Want to become a millionaire in your 30s?
The popular answer is “YES!” Just google “be a millionaire by 30,” and you will get about 77,300,000 results in .70 seconds
I think this is proof that we are obsessed with getting rich, while we’re still just embarking on our career path. We, as a society, have invested so much into the idea of becoming a millionaire young. It has become our utopia where, once achieved, we will finally be happy, fulfilled and satisfied.
Does this purported cure-all sound a bit like snake oil to anyone else besides me?
That is why my conversation with Professor Ruzena Bajsy felt like a breath of fresh air. During our recent Career: Reset interview, Professor Bajcsy voiced how perplexed she is with our fixation on wealth, and why it may be causing — not curing — societal issues.
The prevalent “just a little more” mindset
We all have moments in life when we think that if we can get a little more, we will be satisfied — those new shoes, the raise at work, that upgrade at home, or even cosmetically modifying our bodies. The list goes on. Many of us struggle with a deeply rooted desire that calls us to get or be more — and we believe there will be greater stability and satisfaction once we reach that next stage.
Professor Bajcsy is very familiar with that desire for stability, as her upbringing was filled with uncertainty and want. When the Nazis invaded Czechoslovakia, she and her sister were the only survivors in her immediate (Jewish) family. After that, she grew up in multiple orphanages and foster homes. She would have probably been a mathematician, but, living in a communist state, math teachers had to commit to Marxist-Leninist ideology. This was something she would not do. Instead, she followed electrical engineering since, under that regime, engineers were safer from political attacks.
After living so long with insecurity, uncertainty and want, it would have been so easy for her to become one of the many who fall for the “a little more” mindset as she sought stability. However, she made it clear that she rejects it out of hand.
What is enough?
At one point during our interview, Professor Bajcsy said, “I was lucky to have enough, or I adjusted my lifestyle to the amount, that I was paid. But I was paid enough to enable me to pursue this career.” With credit card debt out of control, with one out ten households overflowing into storage units, with our obsessions with hoarders and professional organizers — how many other people can make that statement? How many people do we personally know who can say, “I adjusted my lifestyle to fit my income.” In reality, many of us are tempted to say, “I will pay this off once I land that client or get that raise.” And then maybe we do, or perhaps we don’t. The focus is, instead, on living up to societal expectations. We go out to eat even if we can’t afford it. We buy new clothes when our closet is already bursting at the seams. It is never enough.
Professor Bajcsy went on to share her philosophy. “You need enough money to survive, but anything more is gravy. And you have to ask yourself, how much do you need?”
Knowing your “Why”
So often, we fall into this trap of seeking societal affirmation because we are searching for something more to fill up what we are missing in our lives. The superficial desire to be famous or to be seen as successful is based off a genuine desire for meaning and purpose in our work. Professor Bajcsy fights this mentality by knowing that the motivation for her work centers on two points. First, she follows her curiosity. She has a desire to find more answers and understand more of the world around her. That curiosity also sets the stage for her second motivator — making the world better for those coming after. Just as she regularly acknowledges those who have come before her and laid the groundwork for her success, she wants to raise the bar for those who will be following in her wake. It is her belief that by knowing her purpose and recognizing what fuels her work, she is then able to avoid the distractions of money and success.
Now, what does this mean for us? I will admit that there are seasons where “living within my means” is not an easy task for me to accomplish. It certainly is not fashionable. Who wants to cook a budget-friendly meal at home instead of getting cocktails at the new local restaurant with friends? Sitting down and comparing our income to our spending habits can truly be a cringe-inducing experience. However, Professor Bajcsy’s example gives me hope that perhaps if we can adjust our mindset, peace and true accomplishment can be found there. I am striving to reach a day when I can look back and say, “I was lucky to have enough, or I adjusted my lifestyle to the amount that I was paid. But I was paid enough to enable me to pursue this career.”
Jacquelyn Adams is a storyteller and an award-winning CEO. She lives in a world of constant exploration, whether it’s summiting Mount Kilimanjaro, vlogging about the future of work… or discovering how she’d do in a chocolate eating contest (answer: last place). Find more of her Lessons on Leadership articles here or connect with her on LinkedIn here.