A couple of days ago I was doing some research online about a few different things, mainly ado about my own career choices, teaching and long term planning.
Through that research I stumbled upon threads where people got into the discussion on salaries, benefits and all that – and to my surprise, many of the commentors were harshly criticizing the salary levels of my line of work. Not just that, but they considered it borderline unlivable and a complete dead end for people.
In fact, it went further than this and made the claim that it’s not even a “real” job – in order to be considered a “real” teacher, you needed to study more, have some kind of tenure with a “publish or perish” mindset, attain a masters and have the necessary paperwork to ensure that you are indeed “really” teaching.
All of this made me start thinking and I actually lost a little sleep over it too, waking up at 4 am with my mind racing and processing the information. It was bothering me deeply because what was being said was totally out of line with my own life. Not just that, but I realized that as I thought about it more, I just became angrier at it for an enormous number of reasons.
I’ve written at length before about materialism, wasting time and grinding out at work being a bad deal, alongside writing a parodied “list” of justifications behind being a cool as hell Sigma Male. It’s quite evident that I live a rather modest life and focus more on the experiences I have with people rather than the obsession with possessions. I also really don’t have much issue saving money or living well – I just recently built a new PC and it didn’t affect my financial health in the slightest.
But apparently, the salary and career I’ve chosen is somehow “not good enough” and a “dead end”. I’m supposed to be struggling and going paycheck to paycheck, and even the thought of having kids or a family on such a salary cannot, and never will be possible unless I greatly increase my income, which can only be done through focusing on very particular industries, or investing more in my academic education – which, ironically, is extremely expensive and would undoubtably put me into debt, endlessly paying off a loan with interest.
And yet here I am – physically fit and strong, mentally healthy, living very comfortably, saving 50% of my income per month easily (something that, statistically speaking, is apparently extremely rare) and all on an unlivable salary.
So…what exactly does “unlivable” mean? Is my position in life unlivable? Are my career choices “dead ends” considering the result I have? Is my financial stability and growth going to come to a sudden and abrupt end within a year or so?
The contradictions for me are really apparent and the assertions don’t meet facts of reality for me. There is zero indication that I am living poorly in my life. If anything, my quality of life has increased dramatically in the past few years, and I can focus on the many hobbies I have alongside a job that I find very spiritually fulfilling. I can write, focus on musical practice, do my exercises, cook my food and meet many interesting people. I’m a renaissance man as I’ve written in the past – I pursue lots of different things and develop a ton of interesting skills, and I’ve had no problem doing so.
So why are there so many contradictions? Many reasons.
There is an outright bizarre obsession that people have with making as much money as possible and a wonton focus on gaining prestige and paperwork behind their name. If you’re a teacher, you’re not a real one until you have a PhD behind it. If you’re working, you’re not in “livable” conditions until you hit at least the average salary, then doubling it.
But based on whose standards? Why? For what? If I go and get myself a PhD or a Masters, the only potential benefit I might gain from it would be a bit more knowledge on academic theory regarding education, as well as more knowledge on how to write academic papers and research. It might actually give me access to working at universities, too – which would likely increase my salary.
At least, that’s the purported benefit – the negative is that to do this, I need to save a lot of cash in order to acquire that “rank”. If I don’t have the cash, I take on debt – and once I’m done studying and have leveled up to non peasant status, I can finally get a job that pays me more, which I’ll use to pay off my debt.
Cool, I guess. I’ll use a good chunk of my thirties – time I’ll never get back – getting this done for a potential payout in the future, as well as being given the thumbs up that finally, I’m a real teacher!
The validation means nothing to me, though. Maybe it means something to you, or someone else, but it’s worthless to me. Why the hell should I care what some people around me think about the money I make, the jobs I do, and the labels I have next to my name? Is it worth the financial cost? Furthermore, why the hell should I take on debt or use my capital to invest in something that might (keyword here) increase my salary in the future? Why would I not instead invest that capital in compounding interest accounts, stocks, etc.?
It’s all bullshit to me, and what really made me angry was the commentary was very “soft” in its writing. Most of it had this condescending tone where it pretended to care for the low salaried peasants, trying to make an appeal that indeed, your life is supposed to suck and you’ll only be worth something if you stop doing what you’re doing, irrespective of the person’s values, financial condition, etc.
I loathe people who do this. Just be honest when you speak as most of us peasants can read between the lines – you have a superiority complex. You believe you’re a “better” person because you’re a good lapdog for the academic world and do things based on the prestige gained and the number that goes brrr in your bank account.
But are these people really “better”? Again, based on whose standards? How is “better” defined? In comparison to what?
Better, for me, would be reducing the things I own, improving my musical ability and writing more on my website. Going out with my friends more often too. Improving my job skills. Salary increase would be great too, but I don’t actually need it really, and it would only help me accelerate my savings/investments. There’s not much else it would give me, it’s more secondary effects and more overall stability.
Better is defined by you, and you only. The comparison comes from your present state and how it is, versus how you want it to be. All of the things that would be better for me would just be enhancing what I already have – to me that’s an indication that I’m quite fulfilled in my life. I’m doing fine and am not chasing imaginary values outside of myself.
Do you want to make $100,000 a year? Why? What for? If you can’t define it well, you have work to do because you’re unclear on what’s important to you. How much time investment would it take to make that amount of money per year, and what would you have to sacrifice for it? Are those sacrifices more important than the amount of cash? It comes down to what’s important to you. But I digress, let’s get back to the “upper class” people who think you’re retarded.
I’m firmly convinced that the majority of people who have this kind of mindset are also people fully sold on the idea that going into debt for the sake of gaining prestige is a pathway to a fulfilled life. If your hierarchy of values are well understood and you really do want to be the best professor in the world, then you go do it – but I’ve found that the side effect of a well understood value system is a modesty and benevolence that does not condescend.
I’ve met people who are extremely well paid and educated, and some of them I’ve even taught. They’ve never judged or looked down on me – in fact we see eye to eye and respect one another. They’re good people with their lives in order and have a sense of honor and politeness towards me, and I likewise them. We all have our lives in order and focused on what matters to us.
On the other hand though, there are the people who chase the high pay and the academic prestige in order to be seen as “elite” or “the best” in the eyes of others. They do it not for themselves, but for the reaction and respect from others. It’s validation seeking or second-handedness.
This creates a despicable and poisonous psychological mindset too. It becomes a fervent need to protect and justify ones decisions through a superiority complex. “I’m better because I make more and have titles to my name, and people should know that”. “I’m better because I own a house”. “I’m better because my colleagues say so”.
It grosses me out, and it further deepens my cynicism towards modern society and its philosophical principles. It’s all corrupted and based on the need to increase ones rank in the race of plague infested rats. People seek validation with narcissistic smoke and mirrors, justifying their exorbitant purchases and debt-driven budgets because a majority agreed to it and said it was “good”. It’s an erosion of one’s ability to think as an independent being and make choices based on what is important to one’s own life, and not because of the opinions of others.
Many people like to say that this incessant desire to consume and drive oneself into the pits of debt is a consequence of capitalism, but that is very far from the truth and one of the fundamental distinguishing factors between someone who understands what capitalism is and someone who doesn’t.
Capitalism is giving the market i.e. the people the freedom to trade and build business. Exchange value for value, set prices, co-operate and compete voluntarily, and establish win win relationships. That’s all it is – how you use it is up to you. WordPress, for example, is successful because it provides people with value. It makes money this way and if you don’t enjoy it, you choose not to use it.
The how part is where things are important. If one uses the tool as a means to acquire things just for the sake of acquisition or for the purpose of impressing others, then you’re the problem, not the tool. People with their shit together don’t rag on capitalism – they praise it for the freedom it gives them to pursue their interests. What we have today is not exactly capitalism, but cronyism and a system that incentivizes manipulation of laws and monopolization – all government caused, fyi – but much of its fundamentals are still around, and hence the wealth in advanced nations.
I digress. The corruption of societal standards and the drive for “more stuff” and validation are not because of the tools, but the ideas that have been drilled into people’s minds that being shiny around others is important. It isn’t.
Life is not about other people first, it’s about you first – and it will of course involve other people. Who those people are is up to you, but you have no obligation to impress anyone or do something in order to gain validation. It’s all depending on what makes you a fundamentally fulfilled person.
Community, loyalty, friendship, socialization are all things that come with a fulfilled life, but those things come after one has done their own due diligence in figuring themselves out and killing whatever demons they may have. You must understand your values and what you want first before you can more deeply develop connections with others. None of it involves seeking validation or prestige however – if your friend scoffs at you for loving being a janitor or living the way you do, then he is not your friend. You pick and choose the people you care for just as you pick and choose fundamental values.
Going back full circle to the original judgements behind my career choices – I realized after much thought that it didn’t bother me because others thought I was living a life of peasantry and poverty. It bothered me because it was a realization that so many people have such a corrupted form of thinking that is obsessed only with how one is viewed by others and how large their paycheck is. It can be rather depressing to think about it, because it makes you realize how rare rich friendships and soulful discussion can be.
Perhaps to many, my life might be seen as peasantry with the ownership of only a few things and modest living, but given the friendships I have, the experiences and the hobbies I pursue, I am all but happy to be called a peasant if it means keeping that. I don’t care, I’m happy.
I live modestly and enjoy my life. I have thought about what I’ll do in my future and how I’ll tackle things as I age, and while I have some concerns – particularly because of post-pandemic economic reasons – I am not worried about whether I’ll be able to survive or not. I’ve learned how to think and have undisputable loyalty among a close group of friends and family. Somehow, I’ll find a way, even if the world falls off the edge of the universe and into a black hole.
I’m a free man – both spiritually and physically – and live the way I want to live, and if I were to die tomorrow I would not die with an empty heart, because the choices I have made are mine.