Back to school

I love September. I’ve always liked it; since childhood. I guess because it meant the long summer holidays were finally over and it was time to go back to school, see all my friends and share all the summer stories. It’s funny how things change once you are a grown-up. Now I don’t think it would ever be possible to have ‘too much holidays’, and I think it would be difficult to find any grown-up who disagrees.

I loved school. Honestly, I did. Since pre-school till university, with the only exception being high school senior year, I loved every bit of it. I was somewhat sociable, I wasn’t one of the ‘popular kids’ but I made friends easily; I was clever enough not to have to study much; I wasn’t too keen on the classes but I loved all the free time. I mean playtime, break, recess, whatever you like to call it, that was just pure heaven to me: running around, playing with my friends, catching up on our secrets and on who liked whom, just chatting, enjoying the sun, you name it. The amount of free time we get as kids, it’s just unbelievable. And if you add the 3 months of summer holidays it’s just mental! Even at Uni, despite having to work a bit more, you’d still have loads of free time.

Even though classes weren’t my favourite bit of school (nor were some teachers), truth is school was challenging. We had to learn a ton of different things every year, learn how to use our spare time wisely, how to manage ourselves making sure we dedicate enough time to homework, studying, etc. And if we studied enough we’d be ‘promoted’ every year moving on to the next grade, and the next one, until eventually we’d get to University.

But then you get to ‘real life’ and it’s nothing like that! In reality, it actually kind of sucks!

After we’re done with all these challenges, with loads of spare time to enjoy your freedom, we get thrown into the ‘adult world’ and we are expected to have a career (thoroughly dislike the word), which basically means you’ll spend years and years doing more of the same, and will eventually be promoted two or three times (in some cases), just to increase responsibilities and decrease your free time. And we only get 25 days of holiday (if you’re lucky)! Plus the added responsibilities of taking care of a house, paying the bills, raising children…

Whaaat?? How this is supposed to make sense, I have no idea. I guess no one really ‘told us life was gonna be this way’.

However I recently found out that actually it doesn’t have to be this way. As soon as I quit my job, I start reading about all these people who like me weren’t too happy about the way things were heading and decided to make a change. I read about people who dramatically changed careers; I read about people who change careers often, because it’s just more challenging; I read about digital nomads and freelancers, who are deciding when, where and how to work; people who quit their jobs and decided to work part-time only; people who quit to start companies that challenge all the rules, with work based on objectives rather than time, location independent and mandatory sabbatical; about people who decided to just travel the world.

I know what you are probably thinking: what about stability, career progression, mortgage, babies, responsibilities, etc.? Well here’s the most interesting part in all of this, most of this people aren’t the complete nutcase hippie you’re expecting them to be. Actually I suspect they are the ones who have it all figured out. They’ve simply figured out that they can do well without trying to fit to society’s standards, and more importantly they can do with much less money and things than what they thought or were told they needed.

A few weeks ago, Scott Dinsmore from Live your Legend (a blog I follow religiously) published an article with a 5-step formula to redefine how much money you actually need. I have to be honest the spreadsheet itself didn’t do much for me, only because I already have all my spreadsheets with budgets, and estimations of how much I need and how much to spend. I am geeky that way. But if you aren’t as good with your finances, or tend to max out your credit cards without even realizing, I suggest you take a look at it. It might change your life.

In fact, if you conduct a thorough ‘self-inspection’ you’ll probably find out that you don’t need half the things you own. More so, it’s actually scientifically proven that things won’t make you happy in the long run, and these people seem to know it. In a research conducted by the Cornell University, New York, Dr Thomas Gilovich says: “we buy things to make us happy, and we succeed. But only for a while. New things are exciting to us at first, but then we adapt to them.”

Then why are we stuck in this circle? Why do we choose to sacrifice our time and happiness, for the sake of having more things? Dave Ramsey said “People buy things they don’t need with money they don’t have to impress people they don’t like”. And it’s kind of true.

I mean I won’t sit here and be a hypocrite and tell you I don’t like things; I am as guilty as any of having more shoes and clothes than what I probably need. But I’ve never bought anything I couldn’t afford or that would leave me bankrupt. And every time something feels too expensive I compare its value to other things that are more important to me (health, food, travel).  See it’s in the bit ‘with money they don’t have‘ that strikes me the most, because it’s so true: credit, installments, loans – all these exist so people can buy things they probably don’t need. Somehow we got to be this ‘here’s my crib, I’ll show you my bling‘ kind of society that feels utterly wrong (at least to me). I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and maybe because I’ve been so focused on how blessed I am, I realized I don’t need as many things as I once thought I did.

Since I quit my job I’ve been on this journey to try to figure out what I want to do, but also learning a bit more about who I am. It’s been fun, scary and challenging. So far I kind of have an idea of what I want and I have started to work part-time for a charity. I make less money, but the work is more rewarding. Plus I get the free time I used to love so much, to follow my passions. There’s no right or wrong answer to how we choose to live our lives, but one thing is sure: I feel like I am going back to school.

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