There has been much talk about excessive consumption over the last few years and how it effects our lifestyle and our lives. One aspect that seems to be ignored, though, is how excessive consumerism can effect your career. Frequently, when talking with people I find that they have made major concessions in other aspects of their lives only so they could obtain the supposed trappings of success…the expensive car, the elegant clothes or the large house. Basing your career choices solely on the amount of money they provide can lead you into the, all too familiar, trap of having all the material goods you have ever wanted, but finding yourself very unhappy with the life you need to maintain in order to acquire all those material goods.
Freedom vs. Stuff
As consumers, we are bombarded with a constant stream of advertising telling us what we need to make us rich, beautiful and happy. Every street corner, every bus, every television and radio tells us that if we only buy one product or another, we will achieve the perfect life. The trouble with most of this advertising, though, is it regularly confuses what we want with what we need. Once we lose touch with this important difference, we can find ourselves buried in consumer debt and an endless treadmill of trying to buy everything that advertising tells us we need.
This creates another major issue. If we are constantly trying to pay for all these expensive goods, we begin to sacrifice other important aspects of our lives. There is a palpable fear that runs through the lives of some of my friends and acquaintances. Faced with the need to pay for all their expensive acquisitions, they live in desperate fear of losing their jobs. They have little savings and live week-to-week, making just enough to pay their bills or, even worse, only paying the minimums on the credit card debt.
As you might imagine in such an environment, there is little room for thoughts about career growth or career change. Instead of working to improve their career, they desperately cling to their current job and its steady paycheck. As you might imagine, this opens the door to all sorts of problems. First, it makes them more susceptible to overwork and abuse by their managers and their companies. They can’t afford to lose the job, so they don’t complain about unpaid overtime or shady dealings within the company. Second, it prevents them from looking for new jobs and new opportunities. They are trapped in an endless cycle of “make the money/spend the money” every month.
The cold truth is, people who have engaged in excessive consumerism have sacrificed their career freedom for expensive, and often unnecessary, stuff. In the past, I have written about the importance of being able to say “No” to abusive bosses, golden handcuff severance pay plans and companies who deal in the grey areas of legal business. If you trap yourself with outstanding debts, you leave yourself no recourse when faced with these issues.
Want vs. Need
Now, I am not saying you shouldn’t feel free to have your cafe latte in the morning, buy a new computer every so often or even drive a very nice car. I only ask that you consciously make your decisions to consume instead of allowing advertising and peer pressure to push you into bad situations. If you want to purchase an expensive item, save up the money, or at least a large down payment, before you buy. Spend some time thinking about the purchase and discuss it with friends and family. Ask the very important question, “What am I sacrificing in order to have this item?”
In many cases I think you will find, like I have, that 99% of the purchases you consider are mere “wants” while 1% are truly “needs.” Even the computer I am using to write this column could be considered a “want.” I could just as easily write using a pen and paper or a typewriter, but I have decided, consciously and purposefully, that I enjoy the convenience and usefulness of the computer. The important point is that I have thought about the purchase and not simply walked into the Apple Store and made an impulse buy, like so many other people I see.
You will see immediate benefits in your life and your career if you start to notice the excessive consumerism that surrounds you. You will have less fear over layoffs and firings. You will be more open to new opportunities. You might even have more time to spend with your family, since you won’t be working too hard to pay for everything you are giving them to make up for your absence. When you say no to excessive consumerism you are actually buying more freedom. You will be free to make the best decisions for your family and career instead of making decisions based solely on the bills you need to pay.