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September 23, 2016

The Money Trap [Warden]

Tonight, my wife and I ran into some old friends from our neighborhood. They're middle aged, like us, with two kids--a boy and a girl, age 9 and 10. We have two boys, 4 and 10. The husband has a lucrative job. They moved our of our upper middle class neighborhood two years ago into a $500,000 home.

The husband travels overseas three weeks out of a month for his job. Some weeks he returns home Saturday night and flies out again on Monday morning. When I asked the wife how they were handling the schedule, she sighed and replied, "I don't know how much longer we can hang on. But if he were to find a job in his industry where he didn't have to travel, he'd have to take a pretty big pay cut."

Some part of me wanted to scream, "Take the pay cut! You look miserable just talking about it, and you could move right back into our neighborhood and still be better off than most people!"

But it's not that simple, is it? New money doesn't stay liquid for long. It always finds a way to fund new obligations--the bigger home with the upscale patio and fire pit, the luxury SUV, the vacations, the dreams of early retirement.

We all want to feel like we're advancing in life, both in status and wealth. Stepping back feels like failure.

My friends are trapped. I see it a lot as people hit middle age.

I'll be honest/ Although I'm good at it, I pretty much hate my job. I work in a poisonous work culture. I dislike my industry and most of my coworkers. I am bored, resentful, and simply phoning it in for a paycheck. I am capable of achieving and earning much, much more. And when I see someone in a personally rewarding, high achievement career I feel envious.

But I have a job that allows me to be my kids' primary caregiver while they're young. And it pays well enough to allow us to live within one of the top school systems in the state. I do not travel for work, rarely put in more than 45 hours a week and never bring work home.

I know beyond a shadow of a doubt what it is that I value. I am a family man foremost and always. My relationship with my kids means more to me than anything else in the world, and I know that you can never get back this time with them when they're young and precious and treasure my attention.

A sober accounting would say I have no good reason to be dissatisfied. My health is good, I have a happy marriage, I get to spend a great deal of time with my kids, and I don't have a lot of material wants.

And yet there's still that nagging sense of underachievement and wasted potential. I'd be lying if I said I didn't feel insecure and slightly embarrassed of my own middling accomplishments when socializing with high career achievers. This, despite knowing that my choices have been deliberate and well considered.

The money trap for me isn't even about money. It's about what it represents.

So, how do you balance work and family life? Are you happy with your choices? And if not, what is stopping you from taking a different path? If you could do things over, would you do them differently? What will you tell your kids about work, family and how to define success?

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posted by Code Red at 12:13 PM

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