Career Works

LIVE WITHIN YOUR NEW MEANS

There are many reasons a person may choose to prioritize work: to gain prestige, to feel useful, to make an impact. But one of the biggest reasons many of us put our all into our careers is so we can fund our lifestyles. And what is often at the heart of that? Keeping up with the Joneses. It’s one of America’s favorite pastimes.

In his groundbreaking book, The Price of Inequality, Nobel Prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz wrote about trickle-down behaviorism, “People below the top 1 percent increasingly aspire to imitate those above them . And for those in the third percentile, the second percentile provides aspiration, and so on down the line . Individuals say they are working so hard for the family, but as they work so hard there is less and less time for the family, and family life deteriorates.” In the end, Joseph wrote, “It may be we are working more to maintain our consumption relative to others”246 rather than for our families.

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Public relations guru Kristin Kiltz knows this only too well. She had a thriving career and a big salary working for a well-regarded agency when she decided to pull back her career to spend more time with her children. It didn’t take long for Kristin to realize she missed the lifestyle her paycheck offered, so she went back to full-time work.

“I liked the flexibility,” Kristin told me, “but the lifestyle cuts meant we couldn’t do as much as we wanted. So I went back to full-time work at the agency. I was working crazy hours, but the money was good. We could afford anything we wanted. We traveled, we ate out, we even did a big remodel on our home.”

Things might have continued on as they were, but Kristin began to get severe headaches. She went to doctor after doctor, but none seemed to be able to diagnose her. Because she felt so ill, Kristin took numerous days off from work. She missed meetings and had to push back deadlines. Kristin was scared about her health; her boss was less than supportive about her lack of focus.

One day, after a particularly harrowing set of doctors’ appointments, Kristin’s boss came into her office and complained, “I’ve seen more tears from you in the last two weeks than all of the years you’ve worked here. I’m sick of seeing all of these tears.” That lack of support might have been the final straw, but Kristin still didn’t leave her job; she had the big remodel to pay for.

Eventually, the doctors discovered Kristin had a brain tumor. She had surgery and was relieved to discover the tumor was benign. Kristin felt she had been given a new chance at life and decided things had to change.

“I knew I could never go back to the way things were. I was working for the money and the status, but I learned that terrifying lesson: Life is too short,” she told me.

Kristin wanted to quit and launch her own agency, one that would allow her more control of her time and provide a less toxic work environment. But when she and her husband crunched the numbers, they realized they would have to make serious changes if she was going to leave her job. They decided changing their lifestyle was worth it. She launched her own agency and they made choices: No more dinners out, no fancy vacations, and, eventually, they even sold their newly remodeled home.

“It was a beautiful house. Truly a dream home,” Kristin said. “But we couldn’t afford it anymore. So we ended up downsizing and moving to a smaller home in a better school district.”

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