When I was growing up, my parents drilled into me a number of key reasons to live: get a good job, build wealth, buy a house, get married and have kids. They also made it clear I should not cheat – should not cheat on my partner or employer; should not steal or back-stab; should not break the ten commandments.
All good advice and focus, but slightly mis-directed as it led to a life of constant concern over the bank balance, the job, the work, the family, the dedication, the loyalty, the focus. Constant concern creates worries creates stress creates issues. I would tell my children to remove those concerns, worries, stress and issues, and enjoy life.
But how? What does that mean?
Well, I wouldn’t drill into my kids the need to get a good job, there’s no such thing anymore, just work at what you like; I wouldn’t tell my kids to build wealth, have mine; I wouldn’t give them an urgency to buy a house, just live where you can afford; I wouldn’t tell them they had to get married, just be with who you want to be with and have children if you want them.
It’s far more relaxed.
But a key thing I would say to them is: build a world where you always have a dollar left over; set expectations within your means; don’t over-extend yourself financially. Charles Dickens said it best in David Copperfield when Mr. Micawber says:
“Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen pounds nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds nought and six, result misery.”
Mr. Micawber had racked up so much debt that he was thrown into a debtor’s prison which, back then, was hell. This is the key to a happy or unhappy life. Can you afford to be happy?
I would try and tell any future generation that if they set their expectation to be one dollar less than they earn, then they will probably be happy. In fact, it goes to the three phases of life: learning, earning and burning.
During the first twenty years, we learn; during the second twenty to forty years, we earn; during the last twenty to forty years, we burn what we earned.
During my middle twenty years, I got married, bought a house and built wealth. The thing is the wealth was built on debt and I had crossed Mr. Micawber’s line. We bought a house we could not afford, had a lifestyle beyond our means and lived a life that was keeping up with the Jones that we could not sustain, and who we could not keep up with.
Looking back, I wasn’t unhappy, but I was stressed. The loading of debt made me, forced me to focus. Focus on work, on earning, on building and on employment. Thing is that I was unemployed twice. First time in the 1990s and again in the 2000s. Both times I had bills to pay, debts to finance, mortgages and credit cards to cover and food and drink to buy. Could I afford those things? Could I keep up? Would I drown in debt? What would that mean?
Some forget those days, but I don’t and, to be honest, I don’t want my kids to be in this situation. But it’s a fine balance. A balance between work and money. It’s the balance we grapple with today regarding a Universal Basic Income (UBI). If you give people free money, will they have the work ethic? Do we work because we want to, or because we are paid to?
My work ethic came from a particularly extravagant holiday when I was seven years old. I wanted to buy a trinket from a craft shop and had no money saved up. I begged and pleaded with mum and dad to buy it. Eventually, they brought it but only on condition that I agreed to do cleaning in the house and digging in the garden for three months after, as the trinket was so expensive.
Maybe my parents were harsh, but it taught me a good life lesson: there’s no such thing as a free trinket.
So, if I look at life now, there may be no jobs out there in the future; there may be no work; machines might take over; but people will still need people to do things; to have a work ethic; to want to achieve something.
If you have no objectives and don’t need to achieve anything, what’s the point of being here?