Jun 08
How Culture Lies About Success

3 Ways Culture Lies To Us About Success

Read Time: 6 mins

The older I get the more I think about what it means to be successful. As time passes, I see many millennials making mistakes that prevent them from reaching their goals.

It’s a deep belief in our western culture that we can make a better life for ourselves and become successful. It’s nothing short of a privilege to live in a place where we are free to pursue whatever passions and hobbies we may have.

What if I told you that the success we are being fed is misleading us?

There is no one path to success. We each define what we want to do when we want to do it, and because of that, some people find success in things that others will not. The problem with finding success in the way that our culture tells us to find success in is that it’s what everyone does. Most people don’t thing for themselves, “what does a successful life for me look like?”

Below, I outline three common pitfalls people face when it comes to defining success.

1. A Degree Makes You Successful

Getting a degree is a noble pursuit, but it’s not for everyone. We’ve been trained to think “if you want to be successful, you have to go to college and get your degree.”

The increased popularity of going to college can be seen during the economic slowdown. As the economy slowed in 2009, college enrollment rates went up. People were being told that the only way you could get a job was to be college educated. The funny thing is, as more and more people go to college, the demand for skills workers is going up. It’s simple supply and demand theory.

College is an investment in knowledge and that knowledge should lead to an outcome.

The outcome you expect when you get a degree is a job. If you don’t know what job you are going to get out of college, it may be worth considering that it’s not for you.

If you don’t want to go to college and gain a specific set of skills for a particular career, why are you going? This is a highly-personalized question you must consider yourself.

Some of the most successful and smartest people I know didn’t go to college. You don’t have to go to college to be successful.

You can be smart and be educated and not go to college.

We live in unprecedented times to learn about new things for free because of the internet.

It’s also worth considering the average college grad comes out with $37,172 worth of debt, which is up 6% from last year. Is that worth it to you? 

2. House Gives You Stability

I’m almost 30, and I haven’t purchased a house. I don’t want purchase a house until I can pay cash for it. Am I less successful than someone who has a house?

No. I’ll argue that I have more freedom than someone who owns a home.

Buying a home is a major life decision. When you own your home, you are responsible for everything inside and outside of that home.

Pipes burst? You pay for it.

Need a new roof? You pay for it.

Lawn needs mowed? You mow it.

Owning a home takes time, energy, and money. All those things are valuable and worth something to you. You need to decide how valuable those things are and if their value is high enough to demand to take these things away from you (time, money, energy) in exchange for owning a house.

Buying a home you can’t afford does not make you more stable.

If you want to pick up and move to another city, better hope the housing market is good because you’ll have to sell your home first.

The Baby Boomer Generation is big on homeownership and see’s this step as one of “success.” The Millennials aren’t into it as much for many reasons that have to do with the economy and the lifestyle we want to pursue.

I see millennials being pressured into buying homes they can’t afford. This is a terrible mistake.

Buying a home, you can’t afford the fastest way to kill your financial progress.

Owning a home can be an asset, but it is also a liability. Having $150,000-$200,000 thousand worth of debt in your name is a big responsibility. Use a rent vs. buy calculator that can be helpful in deciding if you should continue renting or buy a house.  

Here's what I recommend you have before you buy a house:

  • Enough cash to pay the full down payment on the house (10% or more)
  • Saved 3-6 months’ worth of living expenses in an easily accessible savings account
  • Plan on committing to live in the house for ten years

If you can’t confidently check each of these boxes off, you’re not ready to buy a house.

Don’t let people lie to you about “building equity” and “buying when interest rates are low.” Those are emotional messages to make you feel like you are missing out.

Don’t rush yourself to buy one before you’re ready financially just because you think it’s a good long-term investment.

Related: Don't Make These Mistake With Money In Your Twenties 

3. Having Kids Fulfills You

Rushing to have children before you are financially in the right place is another one of the biggest mistakes people make. It costs nearly $10,000 just to deliver a kid and at the hospital and take it home when all said and done.

Some may argue that you’ll never be ready to have kids, but I disagree. If you aren’t financially fit in a way that you can provide for your child in the way that you want to, don’t have kids.

Rushing this process does not fix the problems in your life, it multiplies them.

A child costs $233,610 to raise to the age of 18. Do you have $233,610 to fork over? If not, don’t have kids yet. (source)

The problem with the success advice we hear is that you “have to” check off certain boxes to be successful in cultures eyes. The only measure of success is what you define it to be.

At FreeUp we are all about redefining how we measure success financially and with our lives.

It’s not what other people say that we need to do to be successful, but what we want to do to be successful that will count in the end.

If you measure success in your life by other people’s rules, you’ll be bankrupt when life is over.

Follow your path.

Related: Don't Make These Mistake With Money In Your Twenties 

Was this article helpful? Do you have any thoughts to add? If so, let me know in the comments below.​

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  • Jason says:

    Love these insights! So true.

  • steveark says:

    Good article, even if I did the college degree, buy house early and have three kids thing like I did. The fact was that my degree in engineering was vocational and at that time guaranteed a very good paying job. The house was very inexpensive, just a little over one year of our combined income at the time. And we stayed in it for decades, still in that house today though we’ve added on a good bit. But the point was it didn’t put us in financial peril because it was very inexpensive. And the kids, all three of them happened in our thirties when we were financially able to support them. I agree that if you do choose to do those things then you need to do them in a way that makes sense. The modern landscape is littered with people hurting because they went to expensive schools to get sketchy degrees and/or bought houses that made no sense and/or had kids when they had neither the financial means or maturity needed to handle them.

    • Zack says:

      Steve, couldn’t agree with you more! You are absolutely right. It sounds like you made a lot of the “right” choices. Engineering is a great career path.

      Thanks for your comment! You are officially one of the first comments on the blog because I had a glitch with the software all along and didn’t realize it until a couple days ago.

      -Zack.

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