In light of it being Thanksgiving, I thought I’d share something that I’m thankful for. I’m thankful to be in such a blessed position, one I no doubt worked hard for. But I’m also thankful to have the perspective that allows me to realize that not everyone has the opportunities I’ve had, which makes me appreciate it all that much more. There are so many people out there that have it worse off than I do, which is something I aim to help correct over time. To those who think only the “1%” are really fortunate, think again. We are the 1%. Happy Thanksgiving!
There’s massive income inequality present in this country right now.
No doubt about it.
Including capital gains, the top 1% of US households are estimated to have an income share of 20%. 70% of countries in the world have more equal income distribution. So there’s some room for improvement here.
But I believe those who protest and experience dismay just thinking about the wealth and income concentration at the top 1% of US households are looking at it completely wrong.
Why Comparison Is The Thief Of Joy
Theodore Roosevelt said it best:
Comparison is the thief of joy.
I think it’s an apt insight into humanity, although it’s really sad that this is true. It shouldn’t be so.
When one compares their situation to someone else’s, they’re almost always looking up.
If you have a house that’s 1,500 square feet, you’re comparing it to the house down the road that’s 2,000 square feet. All of the sudden, your house feels small.
If you have a Chevrolet, you know that it’s not the BMW your neighbor is sporting. Cloth seats just aren’t leather. The car becomes embarrassing and/or not good enough over time.
If you’re wearing a Polo suit, you suddenly feel underdressed when you see someone else walking down the street in a bespoke suit.
In almost every comparison you’ll ever make, your joy is stolen. One feels bad about oneself when comparing their situation to someone else’s situation because they’re almost always looking at someone who has excelled even more than they have. You’re looking at someone smarter, faster, richer, better. And guess who that person who is smarter, faster, richer, or better than you is looking at? You guessed it: someone else who is seemingly smarter, faster, richer, or better than them. And on and on it goes.
Instead of using our best as our benchmark, we’re using someone else’s best. It’s nonsensical and harmful. It’s also a complete waste of time.
I think comparing oneself at all is silly. But if/when one does compare, it’s always a comparison to something or someone more.
Why is this? Why don’t we look down?
If you have a house that’s 1,500 square feet, you should be grateful knowing that it’s a lot better than the 1.6 billion people worldwide who lack adequate housing.
If you have a Chevrolet, you should be glad to own a car at all; global vehicle ownership per capita in 2010 was 148 vehicles in operation per 1,000 people.
If you’re wearing a Polo suit… give me a break.
The reason why comparison is the thief of joy is because people have this obsession with comparing their situations to other situations that exceed their own. Whatever they have isn’t enough. And with this mindset, it’ll never be enough.
Complaining about being in the bottom 80% of US households as it relates to income share is like a dog bemoaning his allotment of two full bowls of food per day only because another dog is allowed 20 full bowls of food per day. Even though the two full bowls are more than enough, it’s not 20.
Moreover, the dog is made to look even more ridiculous when there’s a dog next door that doesn’t even have regular access to food.
We Are The 1%
The median personal income for the US population age 25 and older working full time in 2005 came in at $39,336. I’m sure it’s even higher now.
This is an incredible amount of money.
Those complaining about the income concentration at the top 1% are forgetting that if they’re making anything even close to $40,000 per year, they’re already in the top 1%.
Earning $39,336 per year puts you in the top 0.59% of the world.
I was making more than $60,000 per year as a service advisor for a luxury car dealership, before I officially “retired” from that career back in 2014, at the advanced age of 32 years old.
That income put me in the top 0.20% of the world.
Another way of looking at it is this: that would average out to $28.84 per hour, assuming an average full-time workweek. That’s over 70 times what an average Indonesian laborer earns. So it was almost like I had 70 Indonesians shadowing me every minute of the workday, multiplying my workload and income.
To be anything but financially free in my mid-30s would be almost crazy, in my opinion. How can you be in the top 0.20% of the world and still be living paycheck to paycheck? It defies logic.
If You Must Compare, Compare To Those Who Have Less
I think comparing yourself to anyone else is a fruitless exercise. I personally have only one comparison: the best version of me.
Every day, I wake up and think about how to better myself, my situation, and the world around me. Thus, my benchmark is my greatest possible output. When I feel like (or know) I left something on the table, I’m disappointed.
But I can say for sure that I experience not even an ounce of disappointment when I see, meet, or hear of someone who has something more than me. Whether they’re bigger, faster, stronger, or richer – it matters not to me at all.
I see life as almost like a board game, where everyone is given different rules, advantages, and disadvantages. The boards (life) might look similar at first glance, but we’re all starting and playing the game differently. Luck and genetics has a lot to say about where you start off, as well as where you end.
The key, however, is to maximize your own potential through effort. Your starting point might be fixed, but your personal effort is almost unlimited in terms of its power. After all, it’s not where you start but where you finish.
Personally, I was lucky enough to be born in the early 1980s in the United States. And I was born a Caucasian male, which has a certain set of advantages.
Being born in, say, India in the late 1800s would have been a far less fortunate start.
Then again, it wasn’t all luck, as growing up fatherless in a ghetto of Detroit with a drug-addicted mother made things more difficult.
Nonetheless, I’ve put in as much effort as possible over the last eight years to better myself. I moved across the United States. I did away with personal transportation. I worked 100 hours per week… many, many times. I saved, invested, saved, invested, and saved some more. I spend hours per day reading, exercising, writing, thinking. I try to become a better version of myself every day, which has an amazing cumulative effect.
So my rules are unique to me. My situation isn’t anyone else’s. To compare what I have to anyone else out there, or to have someone else compare their situation to mine, is just foolish.
The only thing I can say is that I’ve made the most of what I have. I’ve been lucky in some respects, unlucky in others. But I never gave up hope. I’ve remained optimistic. And I never stopped pushing forward.
Some born into similar circumstances might have less, or they might have more. Those putting in maximum effort are probably content. Either way, their situation has nothing to do with me, and vice versa.
But if you are insistent on comparing yourself, compare your situation to situations that are less fortunate than your own.
Look around at the 800 million people who are starving.
See the billions of people around the world who lead lives where regular access to electricity, quality housing, water, healthy food, and transportation are difficult or impossible.
Instead of complaining about the top 1% in the US, look at the 99% across the world beneath you. And then look to see how you can help change that.
As I marched from below zero to financial freedom, I never spent time comparing myself to others, being upset about those that are in the top 1% of US household income, or feeling like I wasn’t as fast, smart, rich, or handsome as someone else.
Spending time and energy on comparisons is less time and energy you can spend on bettering your own situation. Time is our most valuable and rare commodity, and it’s becoming more valuable and rare every additional minute you’re alive. To spend even a second of that comparing yourself to someone else is such a waste.
But if you’re ever upset about not being in the top 1%, fear not. You almost certainly are. If you’re in the United States and have access to the electricity and internet connection in your own home necessary to read this article, you’re doing far better than more than a billion other people out there.
This article wasn’t written to make you feel bad about your own fortunate situation. (I’ll quickly note that I plan to dedicate the last 1/3 of my life to philanthropic causes. And if you feel a bit more obliged after reading this, that’s great. If not, that’s okay, too.)
This article was actually written to motivate you to spend more time and energy on the effort that will actually propel you to becoming your best self, rather than uselessly comparing yourself to others that seemingly have it better than you. The foolishness of this is compounded further when you realize that those who seem to have it all are also comparing themselves to others they perceive to have it even better than they do. So on and so forth.
To be in the top 1% of the world and still be dependent on a paycheck in your 40s, 50s, or 60s, if you don’t want to be, in this day and age, seems a little crazy to me. But if you’re always complaining because the top 0.5% of the world have it better than you, you’ll never see that you’re already in the top 1%… and you’ll never truly be free.
What about you? Spend time comparing yourself to others? Do you feel good knowing that you’re in the top 1%?
Thanks for reading.
Image courtesy of: aechan at FreeDigitalPhotos.net.