Breaking Free of the Constraints of Being Middle Class

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Back in the 1990s, our metropolitan newspaper was doing one of those local-boy-does-well pieces, focusing on a 30-something-year-old guy who started his own IT company from scratch, and had recently sold it for something like $10 million.

Breaking Free of the Constraints of Being Middle Class
Breaking Free of the Constraints of Being Middle Class

The article was a loose interview with the young man, mostly centering on how he was able to accomplish what he did, particularly since he had come from an otherwise ordinary background. He provided several insights, but one stood out above the rest ? at least in my eyes – and went something like this:

?We don?t realize what we can accomplish once we break free from the constraints of being middle class. Once I broke out of that, there was nothing stopping me.?

That?s kind of shocking, isn?t it? He started accomplishing great things after ?break(ing) free from the constraints of being middle-class.?

But everyone wants to be middle-class, don?t they? I?ve been pondering this topic ever since I read that article some 20 years ago. Maybe many or most of us aspire to be middle-class – but is it also possible that it’s also the very thing that is holding us back???

Let?s dare to consider the possibility.

Is being middle class a bad thing?

On the surface, there?s actually nothing wrong with being middle-class. After all, it?s the socioeconomic level that most people are at, at least in theory. But I think that there are at least two problems with this assumption.

1. What exactly is middle class?

For the most part, it seems very difficult to come up with objective parameters. For example, the most common definition is income. We might say that a family earning $100,000 per year is solidly middle-class. But if they spend $105,000 per year, have no savings and a boatload of debt are they truly middle-class?

We might also decide that a person who owns a detached single-family house in a comfortable suburban community is middle-class by default. But what if that family owes more on the house than it?s worth? Can we say that they?re still middle-class?

These are just two potential middle-class profiles – out of many possibilities ? and alone they take in millions of households.

It seems that middle-class status is primarily subjective. Mostly, you?re middle class if you THINK you?re middle-class. And thinking that you?re middle-class comes mostly from behaving like the middle-class. It also means having the common trappings of people associated with middle-class.

2. Is being middle class something to aspire to?

I?ve often thought that aspiring to the middle class is mostly a default setting. You don?t choose to be middle class – you expect it as a minimum socio-economic standing. And it?s an expectation that is handed down to us by our parents, the school system, and by the community that we grow up in. But is that right for everyone?

In reality, it takes a lot of time, effort and financial resources to maintain the stereo typical middle-class, suburban lifestyle. The resources that you devote to the chase can take away from other directions in your life that might not only be more productive, but might also better suit your personality and preferences. I think this is what the newly minted IT millionaire was referring to.

There?s also a big heaping helping of conformity that?s part and parcel of being a member of the middle class. Since society loves conformity, it?s easy to see where that restriction plays a central role in developing our attitudes.

But what if you?re a non-conformist at heart? If that?s the case, then pursuing the middle class lifestyle could be a classic example of climbing a ladder that?s leaning against the wrong wall.

Let?s dig a little deeper?

What are the ?constraints? of middle class?

The middle class is largely driven by conformity, and conformity is mostly a by-product of groupthink. This is the exact opposite of breaking free, finding yourself, and building a better mousetrap. We can loosely think of that as the mark that you leave on the world.

The millionaire computer entrepreneur didn?t elaborate on what the constraints of being middle-class might be. However, I?m going to take a stab at it here, and suggest that the following are a big part of it. Or at least of the conformity and groupthink that make the middle class what it is.

  • Owning a house in the suburbs. More any other factor, this is typically the most common trait associated with the middle class. It is largely considered to be a necessity.
  • Living in a top school district. Even people who don?t have kids want to live in a good school district. It?s all about ZIP Code (status) and property values ? and it makes the desire to own a house even more expensive.
  • Keeping up with the Joneses. Being middle class involves competition with others around you, even if it?s unspoken. You tend to do and buy what others do because that?s how you maintain your standing in the group.
  • You kids MUST go to college. If you?re middle class, it?s a requirement. It?s widely believed to be how middle-class kids grow up to be middle-class adults. You?ll spend whatever it takes to make it happen..
  • Obsessing on social standing. Social standing is an integral part of conformity. That requires having a healthy number of the ?right friends?, and as few of the other kind as possible.

A Couple More Speculative Theories?

There?s nothing objectively verifiable about any of the following, but I?ve noticed each as part-and-parcel of middle class thinking:

  • Following ?The Rules?. Middle-class suburbia is nothing if not awash in rules – both real and implied. Rules for how to keep your yard, where to park your car, what kind of pets you can own, and even what kind of business you can run out of your house. Non-conformists often move to large cities or to remote rural areas to escape The Rules. They can form a straight jacket that dominates all of suburbia.
  • Obsessing on retirement. Perhaps it?s a byproduct of being part of the financial middle, but an obsession with retirement is common. I believe that retirement has become the middle class exit strategy. It?s akin to somewhere over the rainbow. It will be a time when people will finally be able to thumb their nose at the system, and move on to live wherever and however they want. That in itself is a desire that if acted upon too early in life is yet another violation of The Rules.
  • Not offending anyone. Conformity brings about a pronounced go-along-to-get-along attitude. Even when you truly believe in something, or you don?t agree with something else, you?ll bite your tongue for fear you might offend somebody. It?s all about keeping the peace – no matter how uncomfortable that may be.
  • An obsession with keeping what you have. There?s a certain emotional ? and even physical ? practice of building walls and fences in the middle class. Walls and fences are thought to be protection from the mortal fear of losing something that might bounce you out of the middle class.

At some level, all of the above seem to make sense?

They can even be seen as guideposts as to how you get by in life. Yet at the same time, the focus always seems to be on maintaining a certain standing. It?s as if not having that standing would be something akin to death.

Many people even exhaust all resources in an attempt to maintain the trappings of a middle-class lifestyle. Rather than folding up the tent and moving on to new horizons, they dig in and defend their ?stake in life?.

What?s wrong with that?

Middle class isn?t as affordable as it once was

The economic landscape in America, and across the Western world, is changing rapidly. Where once the middle-class lifestyle was easily affordable to the average household, it?s now becoming prohibitively expensive. The cost of owning a suburban house, one or two late-model cars, providing college educations for your children, all the trappings of middle-class life ? and the disaster that health insurance has become ? have put the middle-class lifestyle out of reach of the average person.

20 years ago a household earning $100,000 per year would have properly been considered upper-middle-class. Today, in many locations, you might even struggle on the kind of income.

We have to begin asking if the cost of the middle-class lifestyle is worth the price being paid for it. Many middle-class and formerly middle-class people are caught in a conundrum, trying simultaneously to retool into new careers or businesses, while trying to maintain the familiar middle-class lifestyle.

But sometimes in order to go forward ? to rebuild your life and occupation ? you first need to take a few steps back. It may be true that sustainable, forward financial progress, both for the individual and for the nation, won?t happen until people are prepared to let go of a few things.

One of them may be the middle-class lifestyle. And once that constraint is dropped, a lot of new doors can open up.

There isn?t enough stability to support being middle class anymore

The middle-class lifestyle that prevailed in America after World War II was entirely based on two assumptions: stability and predictable economic growth. Neither of those conditions exists in anywhere near the proportion that they did in previous decades.

For example, back in the 1950s and 1960s when someone took a mortgage on a house, they could be fairly confident that they would not only remain in the same industry, but most likely with the same employer, for the full term of the 30 year loan. In fact, the person could even have expected ? reasonably ? that they would be in the same job right up until the time they retired.

Now that that kind of stability no longer exists, how reliable is being middle-class anymore? Many people today are living in a hollowed-out shell of middle-class. It looks convincing on the outside, but provides none of the protections it once did.

Breaking Free of the Constraints of Being Middle Class

I think that our millionaire IT entrepreneur realized early in the game that he was going to devote all of his time, attention and resources to building his company. That meant moving outside of the middle-class with all of its entrapments. Only when he did was he able to find the time and freedom to focus on what he needed to do in order to accomplish his desired mission.

That won?t happen for us if our ?mission? in life is primarily to achieve the middle-class lifestyle. It?s entirely possible that most of us start thinking – very early in life – about acquiring the trappings of middle-class life, usually on the high-end. That has us chasing after stuff that?s mostly to impress others. It interferes with finding our true selves, and making a unique contribution to the world that only a freethinker with few attachments could ever accomplish.

The point is you can’t move forward or bring about meaningful change in your life if you’re carrying too much baggage. That may be the biggest constraint of being middle class.

What if You Have No Aspirations Beyond Being Middle Class

Does this even matter if you have no such aspirations beyond living a quiet, comfortable middle-class life in suburbia? It?s quite possible that it will.

Many people are going to be forced by circumstances ? a long-term layoff, an industry collapse, or the next recession ? into reinventing their occupations, and by extension, their whole lives. If you?re busy trying to uphold the fa?ade of the middle class lifestyle – with all its attendant costs and constraints – you will find the journey much more difficult and maybe even impossible.

Please read my post on mobile creatives. It?s an idea hatched by Charles Hugh Smith, and the concept deals with the process of moving from traditional employee to becoming a mobile, creative, flexible, adaptive entrepreneur who is pursuing multiple income sources. That may be the only way forward in a world where so little is certain.

In order to get there, you will not only need to adopt an entirely new way of thinking, but also of how you live your life. So much of what has been common in the middle class lifestyle have now become costly anchors that serve few practical purposes, other than keeping us compliant with The Rules of the middle class.

Adopting a Different Mindset

Ask yourself?

  • Do I really NEED to own a house in the suburbs? Would my life be so awful if I rented an apartment in the city so I could start a bricks-and-mortar type business?
  • Is buying a new car every five years even necessary if I work at home? Do I even need a car at all?
  • Do I really need to have all of what my neighbors have? Will I become a social leper if I don?t?
  • Do I have so little confidence in my kids? chances of surviving that I insist that they go to college? Is it really so bad if they have other aspirations?
  • Does my social standing really do anything for me? Does anyone even know who I really am?
  • Do I really want to salt money away for retirement? Or do I want to invest instead in building my own business, doing something that I enjoy so much that I won?t even need to retire?

When you?re middle class you don?t even want to ask these questions. Acting on them will put your middle class status at risk, and might even render you a non-conformist.

But it may also be that only by stepping outside the constraints of being middle class will you find your true self and your better purpose. And with virtually everything being so much less certain these days, that might also be your best course for financial and emotional survival.

Can you see how a deep devotion to being middle class might actually be constraining your efforts to find an even more productive and fulfilling lifes?

( Photo by Bill Ward’s Brickpile )

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32 Responses to Breaking Free of the Constraints of Being Middle Class

  1. Great post. You have given me more information about middle class. Well I think being in the middle class is not fun at all, your actions are being controlled and etc. If I would choose, I would not remain in that class. Well this just my own opinion.

  2. Hi Marie – I’ve come to the opinion that a lot of people are spending a lot of time defending their middle class status, when they might be better off making an effort in other directions. It’s hard to cut a new path in life when you’re tied down trying to support the trappings of middle class. There’s so much debt attached to it.

  3. I don’t think that no wanting to offend anyone is a middle class thing. It has come about because of political correctness that has been instituted by the ruling class under the guise of fairness or not wanting anyone to ever be offended for any reason. In truth, it is simple a way to control the masses since people who don’t express their views eventually come into compliance with the attitudes we are supposed to hold based on whoever is in charge of society at the time. Or, perhaps, the middle class is simply more in tune to being more mannerly. Take your pick.

  4. Hi Kathy – I fully agree with your take on political correctness. As Glen Beck said, “Political correctness isn’t to make us behave better – it’s to make us shut up.” But I do think the middle class is more intimidated by it, probably out of fear of losing status over it. The rich can cover their tracks with money, and the poor don’t care because they have nothing to lose. The middle class, by contrast, fear losing their jobs, being thrown out of a club or organization, or being ostracized in the neighborhood or community.

    Being middle class effectively turns people into trained ponies, and that’s a position that’s very difficult to move out of. Does that make sense?

  5. Interesting post. Personally, I like being middle class. My middle class “status” has been under threat the last several years due to multiple layoffs, but the truth is I don’t aspire to anything more. I did once, and all that straining to be something more just made me unhappy. I like my job, my house, and Sunday dinners with my family. And I’m sick of hearing about these wunderkinds in IT making a fortune.

  6. That’s fine John. My purpose in writing the post is to open a discussion about finding other ways to live, and to hopefully let people know that they have more choices than they generally realize.

  7. I was never a big fan of labels. If you label yourself to a certain class then that is as far as you will go. Labels limit our minds. Or like you point out. Can be destructive to trying to keep up with something you can’t afford.
    I think also that is a built in excuse so that your covered when things don’t end up the way you think they should.

    Most people don’t know themselves. They don’t know why they do what they do or what they want out of life. They just react.

    We should never react to life. It should react to us.

    Changing our minds is where it starts. Things will fall off as a result. The mindset is everything. The physical things we do follow that mindset.

    For John, he is happy with the things he has or does. That’s cool. However alot of people are not. They will never be as long as you limit your mind to a certain way of thinking.

    I have found with myself, once I left my job and started my own business five years ago my mindset has done a 360 during this time.
    I was stuck at this level for many years.

  8. That’s true of me as well Tim. My outlook and attitude changed dramatically when I started this blog and went into freelance writing. It’s as if the limits and fences came down, and now I feel liberated. Don’t get me wrong, life always comes with constraints. But as you point out, when you reject hanging labels on yourself, the limits disappear. I don’t think of myself as being middle class or any class, but more in the mobile creative group, which means a life without specific definitions, but way more options. Just becoming aware of the term from Charles Smith changed my outlook completely. I’m not rich, nor do I aspire to be rich. But I do have a goal of becoming progressively more independent in my life. Strictly speaking, being middle class can keep you locked up at a certain level. I find myself late in life questioning everything I was taught, and giving myself the freedom to think differently about most things.

    Now if I could just get that startup going that I can sell for millions of dollars… 😉

  9. Thought-provoking article. When reading pieces like this I’m often prone to think … well, that doesn’t pertain to me, I’m not like that, I don’t behave that way, I’m certainly not a status seeker, I’m my own person, and so on. But then I have to stop and consider that maybe I am all those things, at least to one degree or another. And even as I was typing my reply, I wanted to say “I’m my own man” but substituted the words “my own person” instead — now why did I do that?

  10. You did it because of indoctrination Chris, which is the same reason most of us do anything. Until we can step back and view our lives and circumstances from afar, we’ll do that on instinct. I love reading stories like this internet millionaire. You know he got to where he did in large part because he refused to conform, the way most of us are trained to do. As much as I’ve altered my own life in the past 10 years or so, I’m still painfully aware that training, custom and indoctrination continue to play a role in what I do. A lot of my writing about these topics is my own reminder to me to shake it off, but it’s a struggle.

  11. I’m not sure at least for me it was being trained. Growing up I lived in the suburbs. My father was very smart. Everybody on our street was basically the same. I didn’t know another way of life and I had a pretty happy childhood overall. Up until my father passed when I was 14. Even after that nothing really changed except he wasn’t there.
    My parents were outstanding with money so my mother was just as good.

    That is what I aspired to for many years as an adult. It was a time I remember that was good for the most part so I associated that with being happy.

    I could ever really attain that in my adult life. Not because I didn’t try but the world had changed. The time I was a kid was just that. It was a brief period in life where things just line up. There was stable employment, sound money and the media was still small. TV had three channels. So for that period in my life it was calm.

    I never realized how much things had changed until I really started to wonder in my 40’s why I couldn’t find that in my adult life. I had ten times what my parents had. Healthy family, paid for home yet somehow it was different.

    I think for a lot of us we don’t notice the change until it’s too late. Or we still try to fit a 50,60 or 70’s model into a 2018 life.
    It does not fit anymore.

    That training still catches me also Kevin. The difference now is I can see it. I have excepted that it will never be like my parents era. It’s gone.

  12. Your experience Tim emphasizes why we seriously need to reconsider the validity or desirability of being middle class – if the middle class even exists any more. I still remember the VP of the company where I had my first job after college back in the 80s telling me “the world is dividing between the haves and the have nots like never before. As a young man you have to decide which side of that line you want to be on.”

    I didn’t like hearing that at the time, though I now look back and realize it was prophetic. And of course, working in that job didn’t help me become a have by one iota.

    But I’ve since learned to appreciate that being a have isn’t all about being rich. It’s about being able to break free and live a life of my choice, and not of obligation or social rules. We can all do that from right where we’re at, and we don’t need to be wealthy to do it.

    Andy Stanley gave a great sermon on worry. If you have about an hour it’s full of insight. I found it relevant since being middle class causes us to worry and be distracted by concerns like retirement, making our kids successful, buying a house, managing a career, or getting married – all the typical things middle class people tend to obsess on. I love Andy Stanley, but then he was our pastor in Atlanta for eight years. Now I can only catch him online.

  13. Hey, Kevin, thanks for clarifying that I am not middle class but way below that mark. And I am glad about that because I am more concerned about meeting my daily expenses to worry able being the best social person on the block. I value my college education because I paid for it in full and adapted the process of evaluation I learned into the different kinds of jobs, I have held over the years. I was in a STEM program way before it became a social phenomenon to follow a path in that learning path. Math, science, and reading were my pleasures, not parties.
    But the main part of your article does point to several key areas. One, money is not the end goal of happiness, yes, you need it to pay bills, but you don’t need it to keep out of debt. Spending money just to spend is not a pleasure, it is an addition learned by social pressure. Second, you do need to educate yourself to become the best you can but don’t go to college just to say you have a degree. My degree did not get me a permanent job (and I was a teacher) but I learned how to think outside the box. That alone was very useful over my work life in helping me earn a living to support myself and my family though job changes and changing locations to live. I would love to have a car but hate the extra cost of ownership so I rather use public transportation and call it my chauffeur system. (where else can you nap and read and not have to deal with the idiots on the road).
    Lastly, homeownership has become a joke with prices of them being so high, which spills over to apartment rental costs. Housing costs should not be more than 1/3 of monthly income, I don’t care about how many amenities offered. All I require is a solid roof over my head with no mold in the walls, hot and cold running water, a working stove to cook on, plus a working refrigerator. If I have air conditioning, I shouldn’t have to pay an extra premium for the right wall socket, especially in 2018, all housing should have the proper wiring. Basically, I am saying that substandard housing should not exist. As far neighborhoods, there’s no reason for bad neighborhoods if people know each other at least on the street they live on. I may not know every person’s name that lives on the block but I know their faces and the cars they drive as I make a point to smile and greet them whenever I am out on my daily walk. We may have cultural differences but we all live here together.
    Having lots of money only alienates people into cliches of similar minded people who think seeing someone different is diversity. Great article

  14. Thanks MariaRose. Your story is another example of how we can live comfortable and meaningful lives without all the middle class trappings. And we better get used to it fast, because there’s no sign the economic tide is getting better. I have a feeling a lot more people are going to be bumped out of the middle class in the next recession. Already look how nervous everyone’s getting with the stock market down at 23,000, and in negative territory for the year. Too many people’s financial situations are too tightly balanced (and to reliant on the stock market).

    The best strategy is to work on finding less expensive ways to live and thrive in an increasingly high cost world. There are alternatives, but training is keeping millions from exploring them. I’m hoping younger people are living those alternatives, since they’re young enough to adjust. But a lot of people over 50 are struggling with it. As Tim pointed out, if you grew up in the 60s and 70s, you have an outdated idea of normal. I’ve been working to unlearn all that for at least the past decade. And perhaps not surprisingly, I’m a lot happier now.

  15. I will give it a listen if I can.

    Funny, I was gonna tell two stories about this. One very similar to yours. I describe my street as basically all people being the same. Over half the street worked at Bethlehem Steel. These guys made very good money back then. When that place closed it over night changed the neighborhood. It took a couple of years but all of a sudden people were divorcing, moving. Most of these guys never reached that level again salary wise. They clung on to that way of life though not excepting that is wasn’t coming back. Many guys went bankrupt or took jobs that paid half of what they were making and struggled trying to keep that lifestyle that they could not longer afford. Much to their downfall.
    That is what I believe is happening now. Just in a different way.

    Second was this guy who I worked side jobs with. He said in the mid 90’s that he believed that the cities were going to make a comeback in the 2000’s. He said he can see where some day the suburban lifestyle is going to become not affordable for many people.

    I agree with you. Living a life of your choice is being rich.

    I’m interested in other comments. So I’ll stop talking now. Great topic!!

  16. Similar story here. When I was growing up in northern NJ a lot of people worked in factories. The Newark area had a lot of beer breweries, and there were pharmaceutical plants all over NJ. Then Westinghouse had a factory in Kearny that employed something like 13,000 workers. There were also big Ford and GM assembly plants, as well as the Exxon Bayway Refinery, and hundreds of chemical companies. Most of those plants are gone now. Johnson & Johnson had a huge facility near New Brunswick that they closed down, and it was turned into condos and retail space. That’s a common story all over. And I remember taking the trains to NYC in the 70s and 80s and going past dozens of abandoned factory buildings in the cities on the way to Manhattan.

    Those were the jobs that sustained the majority of the middle class, and they’re all gone. And despite Trump’s promise to bring manufacturing back to the US it isn’t going to happen. It costs too much to run a factory in the US, and any that do open are being staffed mainly by robots.

    Here in Manchester, NH, a once thriving manufacturing city, we have a spit population. Many have successfully retooled into the 21st Century economy, giving NH one of the highest income levels in the country. But there are thousands who are still either unemployed (some permanently), or under-employed. I don’t know what’s going to happen to them or their children, but we also have a serious drug problem that may have deep economic roots.

    I know every generation has had its problems, but ours seem to be happening faster and for reasons that are less visible. We really are becoming a society of haves and have nots. That’s why we have to think differently.

  17. HI Kevin. After reading all of these comments, there’s not a lot I can add. The content here helps me to keep my mind open to a rapidly changing world, one where it’s difficult to keep up. It is important, like Tim said, to keep labels at bay. They are very constraining. This may be outside the box a bit, but I also think travel is important, if for no other reason but to keep us aware of what’s going on in other parts of the country and the world. Sometimes we can be so bogged down in our own middle class life and we forget to see there’s a whole world out there with people living vastly different lives, some thriving just fine. Success doesn’t have to mean a house in the suburbs, employment at the local factory for life, etc. Again, I echo Tim in saying that the way of life we knew in the 60’s, 70, 80’s is gone for good. It’s just becoming too expensive to try to maintain all the trappings. I think many of us are longing to find some simplicity and peace of mind, and letting go of what is holding us back is the first step. Easier said than done, I know, but at least a conversation about it opens our minds to think outside the box.

  18. Hi Bev – I think with these exchanges it helps us all to shape our opinions, if only gradually. But you make a good point about travel. We can all live in our little cocoons and not see outside, in which case our reality becomes self-contained, and even like a prison. You’re right, it’s good to see how others are living and thriving because it gives us ideas as to what we can do in our own lives. I’m always fascinated to hear about people who move out of the country, particularly to Latin America and end up thriving. One guy on another comment thread was talking about retiring to Equador where he and his wife are paying $78 a month for health insurance, and supplementing their retirement income by teaching English to the locals. It’s radical, but not if we suspend our indoctrinations and judgements. Sometimes it really does help to “put it all behind” and try something totally new. I don’t feel like I could do that, but it’s an inspiring story of what can be done.

  19. Kevin, It’s not radical. It’s just life. It’s just pursuing a passion or way of life. What makes it radical? Is it that it is in another country that makes it that way?
    We have been taught fear of other countries. Taught our way of life is better or we live some kind of lifestyle that the world is jealous of. Or that there is a boogieman around every corner.
    I used to think these things until I started leaving the country. Once I did I realized nobody cares about us as I thought. I also never realized how far we are away from the rest of the world over here. I also never realized how much fear and paranoia are shoved down our throats in this country.

    This is all part of that middle-class groupthink. You can’t groupthink the rich. They have the means to travel and do business all over the world. So they know better.
    It’s the middle and so-called lower class which I hate those terms that can be easily herded into that groupthink mentality.
    It’s funny, when I leave this country it’s amazing how much different I feel. More relaxed and peaceful. Even being in Canada makes me feel a bit different. Considering I live ten minutes from the border I am there a lot.

    I’d love for you to do some kind of blog addressing the myths or things that you feel might be some kind of skewed mentality that we have been taught. If we really want to think about a different mentality we first have to confront things we have been taught and dismiss or uphold them as legitimate.

    Like we said before on here, I have never realized how much of a box or way of thinking that I operated in that just isn’t true. It’s only in the past five years has this taken hold. Once I left my job.

  20. That is an excellent topic Tim. There’s become a standard set of narratives that largely define how we’re instructed to live. And while it comes from the top down – we should suspect so the leaders and elites can keep us in line through fear – but it’s enforced at the ground level. As our peers buy into the indoctrination, they consciously and unconsciously work to make sure we “behave”. If you doubt that, try announcing to your peers that you intend to do something “radical” and unusual, along the lines of attempting to move toward becoming your own person.

    I experienced that when we sold our house, when I went into blogging, and when we moved to New Hampshire from the alleged Emerald City of Atlanta. There probably were other less dramatic situations that I’ve forgotten, or they’ve become less important as I’ve become more self-directed. I’ve seen this happen with others as well – you’re going to do WHAT???

    It really is time we rise above that and let go of the dominant narratives, and all the myths the perpetuate. Life really is better when you step out of normal. It’s easier to thrive when you’re playing your own game, rather than trying to be the square peg in the round hole, and in a place you’ll never thrive in. If we could just get away from the misguided notions of security, status, stuff, certainty and the perverted idea that money is the answer to all problems, we might begin making progress. And we might just be less controllable – which is exactly what the establishment fears most. After all, to the rich and powerful, our place in life is to be willing and loyal foot soldiers.

    I’ll noodle around writing a post on this topic. It’s a rich one, and a big one that can go in so many directions.

    Yeah, I think I’ll do it.

  21. We had the opportunity to go to several places in Europe this summer, only for ten days, so it was whirlwind, but still an opportunity to get out and see different things. It’s been many years for me, and my husband was never out of the states. Like Tim said, he was amazed at how comfortable he felt, no pressure to eat at the best places. In fact, the tiniest hole-in-the-wall had the most wonderful food, and the people were so welcoming and filled with laughter and kindness at our pathetic attempts to use their language. Not an SUV in sight, just scooters and smart cars, and everyone managed to get where they’re going. Of course, it was vacation and short-lived. I’m sure they all had their own life problems, but the point was that there was no fear or paranoia, no anger because we couldn’t get Euros right off, etc. People were so proud to show us their lovely cities and sites….there was just a warm human-ness (word???) everywhere we went. It was a memorable trip for so many reasons, and it makes you realize that it doesn’t take a large home, executive-level job, and stuff to have a good life. It takes people, laughter, good food, love, etc.

    And yes, Kevin, I experienced the same reactions when I left the city where I was born and raised and moved to New England for a new life. A move could be anywhere, or any change for that matter, that differs from expectations of others. I was shocked at some of the negative reactions from my own family. One of them doesn’t talk to me anymore! What the hell [email protected]#$%

  22. This is just a thought Bev, but I think the reason for the pleasantness in Europe is that the typical European knows who he or she is. In America, we can’t figure that out. We can’t even come up with gender distinctions everyone can live with. We also live in a perpetual state of flux, as if we’re forever “going somewhere” – which is a destination that’s never defined. Physically, the European knows where home is, and may live there all his life. So does his family. He has the support of centuries of customs and traditions, both national and local, as well as the concentration of family and community. We have none of that. Families disperse, new communities spring up while old ones rot and depopulate. America has become like a constantly moving Purgatory. We seem to be less of a country and more of an ongoing experiment, filled with people who can have everything but can never find peace.

    I’ve often thought it might be genetic. Nearly the entire US population is made up of people from somewhere else. It’s possible they and we have a genetic predisposition to always be on the move. Even when immigrants came to the US, they didn’t stay put. They started on the East Coast, then either they or their children set off again. In the 1900s they were going to the Midwest. After the First World War, they began going West. I can remember in the 1960s and 1970s when California was The Destination. I’d say since the 1980s, The Destination has shifted to the Sunbelt, and especially Florida. Everyone wants to move to (or retire to) Florida, as if it’s Earthbound Heaven. For everyone else it’s Texas.

    The point is, we may be descended from the people from other parts of the world who were never content to be in one place, doing one thing, with the same people. A constantly moving, throw-away population will never find contentment that will last for very long. If that’s true, it’s a situation that can’t be remedied, because we ourselves don’t know why we do it. Is it any wonder so many people live with substance abuse or are in therapy? We have none of the social support systems people in other countries take for granted.

    I suppose we also need to ask ourselves if we could ever adopt the European lifestyle. After all, for those of us of European extraction, our ancestors rejected it. For everyone who is either from another part of the world, or descended from people who were, there was something pulling them away from the familiar. Maybe we can’t control it. And we do have to live with the consequences.

  23. I don’t think Americans in general really know who they are. I’m not sure we ever really knew who we were as a country.
    I have no real idea why we are always in a state of war. I find myself making apologies for being American. Whenever I go somewhere other than the U.S. There are a lot of things I don’t understand. I can form theories or feelings but I don’t really know.

    This country is still pretty young compared to countries overseas. It seems we don’t take tradition here very seriously. One of the things that I loved in Scotland was the fact that buildings that were built 500 years ago were still used every day. So there is somewhat a connection to the past. In the UK I was actually in a city that was still surrounded by a wall. You entered through a big door being that it was a castle civilization. The city still had a moat around it.
    Over here we would have torn that down. We don’t stay connected to the past. Yes, it was modern but also still connected to its roots. People over in Scotland could trace their roots back 10 generations with ease. It was awesome to stand on the same ground, where William Wallace fought. The castle is there also and there were cannonball holes still in the walls.

    We do a very poor job of preserving the past while trying to make it work into modern times.

    I just don’t think we really have the connection here that people over there have.
    Here money is the god. We spend most of our time trying to get more. Then we waste it on useless consumer goods that we throw out when we get tired of them. We toss aside homes for bigger ones. We toss aside cities for newer ones. We toss aside elderly people for younger ones. This is what results when you live in a godless consumer society. We have everything but the connection. So we turn on each other because we’re bored.
    We move all over the place chasing money. So, as a result, there is no real connection to anything. I know people who have lived in 5 or more cities in ten years. How do you connect with anything that way?

    Anyway, that’s my opinion.
    I never had the connection either. I have lived in the same city my whole life but most people I grew up with or would have the connection to are gone from here. So I’m a nomad in my own city.
    Really, in the last five years have I come to notice this more. That’s why I am uncomfortable here now in the U.S. Maybe I always was I just never noticed it.
    I just feel the connection in other places because of the blend of past with present all mixed together.

    When you chase money you will move all over chasing it. It forces you too. Money doesn’t stay in one spot. So how can the people who chase it? You might find it but you give up a lot of other things.

  24. That’s all true Tim, we lack the certainty and the traditions of Europe. But like I wrote to Bev, I’m seriously beginning to wonder if it isn’t genetic. Our ancestors left more than 200 countries to come here, yet the vast majority of the populations of those countries stayed put. Even though we may come from diverse backgrounds, there’s still a common genetic thread of restlessness. So maybe we’re genetically programed to never settle in. And it may be that, as you say, it was always this way, but we didn’t notice. Up until about 2000 the economy was a relative constant and that may have made it all less obvious (though changes were already well underway even then).

    I think the media has a lot to do with it. They paint a picture of “everything’s fine”, which tends to paper over what’s really going on. It’s like watching the Hallmark Channel (which my wife and I do frequently). You know life really isn’t like that, but you crave the certainty and happy endings. Some years back, maybe even before we were born, someone said “the medium is the message”, which is the reality. We’re so inundated with media narratives and entertainment that we don’t really know what’s going on. Plus we’re indoctrinated in school as to what it is to be American, which is largely the story book narrative that has little place in reality. In truth, there is no one America, and very little we agree on anymore. I often think we don’t even like each other very much.

    It’s interesting what you’re saying about living in the same place. I was talking to my sister yesterday and she was talking about their move to a farm five years ago. It was a traumatic move because they’d lived in the same house for 30 years. But she said she also realized the whole neighborhood and town had changed and she knew hardly anyone. So even staying in the same place you find that same disconnect. We shared the virtues of reinventing ourselves, against the backdrop of living in a world that doesn’t stay put.

    I have to wonder if people in other countries have benefited from staying in one place by virtue of their lack of desire for change. We on the other hand, have built a thow-away society. It’s not just stuff we throw away, but also people and places. This country is pockmarked by dying communities, cities and regions, all while we beat our chests and shout “America’s #1”. I think that mentality has something to do with why we’re now perpetually at war, and why we’re being warned we need to maintain eternal vigilance. If everything was so great at home, all this stuff abroad wouldn’t be nearly so threatening. It’s become part of the distraction we’ve been trained to soak up every day. You may find this article interesting on that front.

  25. What you have to do is to set down your own roots ( start your own hierarchy). I know that you have mentioned and discussed that to find jobs that one needs to be mobile enough to go to jobs. But you also have talked about creating your own business to support yourself. In this discussion, your last comment also points to a key question?do we know ourselves enough to be satisfied with the life we live so that we don?t need artificial happiness. You already created for yourself a stream of income so the only thing missing is comfortable place to live with resources to get necessities. Home is the place that you make with your own lifestyle. A family is composed those who we are connected to by friendship and blood, sometimes we have to tolerate their attitude. (my aim is to be that aunt whom you have to invite, who knows all the family skeleton stories) We may be separated by geography by we are still connected to each other. Why else is that fascination with those DNA tests to find our ?roots ?.
    I personally know part of family background from the first ones who arrived here in the USA because of the historical records but have to expand my search to follow the flow to my generation as the family spread across the nation (all pre-internet). In a way, the internet is creating a means to connect to our roots. But you can?t find the connections if you aren?t able to read and write.
    Money is not happiness

  26. My main takeaway from your comment MariaRose is this part, “do we know ourselves enough to be satisfied with the life we live so that we don?t need artificial happiness?” That’s really a tough one, because we’re such a media and propaganda driven culture. Unless we know specifically what we want out of our lives, we’ll allow others – who we mostly don’t even know personally – to make that choice for us. I think this shows up in celebrity worship. A truly free people shouldn’t succumb to that, which explains a lot of the problem. Whether it’s entertainers, sports figures, politicians or Britain’s (not America’s) royal family, it all points to a serious disconnect. Hero/celebrity worship happens when you don’t have much desire for your own life. You live it vicariously through public figures, who’s lives are nothing more than a fantasy to the average person

    I’ve never had any heros in my life, which I’m now realizing (thanks to your comment) may explain why I largely chart my own course. Another thing I’ve learned is that you can be happy where ever you are. That is, you can make connections and establish new traditions and past times. But you can only navigate that successfully if you first know who you are and have a few anchors that come with you wherever you go. In my case, the anchors are my faith, my family and my work. But I’m starting to sense many, maybe most people have few anchors. Maybe that’s what we all need to work on creating for ourselves. We can’t control the big picture, but we do have a lot of control over who we are, what we do, and what we value. Unfortunately, too many people put too much emphasis on stuff as a substitute for real anchors. Then they’re crushed if they lose a house or a job.

  27. You might be right Kevin, maybe the stability is the trap. Jesus never had a home here on earth once he began his ministry.
    His place or temporary home was where he was. Of course, his home was in heaven and he knew why he was here and his mission here. None of the trappings that we have interfered with his purpose. He knew that his father would provide.
    Maybe craving a false sense of security or stability is the curse. I always said, Satan never really has to do too much work. We do it for him. Chasing after all things temporary is the real trap.

  28. That’s all 100% true Tim. We’re nomads in this world, whether we admit it or not. All these attempts at empire building are a complete waste of time. The culture tells us that’s good, but reality tells us something very different. There’s a section of the book of Ecclesiates that covers this very topics. It says we’re building up wealth that ultimately will pass to someone else when we die. It’s true, our little empires won’t last any longer than we will, nor will they save us.

    There is no true security in life, and that’s what we need to get used to. We can build extra margin into our lives, and we absolutely should. But beyond that we have to count the cost of spending most of a lifetime building up something that looks like financial security in a world that ultimately guarantees us nothing. I’ve yet to see anyone delivered from death because of a large investment portfolio. There’s a message in there somewhere that we dare not miss. I’ve got nothing at all against prosperity or being rich, but it should never be the goal in life. We just don’t have that kind of certainty. Better to focus on creating a rich life, and maybe you’ll actually get rich. But if not, you’ll still be happy so it won’t matter either way.

  29. Truly one of the best articles I?ve read in a long time. Having grown up ?middle class? I have somewhat slowly begun to loathe it and everything that comes with it, mainly the limiting beliefs, the preoccupation with ?comfort? and ?retirement?, the unabashed conformity and self-righteousness that comes with not being too rich or too poor. I have slowly begun to abandon my middle class beliefs and lifestyle choices to pursue something more rewarding. I say get out of the middle class before it owns you completely.

  30. Hi John – I think that’s what the tech entrepreneur in the article was referring to. The problem with being middle class is that it’s considered so normal as to be unquestioned. But there’s no doubt it imposes certain limitations on both the way you think and the way you live. Breaking out of it may be necessary to move forward in your life. That’s true of all limiting beliefs or assumptions. They have to be overcome before you can make any serious progress.

    I like your observation of the middle class owning you. I hadn’t thought about that, but it sums up the problem quite clearly.

  31. ^ Thanks for the prompt response Kevin 🙂

    Curious if you might have any further reading recommendations on this subject? Would love to learn more about how others have fared with having thoughts on abandoning the ?class? that they grew up in.

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