a little farther, and do a little bit more. As my list shrank, dopamine told me to add more to it.
Some people are addicted to alcohol and some drugs. I was addicted to dopamine and had little chance to curb it.
It has been estimated that each of us encounters 4,000-10,000 marketing impressions a day. These impressions tell us what to buy, what to eat, what to wear, how to look, and most intrusively, how to live. They run rampant and can be found in more places than I care to count. Street signs, billboards, magazines, commercials, clothing, radio, and the Internet to name a few.
Their primary focus is to grab your attention long enough to influence your purchasing decisions. In my youth, they worked and worked well. When I looked to make a purchase, I found myself referencing the Nike slogan “Just do it” and just did it.
These three things resulted in my twenties ending on a high and my thirties beginning on a low.
Somewhere around my 30th birthday, something changed. As I looked around my overstuffed house, I didn’t see what I had seen in previous years. I saw junk…and more junk than I cared to have.
I then looked in my bank account and saw what I feared…nothing. In that instance, I looked to my future and didn’t like what I saw. If 40-year-old Joel were watching, he was nervous. Even worse, he had no way of telling me what to do.
These thoughts kept me up every night for months. I couldn’t focus. I couldn’t understand why. I couldn’t figure out where I went wrong. Most of all, I couldn’t figure out a way out.
So what happened?
Age, maturity, clarity to my wants, and the desire to do more for others entered the equation. In a short period I went from spending everything I earned to realizing that spending was not the way to the future I dreamed of.
I woke up from the life I was living and looked to design the life that I wanted.
This started with deciding what I wanted to do before I turned 40. For this I created a road map for my life.
- Public speaking on a grand stage
- Writing a book
- Owning enough real estate investment properties to support my family
- Creating a non-profit designed to help alleviate worldwide poverty
- Teaching the world that fighting is not the answer to its problems
- And a few more
So what did I do?
It began with clearing out my past. I looked around my house and gathered up everything that I bought under compulsion. I researched what it was worth and sold it…all of it. I lost money on the stupid purchases and gained money on the others.
I’d be lying if I told you that a tear or two didn’t run from my eyes. I had spent my entire life amassing all these items and to see them go was difficult. I didn’t know if what I was doing was the correct course of action. All I knew was that I had to do something.
From there I worked at filling my headspace with things that could and would change my life. This consisted of books, podcasts, teachings, mentors, networking, and journaling. Each of these became a natural part of my life. If future Joel were to enjoy his life, it was up to me to make it enjoyable.
So, what does all this mean for you?
Nothing, unless you allow it to.
Like any great story, lesson, speech, or conversation, nothing happens unless you take action with what you read or heard. Action is the cornerstone of change and without it you cannot get to where you want to be.
Can I offer you some advice?
Before you go to bed tonight, ask yourself the same question I asked myself so many years ago, “Is what I am doing with my life right now something that my future self will be proud of?”
If the answer is “yes”, carry on.
However, if the answer is “no”, you need to find a way to look to the bleak future that awaits you and correct it. Do as I did. Seek out someone, create a road map, dispose of your past, and work at your plan. Know that there will be obstacles. When these come up, remember the plan.
Your future self is counting on you.