I am a thirty-six year old mother of two, wife of one and real estate agent to many. I have a decent home in a nice suburb and two decent cars parked in my double driveway. Up until about a year ago, I was doing extremely well. My career had been soaring, and at thirty years old I had made over $100,000 in my first year in the business. I was going places! Or was I…?
In 2009, things took a turn in real estate, but unlike our American counterparts, I cannot blame the market. I did at first, but things recovered and the year ended as our market’s second best year in history. I, however, took home less than half what I was used to making. What on Earth was going on? I love my job! I’m good at my job! But I knew there must be a change happening in me – and probably something dramatic. I had to take a step back. Was it confidence? Did I not like the job anymore? Where had all the work gone? What was going on with me?
Looking back, my passion for my work started to dry up a few years ago. I grew up like many of us. Nice parents, nice house, normal life. I was encouraged to get good grades, work hard, have a part-time job; rush, rush, rush, achieve, achieve, achieve. Life was a competition, and all about looking like a productive Human Being. Once I “grew up” and got into real estate, I loved ‘beating’ people at work, especially since I was new. It was such a rush. I was out at all hours wheeling and dealing. I loved it. I was doing what I had been programmed to do… achieve, work myself to the bone, gloat and boast about my conquests and belittle those who couldn’t keep up. Looking back, I am ashamed of how arrogant I became. My arrogance took me so far as to think that my husband was not good enough for me anymore. I felt I was leaving him behind in the dust my running around created. How selfish to think that as he was home raising our children – tucking them into bed and making them dinner – without ever complaining, even after a full day of work. How arrogant that I felt superior to him.
So, I dropped the “baggage” as I saw it then, and became a separated woman with two kids. I felt productive, yet completely disconnected. I had two kids, owned my own house, had friends, made good money, yet I felt separate from everyone. If I was doing it all right – the work, the money, the success, then why was I feeling so empty, and actually quite useless? I realized I was doing absolutely no good for the world. In fact, I started to think the amount of money I made was ludicrous. Now I’m good at my job, and like to think skills should definitely be rewarded – but that much? I felt almost unethical. People were still willing to pay it, but I felt increasingly guilty. I carried on however; after all, at this point I had two children depending on me and they never had enough “stuff” or experiences.
It was at this point when work began to die off of its own accord. Coincidence? Na. Maybe. I don’t know. I don’t think it would be ridiculous to say that perhaps my energy around people changed, especially in a work setting. I realized that I wasn’t interested in “winning” anymore; in fact, I wasn’t even all that interested in participating in the game. While some may say this is wonderful on a soulful level, I can assure you that on a financial level it was the cause of great stress. I was still making enough money – plenty, and I even had loads of savings, but I was not programmed to ever decline financially. Any decline was a failure. That was stressful. I was waging two battles in my mind – two separate ideologies that could not possibly mesh. I was battling between my “logic” – those ideas programmed by my parents, community and general Western culture, and this strange new sense that behind all the bravado, none of this was really me at all. This stress caused anxiety and panic attacks. These ideas of how we measure success and goals – on spread sheets and in business plans, and by the car we drive – they just stopped working for me altogether. Just like that. I started to pay more attention to other people to see how they were living their lives. I looked closely at the ‘successful’ people. And it leads me to wonder, what the hell are we doing to ourselves??
As a realtor, I meet a great many people. Some “rich”, some “poor”. I know people who live in huge houses, drive the nice BMW or Lexus – the whole picture of success. And do you know what? When you look very closely, many, and I do mean many, are not in a great position financially. Trust me. They have massive mortgages, lines of credit, credit cards, leased cars. I even had one client whose wife had no idea that he had $100,000 on a line of credit. Can you believe that? Look at the situation in the U.S. Millions of people are losing their homes because they got in over their heads. Are we going to learn anything from this recent recession, or are we going to go right back and make the same mistakes again?
I have other friends in a similar situation. They bought a house in an exclusive area. The lots are about 34×100 feet, but the 2400 square foot houses take up most of that. This is considered an “exclusive” neighbourhood – because the houses are big. The husband works full time. The mother (they have three kids), works a split shift. This means she gets up at 4:30 am, goes to work for a few hours, comes home to get her kids off to school, spends some time with the youngest, then goes back to work from about 3 to 9pm. They live paycheque to paycheque. She complains regularly. She says she feels rushed, exhausted, stressed. Who wouldn’t? But she speaks as though this is her only option. This big house which eats the majority of their money and creates this lifestyle… is this their ONLY option? I tell her to pack the family up and have a holiday at least. Take the kids to Cuba for a week for some fun. But, they can’t afford that. They can barely afford to miss a day of work when one of their kids is ill.
What the hell are they doing to themselves? Is this what it is all about? Living in debt, living on the edge? No time with our kids? We work and work and work to “provide” for them, but what are we providing? We are running around fooling ourselves into thinking that we are giving our kids a good life, but are we really? Do they see us like they should? Do we feed them like they should be fed? Do we spend time with them? We are all about “succeed, succeed, do, do, do”. What are we teaching these poor kids? What kind of example is this? All we have provided for them is a veneer – a false sense of luxury and security… big homes we can’t afford, cars that we can’t afford, entire lifestyles we can’t afford! Even the few who can afford it are no happier, so why do we do this to ourselves? Just to look successful, to look the part. Well we’re not, and like all good farces, this one has to come to an end.
Somewhere along the way, most of us have felt the need to “keep up”. We were caught in the vicious cycle, and we are still living in it at the expense of our sanity, our health and most importantly, our children. We have no time to go outdoors and play with our children regularly. We’re rushing them here and there and feeding them junk in the car on the way and then we wonder why our kids are fat and diabetic. Middle aged men and women are dropping dead of stress-induced cancers and heart attacks. Is this living?
Before I continue, please allow me to clarify. There are some incredibly fortunate people out there who have a true passion for what they do, and they are compensated nicely. They love their lives and have monetary success because of it. I am not opposed to people having wealth. I am simply fed up of being caught up in killing myself to acquire money, and if I don’t, to continue to live the lifestyle by accumulating debt. If we make $40,000 a year, and have 2 children to support, what business do we have driving a leased BMW and living in a house worth $400,000? This is absurd. Is it any wonder we are popping antacids like tic-tacs? If you bring in $3,000 a month, and spend $5,000, you will eventually lose everything! It’s basic math. So how did we get so dumb? Why do we feel we are entitled to everything we want even if we know we can’t afford it? We are supposed to be an intelligent species. If aliens came down tomorrow and witnessed how we all live above our means at the risk of our health, do you think they would consider us an intelligent species? No! They would make us their pets!
I am not immune. I am not sitting here, looking out of my kitchen window at the snow falling, thinking that I am some kind of perfectly enlightened being. I am in real estate – one of the biggest and showiest careers ever created! We are actually taught to put on a show. We are encouraged to lease the most expensive car we can (or can’t) afford. “The look of success will bring success”, they say. I understand. If I pull up in my 1998 civic covered in Canadian road salt rust, I am unlikely to get a listing when the guy who comes after me pulls up in a brand new Lexus. Right? Why is this? There is no reason to believe I am not as successful by looking at my car. Maybe I have a sick child and spend all my money on medical bills. Maybe I donate all my money to UNICEF. Maybe I just think cars are one of the biggest wastes of money ever. However, you don’t know any of these things by looking at me, or my car. We look at the fancy car and make a judgement that one person is more successful than the other. And really, who wants to sell their house with someone unsuccessful?
Let’s look at this the other way. I have a real estate agent friend who bought into this idea of leasing the new BMW. However, a year into his lease, he and his wife separated. Between legal fees, supporting his children, and paying her, he was broke. He ended up living in his sister’s basement…but his BMW was parked out front. Now he pulls up to a client’s house and looks successful. But it’s all a show. He’s broke, but stuck in a car lease and severely compromising his own standard of living, and that of his kids, just to look a success. Crazy.
What the hell is he doing?! I don’t blame him. Not at all. Millions get sucked in. We lose sight of how ridiculous we have become. I am in this game to some extent; I want the decent car, the nice house. I do try, however, to live well within my means. I refuse to get caught in keeping up with the Joneses, as I know the joneses are most likely not as perfect as they appear. We cannot let our fear of losing this game ruin our lives. We are all going to lose. All of us. We will all die. Last I checked, there were no medals for ending with the most money. Money will give us some security, and more options, but killing ourselves to get it will do the opposite. It will make us lose our savings, our health, our sanity, our kid’s sanity and health, and we will be left with no options, and certainly no security.
We need to wake up. Most of us are either working in meaningless jobs we hate or are disinterested in. We do this because we claim we want a good life for our kids, or security, or a happy retirement. But are our kids happy? Are they healthy? Is our whole life meant to be about working ourselves brainless in order to hopefully have a few good years at the end? I hope not.
This is life. This exact moment right now is your life. Let’s say you are broke – get a smaller house. If you can’t afford your car, get an older one! If you are working to pay the mortgage and never see your kids, it is just wrong. No God, and no religion, in any form or shape, could have possibly meant for it to be like this. Do you want to hand this life down to your children? You are the example. Step back. Look at what is important. Don’t worry about anyone else. It’s not easy, but the first step has to be to become aware of what we are doing to ourselves. Let’s just start by admitting it. Get back to simplicity and a way of life that makes sense. Imagine the relief!
Part of my transformation was reuniting with my husband after almost three years apart. Once you can clear the “stuff” out of your life, you can begin to see what (and who) is truly important to you. Life does not need to be this crazy contest we have made it, where we all rush around and spread ourselves too thin. I am easing myself out of this game. I don’t want to play anymore. I refuse.
Charlotte is a University grad, a lover of all things nature and a person trying to learn how to find her own groove.