Getting Ahead or Enjoying the Moment?

get-aheadRecently, my daughter had her very first job interview.  After we decided on her outfit and printed a copy of her resume, I wondered if they’d offer a 401K plan.  Although utterly absurd, the thought really did cross my mind.  While I should have been enjoying the moment, I zeroed in on getting her ahead.

I have fallen victim to society’s push that if you’re not ahead, you lose.  Worse yet, if I’m relaxing and enjoying an event, I have sometimes criticized myself for not using that time to “get ahead” on other things!

If you have teenagers in your house, perhaps you saw the Teen Choice Awards this week (8/11/13).  Ashton Kutcher gave an inspirational 4+minute acceptance speech, stating that “opportunity looks a lot like hard work”.  He talked about being a dish washer, a deli worker, and sweeping Cheerio dust off of a factory floor before making it big in acting.  I was inspired for my kids as they embark upon their first jobs.

The next day, inspiration waned as I read a profile in Fortune magazine of a CEO whose first job was interning at major corporation.  This was a chief factor attributed to ‘how she got ahead’.  Seriously, how many teenagers have access to corporate internships at 16?

This always-need-to-get-ahead syndrome is perpetuated by retailers.  On July 1st, I went into Joanne Fabrics to pick up a 4th of July decoration.  As the sliding glass doors closed behind me, I smelled October.  Cinnamon filled my senses, pumpkins greeted me, and my summer yellow shorts just felt wrong.  At 70% off, Independence Day décor was scarce.

Still in need of the decoration, I drove to Target where the BACK TO SCHOOL signs left my youngest squealing in the doorway, refusing to step any further into my normally-beloved Target.

Hobby Lobby?  Christmas decorations!  I actually pondered if I should buy something!

This same mentality filters into politics. The Republican Party was campaigning for 2016 immediately after the re-election of Mr. Obama.  That was somewhat understandable, since they have work to do if they hope to regain the White House.  However, two weeks after his re-election, national news claimed that President Obama was “campaigning” on behalf of the Democratic Party to ensure in four years, the Democratic candidate would win.

At what point is there focused, meaningful work being accomplished?  Can it just be ok to actually enjoy SUMMER until August?  If my Christmas isn’t bought, wrapped and baked by Halloween, am I behind?

The economics are easy:  excessive early marketing sells more stuff and panics a 22-year old into hiring a financial planner when they haven’t even paid off student loans.  The psychological aspect however, is much more fascinating.  Why do some teens believe that cleaning the windows at Dunkin Donuts isn’t worth their best effort because they will eventually be “getting ahead” of that lowly job?  Why do we watch the political pundits evaluate for four years?  Why am I thinking about retirement funds for my 16 year old?!

While I do save for retirement and have been known to buy Christmas gifts throughout the year, I have to stop robbing myself of the delight that’s meant for the moment. If I’m worried about my daughter’s financial future, I won’t enjoy the pride on her face.  If I make celebrating Christmas a 4-month long event, it will no longer possess its excitement and specialness.

With more focused intention, I believe we can “get ahead” on critical things without sacrificing “the moment”.  Thus living a much more joyful life!

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