The luckiest people on earth are perhaps those who don’t make a lot of money. They’ve got very little downside and can really pursue their childhood dreams. Imagine if from the moment you graduated college, you landed a plum corporate job that paid just enough to keep you motivated, but not enough to enjoy your freedom. The longer you work the more you realize there’s really no escape, because there’s simply too much at stake. This is the problem that plagues my friend, Lyndon.
THE STRATEGY CONSULTANT WHO MAKES BANK
Lyndon just turned 30 and is having a mid-life crisis. He’s worked for 8 consecutive years at McKinsey & Co, one of the prominent management consulting firms in the world, and makes roughly $300,000 as an “Engagement Manager”. Obama says he’s rich, but Lyndon isn’t buying it when his 1,200 square foot, two-bedroom apartment in New York City costs $5,000/month. If he wanted to buy the condo, he’d have to shell out over $1,200,000, even in today’s market. To add further injury, $300,000 is really only $180,000 or so after federal (33%), state (7%), and city (4%) taxes!
All Lyndon ever thinks about is being a National Geographic nature photographer. Every single vacation is planned around some remote destination that takes two days to reach, and therefore another two days to return. Yet as a consultant, Lyndon is at the mercy of his clients. Instead of traveling to Mt. Kilamanjaro, he’s on a plane to Minneapolis in the middle of winter.
In 5 years, Lyndon knows he’ll probably continue to make more money and perhaps make millions as a partner in his 40’s. But what’s the point if he’s not completely happy? The 65 hour work weeks and minutiae are wearing his soul thin. He wants out. Yet, how does a 30 year old, who’s on a straight path to multiple-six figures rationally decide to quit his job and try and make it as a nature photographer?
An ant is playing the world’s smallest violin somewhere underground. While millions are unemployed, Lyndon is on a path to financial freedom, with one of the most prestigious companies in the world, yet he’s unhappy. He doesn’t feel the plight of the less fortunate, who in his eyes are just in temporary dislocation. Everything to Lyndon is logical. When markets crumble, people get dislocated, but eventually get relocated when the markets rebound. Oh, how Lyndon too, wishes he was dislocated.
Unfortunately, nobody will give Lyndon much sympathy, except for his fellow well-to-do friends. Ironically, it is the sympathy that Lyndon seeks, which makes him only hang out with people of his same socio-economic class. He understands that most of America won’t understand him so he shuns most people.
ONE TEMPORARY SOLUTION
In two years, Lyndon will have served 10 years at McKinsey, a long enough period of time for him to not feel guilty about taking a sabbatical. He’s never taken a 2 week vacation at once, and he’s never taken more than 4 weeks off for the entire year. How could he, since the firm is paying him so much? It wouldn’t be fair to his clients he justifies to himself.
The problem with taking a sabbatical in two years is that he still has to work for another two years! He wants to see the world now. He’s restless, with unwavering confidence that he can always come back to the industry of advice and fortune. If he can’t and ends up spending most of his money, he can always get a temporary loan or work part-time to extend his dreams.
Lyndon decides that one of his New Year’s resolution is to reboot. After his bonus hits his bank account, he wants out, but is afraid to pursue his dreams. He’ll have $250,000 in savings with no debt to his name if he quits. Remember though, that if he works another year, he’ll save another $80,000, and then another $80,000+ every year forever. The key issue is the word “forever.”
* UPDATE: To see Lyndon’s response, please read “Wealth Is An Illusion Of Happiness”
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Updated for 2017 and beyond.