On any given day, I have pervading thoughts about my future, but the one that really sticks with me pops up whenever I see a giant advertisement with a celebrity selling watches or jewelry. Those actors and models can make more money on a single endorsement than I will have accrued over my lifetime.
The truth is, I don’t really care that I will never have as much money as Warren Buffett or even a low-level Wall Street type who takes trips to Bermuda every weekend. What bothers me is I will never have enough to own a house without brutally murdering my future because of a mortgage, or be able to take a vacation without being concerned about paying the bills in the following months, or even retire in relative peace.
You heard right. I harbor no illusions about my current financial status. Unless an aneurysm or other act of god cuts my life short, I will be working until my 70s, 80s, 90s, or 100s… medical science might take me that far, but I doubt I can afford the cyberware in the early 22nd century.
I’ve known this was a possibility my entire life. I was born into a relatively privileged lifestyle by American standards. I attended private school and was able to graduate university without being encumbered by student loans. Had I chosen to pursue a career in engineering as my degree dictated, I might be in a position topping six figures annually as we speak, and the only thing that it would have cost me is my sanity and my soul.
I still cannot fathom how we in the middle and lower classes accept such hardship and sacrifice as part of our existence. Some of my classmates, while not necessarily working themselves to death, are still in the pursuit of a magic number that will allow them to live through the end of the century. This number doubles every time they have another child. When money is even a factor in continuing the human race, you know we messed up our priorities down the line.
At the moment, there’s no sense of panic. I’m in good health and don’t require ongoing medical treatment. I’m young and can work a variety of jobs without fear of ageism. I make enough to live comfortably, but to save anything more than a few dollars for the future would mean I would be living just to work: eating, sleeping, trudging to a job. I would have no money for indulgences like vacations, or meeting friends for drinks, or taking a language class… what kind of life is that?
Despite all this, I know I’m one of the luckier ones. The ones who can work to live comfortably now, without burdening family members or being dependent on the government. More than two-thirds of American households make less than $126,000/year (https://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2015/12/09/459087477/the-tipping-point-most-americans-no-longer-are-middle-class), meaning there are hundreds of millions of people living in the richest country on the planet who could easily find themselves indigent after only one accident or misfortune.
How does this fact not keep me up at night, drive me crazy during the day, and keep me from making any kind of retirement plan? Sometimes it does, but what I always cling to is the promise of the unknown. Circumstances may easily get worse for me in twenty years, or even in six months, but I don’t know what tomorrow will bring – no one can know. I can’t know with absolute certainty I’ll never find love, just as I’ll never know if one day my lottery ticket will show the winning numbers, or if my writing will result in a high paying job, a movie deal, or one of those opportunities afforded to the elite.
“I was gonna die… totally alone. I was gonna get sick, or get injured or something… I had power over nothing. And that’s when this feeling came over me like a warm blanket. I knew, somehow, that I had to stay alive. Somehow. I had to keep breathing. Even though there was no reason to hope… So that’s what I did. I stayed alive. I kept breathing… Because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide could bring?” – Cast Away
Once you accept that something is completely out of your control, there is a certain peace to be found. We have a degree of control in where we choose to work and how we choose to spend our time, but beyond that, the last ten years have proven we can’t rely on any aspect of the economy. The housing market can crash. YouTube can be demonetized. Your boss can fire you because she just doesn’t like you. You can be completely ostracized from the online community – and job searches – because of one insensitive or stupid remark. Even if you make it to the finish line with savings, banks can fail.
I don’t apply this laissez faire attitude to everything. Some aspects of life will benefit from hard work and lots of hustling. I hope to find love, so I keep dating and meeting new people. I hope to find my passion, so I keep working different jobs and don’t let myself become complacent. Still, at the beginning of every day, I proceed with the assumption that one day I will reach a breaking point, and the comfort and security I have enjoyed will be gone. The only thing I can do is put my best self forward and hope the universe will provide.
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Turner Wright is a freelance writer with an engineering background. He is originally from Texas, but usually finds himself in the Bay Area if not some random corner of Asia. He is currently the Digital Media Manager for Airbnbhell.com and TravelVisaPro.com. He enjoys running long distances, eating more than necessary to do said running, and traveling to other countries.
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