When I was in law school, I met lots of people who had very specific plans on how they were going to use their law degree. “I want to help children navigate the justice system.” “I want to practice family law and help survivors of intimate partner violence.” “I want to help refugees with their humanitarian and compassionate applications.” After these discussions, you couldn’t help but feel inspired.
Well, it’s been 3 years since I graduated law school and where are these people now? Reviewing contracts. Finalizing real estate transactions. Doing nothing that they initially set out to do. Recently, I ran into a colleague from law school who wanted to practice environmental law but now works for the government for their mining division (arguably the exact opposite of what she believed). I asked her if she was enjoying her job. Her response: “It’s a means to an end.”
But, looking at her lifestyle and listening to how much she actually puts towards her student loans, I have to ask myself: A means to what end?
To afford the new iPhone? To eat at five-star restaurants? To spend half our paychecks on rent? All the while you’re stuck in a job that compromises your values but are forced to take in order to fund a lifestyle you can’t afford?
I don’t slight student loans — I had over $50,000 myself — but we need to differentiate between investing in a career path and funding our incessant need for instant gratification. We need to understand that a taste of a richer lifestyle, whether it’s through gaining a promotion or keeping up with your friends, can lock us into a cycle where we’re never truly free. Buying into a lifestyle we can barely afford to impress others and, even worse, ourselves.
As Austin Kleon writes,
“Low overhead + “do what you love” = a good life.
“I deserve nice things + “do what you love” = a time bomb.
A good life is not about living within your means, it’s about living below your means.”
I have no problem with people wanting nice things. I do too. The harm is when you take power away from your internal compass and hand it over to material possessions.
Principles define who you are, not the car you drive, phone you own, or where you reside. It’s about the ideas, values, and beliefs that you not just stand for but will ardently defend.
There are so many people who do the exact opposite of what they value.
- A man who insists he values family, but work 60 hour weeks;
- A woman who claims she values integrity, but agrees to work with nefarious clients;
- A person who says they value ethically-made products, but works for a company who exploits cheap labour overseas.
No, you’re not a terrible person for doing these things. Sometimes we have no choice, and we have to do what must be done to keep a roof over our head and food in the fridge. The problem is lying to yourself.
However, there are some of us who have no excuse. It’s our lifestyle fraud that stands in the way between living authentically and living a facade. If your principles are truly important to you, it’s time to stop making excuses for your actions. Don’t accept that you’re doing the exact opposite thing that you stand for. Don’t bend your values to fit your circumstance.
Either you stand for something or stand for nothing. What will you choose?