A large paycheck doesn’t necessarily mean financial stability. Learning to foster the type of fulfillment that makes you feel stable, however, can help you live a more pragmatic lifestyle.
Whenever I see an article with the word “millennial” in the title, my initial reaction is to cringe. Society has collectively decided—most of the culprits are from our parents’ generation—that we are the generation of indecision, irresponsibility, and idealism. We’re a generation saddled by debt, unable to afford a house, typically overeducated and underpaid, while still convinced we can pursue our dreams to save the world. (We are not, however, the generation eating tide pods.) While I could go on bemoaning the injustices of our current societal framework, I won’t because that is exactly what society (especially my parents) expects me to do. Instead, I’m going to focus on pragmatism.
The eager young professional
When I finished my undergraduate studies, I decided to be pragmatic. I took a well-paid job and began to pursue a career in financial services. I worked in a stylish office filled with incredibly intelligent people, was clean-shaven and wore a suit every day, and even rented an apartment below my means with a roommate to save money. Before long, however, I began to despise my career. I was never bothered by the long hours, the immense workload, or the lack of recognition; I’ve been used to working since I was a teenager. What was missing was fulfillment. I began to spend excessively by eating out regularly, drinking with friends, and even purchasing items for the mere sake of purchasing them. I was driven to a life of excess in my attempts at being pragmatic.
Now fulfillment is something that can be considered a luxury. Many of my family members before me, as well as many of my family members now, never had the luxury of a fulfilling career. They worked blue collar jobs that could barely be considered enjoyable to feed their families and keep a roof over their head. Fulfillment was family, friends, the occasional vacation, and most importantly financial security.
This is where we fundamentally differ. Security is something that has had to be rethought for millennials. The bottom three-fifths of Americans between ages 18-34 had an average net savings of $3,300 in 1989. In 2013, the same demographic had a net debt of $7,700. We can thank the staggering increase of student loan debt, which averages $17,126 per graduate, for that. What’s more, the number of 25- to 34-year-olds living in their parents’ home jumped 17.5% from 2007 to 2010. Inevitably, security must be found through other means, which is where fulfillment comes in.
But where do you find fulfillment?
For me, fulfillment comes from a diversity of experience. I find security in challenging the unknown and learning through experience. I set goals for myself, saved up as much as I could, left my well-paying job and moved to Paris, France where I began furthering my education and developing a more defined and international skill set. Education is one of the most worthwhile investments you can make. In fact, I would argue that it’s become essential to social mobility.
While it was by no means an easy decision or an incredibly comfortable one, I have learned how to truly live within my means to foster the type of fulfillment that makes me feel stable. I purchased a bike as my primary mode of transportation, rented an incredibly economic apartment (read: this means SMALL), set aside a modest amount of my budget to continue investing monthly, and found inexpensive ways to spend my free time. Since certain economic burdens like health insurance and car payments have become a thing of the past, I can focus my attention on diversifying my income streams, learning new languages, and occasionally travelling to other parts of Europe.
At present, I’ve relocated to rural Sicily where I live and work on a farm/cooking school, helping with their digital communications, which has alleviated the financial burdens of rent and food. Make no mistake, my salary is incredibly modest, but by lightening my expenses I can live comfortably and fulfilled. While I am by no means encouraging you, dear navigator, to uproot your life and move halfway across the world, I am encouraging you to determine what kinds of fulfillment allow you to feel stable. Fulfillment is the medium for stability, and stability is essential for pragmatism.