We are taught to believe that working hard during our “prime earning years” means we
get to relax and enjoy the good life later on. That’s exactly backwards, says Steve Cook.
Here’s how to shift this mindset so you can spend today enjoying your family and your life.
Knoxville, TN (February 2021)—You’re young (or heck, even youngish) only once. And the same is true for your kids who are growing up before your eyes. Yet many of us spend our best years putting work ahead of spending quality time with our kids and nurturing the relationships that matter most.
This tradeoff is part and parcel of The American Dream: the one that tells us to grind, hustle, stay busy, and pursue more and more, says Steve Cook. The problem is, working now so we can play later doesn’t always pay off like we hope—and it costs us more than we think.
“Many of us have bought into the narrative that we have to work really hard so that one day in the far-off future we can enjoy the good life,” says Cook, author of Lifeonaire: An Uncommon Approach to Wealth, Success, and Prosperity (Lifeonaire Promotions, LLC, 2018, ISBN: 978-0-9863228-7-7, $14.99). “Problem is, it’s a lie. ‘One day’ may never come. And if it does, you’ll find what you gave up was far more valuable than what you gained.”
Cook is adamant that the far better approach is working less and living more. The way to accomplish this is by living beneath your means. It frees you to spend some of the best years of your life living, not working yourself to death. You can put your nose to the grindstone later on.
It sounds good. But is it really doable? Absolutely, says Cook. But it requires that you stop listening to what the world tells you and pay attention to what your spirit is crying out for.
“That mindset shift is the most important step in
the journey,” he says. “Once you do that, the rest tends to fall into place.”
Here’s how to get started:
Really hear this wake-up call: Your kids won’t be young forever. Before you know it, they will be adults and won’t need your presence and guidance in the same way. And you can’t be the influence they need from the office, or while traveling for work. It takes spending time with them as their parent, teacher, coach, and friend to make a lasting positive impact.
Accept that “more is better” is a lie. The world wants to entice you with a “bigger is better” and “more is better” mentality. But achieving the outward trappings of success generally requires a lot of your time, energy, and focus. When you’re pursuing them, something has to give, and it’s almost always your most important relationships.
“You may tell yourself that you are pursuing making money for your family,” notes Cook. “But ask yourself: Does my family really need and want the big house, the new car, the fancy vacations? No, what they need and want more of is you. If you ask a five-year-old what they want more of, they will always choose time with you over your working more to provide something bigger.”
Start figuring how you might work less. This may or may not mean changing jobs. If your job right now consumes the lion’s share of your time and energy, you will either need to start looking elsewhere or talk to your boss about recalibrating your work. Or it might mean starting your own venture—one where you have more control over when and how much you work.
“This isn’t about shutting off your ambition,” says Cook. “Rather, it’s about asking yourself, What am I ambitious for? Would I rather have more memories or more stuff? Make sure you are not allowing yourself to be steered by what society thinks is right.”
Make a ten-year plan that puts your kids and family at the center. If you have young children, plan to spend the next ten years, give or take, prioritizing your family over work. This means combining your vision with your values to brainstorm a better life for yourself. This doesn’t mean that you don’t work for ten years; it simply means that during this time you won’t take on big endeavors or projects that will compromise the most important things in your life, like your family.
“Give your all to the parts of your job or your business that come most easily to you,” says Cook. “By focusing on those aspects of your work that you do well, and saving more ambitious pursuits for later on when you have fewer commitments at home, you can help protect your time so you can be there for your family.”
Live simply and keep your needs low during this time. This might mean downsizing to a less expensive home, driving an older (paid off) car, dining out less, or forgoing vacations. Find ways to live within your means and avoid going into debt, as this also enables you to work less right now. Brainstorm what you don’t need in your life to be happy—keeping in mind that you need a lot less than you ever dreamed. (NOTE: See “Nine Fine Benefits of Living a Simpler Life” tipsheet below.)
simply gives you many more options,” says Cook. “The more complicated your
lifestyle, the less likely you are to have the option of being there for your
Be vigilant for “business-building creep.” If part of your ten-year plan involves building up your own business, be sure to do it right, advises Cook. Consider how you can keep things small and manageable for now. You might have the best of intentions, but a growing business may demand that you make sacrifices…and if you’re not careful, you’ll find that these sacrifices may be costly for your kids.
“I know that the more I do with business, the more I think about it,” reflects Cook. “The more I think about it, the more I won’t be present. And I don’t even want to chance this. If I say that my family is most important to me, my actions need to reflect this.”
Remember, says Cook, you’re not giving up your ambition. You’re simply delaying it until later for something of greater value today.
“The ‘family now, work later’ sequence is better for many people than traditional retirement,” he adds. “Most people really thrive on work, at least meaningful work. It provides structure and a sense of purpose. And when the kids are grown and out of the house, you’re going to need something to do. Maybe that is the time to start building something big.”
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