Recently Our Next Life, a couple who have been writing online for several years now, achieved their early retirement dream at the ages of 38 and 41. After some press about this amazing accomplishment, I of course saw someone on Twitter complaining that they “had it easy” because they don’t have kids. This was not the first time recently that I’ve seen this, where people complain about the supposed ease of achieving a goal because of specific advantages they may have. I’ve also seen people feeling that they need to apologize, or feel guilty, about achieving certain goals because they feel they “had it easy”.
I personally strongly believe that this kind of thinking isn’t productive on either side. Ultimately this thinking both holds you back from achieving your goals and dreams, and hurts others. So today I wanted to write and ask that we stop the jealousy and the guilt, and instead focus on our own journey – and encouraging others in theirs.
What I Mean
Here are some of the more common examples of what I’ve seen around the internet or heard in real life of this sort of thinking.
- How DINKS (dual-income, no kids), or people with only one child have it “easy” compared to those of us with kids (or more kids-remember, I have three myself). Sometimes this one goes more toward the age you have kids, with people commenting that folks having kids later in life have it easier than us who had them very early on
- How people with an inheritance, or who had their home/wedding/college/whatever paid for by their parents, have an unfair advantage
- Doctor X. was of course able to retire early, or cut down to part-time: they make a tremendous income. You can replace Dr. X. with a lawyer, or any number of very high-paid professions
- How people with connections are succeeding because of them, while others who are “more deserving” have to struggle to be noticed by anyone who could be of significant help
- Let’s not forget how people who never had to support a family on a low income “have it easier” than people who started their careers with a high one
- Also there are those who were able to do unpaid internships and graduated right to a high paying job, while others had to work hard in low paying jobs during school due to lack of money
- People who were able to go to one of the more expensive, well known, Ivy League schools (perhaps funded by their parents) while others have to struggle to put themselves through community college and a state school
It’s not a contest about who had it harder in life-we all have our own stories to tell and journeys to go on. Don’t tear down someone else’s journey and struggles just because you have a harder journey or more struggles. We should support each other in our financial goals and dreams, and strive not to complain about the fact that others had advantages we don’t enjoy.
You would probably say that I’ve had obstacles to overcome. I currently have three children, with my oldest son born a mere two months after I finished college. I put myself through college working full time and going to school full time. When you work full time while in college, you can’t join clubs, or be the president of the student union, or even take an internship. No, you have to work your forty hours and then take five classes. Due to the cost, I started out in community college and then transferred to a four year school. During much of that time I was living on my own in a condo I bought with my own money – so I also had a mortgage to pay.
When I finished college I couldn’t work in an ideal job or work in a field I love for little pay-I had to support my family. My husband and I combined made a relatively low income for years after our son was born. For many years we worked opposing shifts, with my job during the day and his in the evenings, overnight, or part time (different situations in different years). I couldn’t take time off from work to get my MBA, and had to do it nights and weekends while having two small children. After finishing, again, I couldn’t decide to jet off to a faraway place to take a job in just any field. I had a family to support, and my husbands near-death and subsequent recovery had made it so he couldn’t work for quite some time. My youngest son was born only two and a half years ago, and my husband had to have a major reconstructive surgery when the little guy was only six months old.
Today I’ve overcome all these obstacles to achieve the goals and dreams my early-twenties self could only have dreamed of. And you know what? Even though I had obstacles to overcome, mine were easy compared with some others in this world. There are millions born into poverty where they don’t know where their next meal is coming from, or who don’t have electricity or running water. Children who die or are disfigured by illnesses we in the Western world take for granted we can easily cure. Single mothers, teenager mothers, people suffering from amputation or brain injury-the list goes on. So I fully recognize that although I’ve had difficulties, there are plenty of people in this world who would trade places with me in a heartbeat.
I could sit around and complain about this. Or perhaps I could spend my time and energy feeling sorry for myself. When I see people who have two incomes and no kids pursuing early retirement, or who started life with no kids and a good high paying job, I could sit around and think about how they have it so much easier than I do.
But you know what? If that was what I did – if I had sat around and simply felt sorry for how hard things were – I would never have achieved everything I have. It would have held me back. Because their advantages don’t have anything at all to do with what my life would be like. Frankly, life isn’t fair. We all start in different places, and have different journeys to go through, and have different obstacles in our path.
I prefer that we all focus on encouraging others on their financial or success journey, and in cheering them on as they pursue their goals and dreams. I think we all have a responsibility to each other to be encouraging and supportive. Even if someone looks to “have it easier than you” from the outside, that does not mean it’s actually easy. Every person has obstacles to overcome, tough times to wade through, and things that could hold them back. I think we all need to focus on building each other up and not tearing each other down.
In the great poker game of life, some of us are dealt a royal flush, others a terrible hand. Most are somewhere in the middle. Whatever combination of cards we get, we must play the hand we’re dealt. No matter how much we wish we had gotten a different hand, we can’t change that.
A Moment On Guilt
If you feel guilty because you think you “have it easier” than someone else, there’s really no need. Guess what? Even if you were dealt the royal flush of hands in life, with all the advantages other people can only wish they had, it was still up to you to make the most of it. We all know of people born with every conceivable advantage, but who ended up dead/in jail/broke/other bad things. Or people that achieve objective success but lead miserable lives. So it’s still up to you to make the most of the advantages you do have.
Fall Seven, Rise Eight
If you feel jealous or frustrated because of all the disadvantages and obstacles you have to overcome, stop it. Take stock of where you are, where you want to be, and figure out how you can get there. Focus not on how easy other have it, or on the circumstances outside your control, but focus on the things you CAN control. Those are the only things that you can do something about. Figure out what things you can do to to move yourself forward. Find other people who have overcome similar struggles to what you’re facing, learn how they did it, and then do what they did. Even if you get knocked down, just keep getting up. The key to success is to just keep getting up, one more time than you get knocked down.
So let’s pledge to stop tearing down others, feeling guilt, or feeling jealous. Instead let’s decide to encourage each other to play the hand we’re dealt, to cheer each other on, and to help one another through whatever challenges we face. And lets keep laser focused on our own journey-our own goals and dreams-since that’s the only way we will achieve them.
I Want To Hear From You
What are your thoughts on this subject? Have you seen the same tearing down, complaining, or guilt online (or in real life) as I have? Let me know in the comments.
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23 thoughts on “Stop The Jealousy And The Guilt – Lets Respect The Journey Of Others”
What great points, Liz! I love the picture of you and your oldest son, too. How time flies…. The truth is, the root of low self esteem is comparing ourselves to others, and we can’t do it. Everyone has a different life journey and different circumstances, and getting jealous over someone’s success is only a sign to you that deep down, you want to change something in your life. I don’t allow any of that kind of talk from my kids–“they have this, they have that” and don’t allow it in myself. The more we focus on making our life look like we want it to be, the happier we’ll be.
Thank you for writing this, Liz. I think I have experienced many of the same feelings… jealousy at times, guilt at others, and a general “if only I had…”. But that achieves nothing and leads to a miserable life. Just recently, I have been focusing on shifting my thoughts to reflect a more positive twist. If I think “that must be nice to have…”, I try to stop myself and reframe as “Wow, what an incredible opportunity to enjoy x. I’m really happy for them!” And when I stop to count my own blessings, I certainly realize how silly it is to be feeling jealous… I’m an incredibly fortunate woman for the gifts I have been given, the challenges that have formed me so far, and the life I enjoy each day!
Happy Thanksgiving week, Liz! Enjoy the week off with your family 🙂
I’ve felt the same way before, and like you I think the key is to recognize what we’re doing, and reframe our thoughts. After all, jealously never helped anyone succeed! Happy thanksgiving to you and your family too.
Very inspiring story. I have a similar background, paying my way through school while working the whole time. I paid cash for every fall semester from working all summer and took out loans for spring semesters. When I graduated it was in the heart of the recession so I worked construction for 2 years making $12 an hour with no benefits with a college degree and loan payments. Now that I’m in a paid fire dept people say I can save so much money because my wife and I don’t have any kids, but what they don’t know is every dime I sock away for retirement is from OT. I work at least 20 hrs a week of OT to fund my dream so it is definitely earned. People often don’t k ow the whole story but at the end of the day it doesn’t really matter all that matters is that you are working hard to achieve your dreams.
Sounds like you’re doing a great job! I agree people often don’t know the whole story behind what they perceive as an “easy” financial road. It’s like when a business takes off-people just see the success and complain about that person being “lucky”, when really it was years of hard work meeting the right opportunity that led to success.
This is a great post. It is very easy to assume someone else did not have to work hard to obtain something. I am a doctor who had no kids. I certainly think I worked hard and struggled to get to FI. No one with a professional degree had it handed to them. Some struggles can be anticipated and avoided but much stuff just happens. I don’t know a single person who has not had a struggle along the road of life. Sometimes you just do not know about it.
So true Hatton1. People make assumptions about others based on a limited set of facts, but the truth is that everyone has struggles to overcome in their lives.
It comes down to, we need to recognize our priviledge when helping others to not judge them, but we need to ignore our hurdles and priviledge when moving forward. It can become both a hurdle to helping onself or a hurdle to helping others if you spend too much time on it.
I’ve had my fair shae and so has my wife, but now we live a fairly priviledged life.
Lovely perspective thank you for sharing it, and your story! Everyone indeed does start in a unique place, and then life happens and we make decisions that take us down our own road. I love that the majority of the PF community is so supportive of each other, even though we could play the comparison game all day long, we just support and encourage. Keep on keeping on!
No doubt you have to play the hand you’re dealt, and dwelling on someone else’s privilege can make you less appreciative of your own.
That said, i think it’s problematic to ignore your own privilege or to be blind to privilege in general. It exists and with privilege should come some responsibilities. We need not to begrudge a glass or water or a hand up to someone who has a much longer journey, and those who have had more than our share of privileges should pay it forward by giving others a helping hand when we can.
Few reading this post would begrudge another in need a glass of water or a hand up. Willingness to help others, whether that is with cash donations, your own physical labor, or giving freely of your best financial advice, is a credit to one’s character – anyone’s character – rich or poor, successful or struggling. Guilt about your own “privilege” is not a pre-requisite to paying it forward.
I agree that guilt should not be a prerequisite for helping others, nor is privilege. There are many ways to help others and to make one’s community better.
I do think you may have misunderstood my comment…I’m not saying I feel guilty about the privileges I enjoy, although I do try to recognize them, be grateful for them, and understand that not everyone has them. I’m saying that I feel responsible for using my privileges wisely, prudently, and generously. I don’t always live up to that standard, but I think it’s a pretty good goal to shoot for.
Thank you for sharing your honest thoughts! I think putting other people down and explaining away their success is the easiest thing an insecure person can do to feel better about themselves. I know because I’ve been there.
Jealousy is a normal feeling. After all, we’re all humans. I think what matters more is what we choose to do with that jealousy: letting it eat away at our soul or making it a motivation for us to try harder. I want to opt for the 2nd choice.
It is normal to feel jealous, but what I really hate is seeing people complain about how easy other people have it. First, they probably don’t actually know what that person may have overcome to get where they are. And second, it’s not productive. I’ve seen other people using jealousy as a reason tear down someone else, or belittle their accomplishments.
This is a wonderful point. Too often people want a magic bullet to fix their situation, but we’re all on a different journey, because personal finance is personal. We don’t need to talk down to other people because we have different obstacles.
If we all had the same paths, challenges, and opportunities in life, there would be no need for all of us to have our own blogs to tell our own stories! I try to remember that every time I’m feeling down with where I am in my journey (and to remember that I’m farther along than other people!).
OH yes, I’m well over hearing people say “they have it easier because…”. First, you have no idea if they do or not. You have no idea whether they’re facing invisible insurmountable challenges of their own. Second, what does it matter? If they didn’t have it easier, what effect would it have on your life? None. Just like their current situation has absolutely no effect on your life unless you choose to let it, whether that’s making it motivational or letting the jealousy drag you down.
I don’t believe in comparing myself to others, unless we’re talking about aggregate others and average numbers one “should” have at certain ages in which case I’m all over that to see what else I need to do to improve.
As my surrogate mom says: What’s the point of jealousy or insecurity? What does it achieve? That stuff is useless, get a move on with your life.
I love seeing other people’s success stories to find a grain of information or learning that will help me. I love hearing people succeed because they did the same. The best thing a friend can do to brighten my day is share their successes. If I can’t celebrate a friend’s successes and joys wholeheartedly, then that’s on me and the hole in my heart. That’s when I know I have to reexamine my perspective and remember how good I have it. No matter how hard our roads have been, we are triply blessed in our current family, friends, and wealth – that’s something I couldn’t have foreseen for myself 15 years ago and I work to be grateful every day.
I’ll be the first to admit I had it easy because I chose and was suited for a very technical very highly paid career. I was blessed with a high intellect and great parents that taught me gratitude and kindness another double whack with the lucky stick. And they taught me to live below my means, to avoid debt and to give generously. Plus I loved my job and didn’t even chose to retire very early because it was too much fun! I see all that as crazy undeserved luck. Like marrying my wife almost 40 years ago and finding out each year she’s even cooler than she was the year before and that for some crazy reason she still likes me! I don’t really feel guilty, just very lucky and very blessed. A complete idiot would have had trouble messing up my life, and fortunately I wasn’t a complete idiot, just a partial one at times. I do admire so many of the people in the comments and this community that have overcome serious odds and issues like you CMO, you are my heroes! I’m just a kind of ridiculously lucky person that never had to work very hard at anything. Which is great as far as I’m concerned. Doesn’t make me bad or weak, just lucky.
Amen Liz!! Love love love this post. A small addition I can make here is the annoying way in which people add up your advantages AFTER you’ve conquered obstacles. So right when you’ve achieved something like a promotion, degree, overcome an illness, people will come out and say – well that’s because you’re: a manager, a doctor, or healthy. Like instantly, forgetting any struggles you may have had.
I have two favorite quotes which you might enjoy on the heels of this post:
“A tree does not grow strong without wind.”
And “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a tough battle.”
Thanks for this great post Liz.
What a positive message! I totally agree that we need to be supportive of each other (in real life and on the internet) and stop tearing each other down. Thanks for writing this!
Wonderful story CMO. Your difficult experiences have made you stronger than many who had an easier ride. I would say the right attitude must also extend to bloggers who “prescribe” the right way regardless of very diverse circumstances of the readers: http://tenfactorialrocks.com/fire-without-smoke/
I don’t envy people who are wealthier than me because it often means that they took more risks than me or worked harder and it paid off. Or even if they got a big inheritance, their parents took the risk for them. Somebody worked their butt off for the money so someone else in the family could enjoy it.
The anonymity of the Internet unfortunately breeds a lot of negativity. Mother Theresa once said “there isn’t enough time to love in this world, where’s the time to hate?” What a beautiful attitude.
Love the quote-it’s so true. I get frustrated at times with the level of jealousy or complaining I see. We all need to play the hand we’re dealt, and complaining about how you wish you had a different hand isn’t going to help you move forward