It’s Not a Contest

conferenceA few weeks ago, I was in downtown Denver at the conference center, as one of the parent volunteers for the elementary school’s Robotics Club. We were there to watch an international robotics competition, where students from around the world had brought along robots they had built to be squared off against each other in various events. We stepped off the school bus and made our way though the various bridges and corridors of the gleaming glass facility. When we arrived outside the right ballroom, we were greeted by one of the teachers from our school district. He addressed our group of 40 kids:

“OK guys, before we go in, I wanted to remind you of one thing. There are two types of people in the world today: those who create technology, and those who consume it. Only one of those groups gets to cash the check, the other has to write it. Apple Computer didn’t get to be the richest company in the world by buying a bunch of phones – they had to do the hard work to develop those phones. 

So when you go into this room, I want you to look at the teams and where they are from. You’ll notice most of them are from Asia. Because over there, they take this stuff – science, technology, engineering, and math – much more seriously than we do. The kids your age are already starting calculus, and they program their own robots and do events like this every weekend. They are way ahead of us, and in a global world, it’s blah blah blah…”

At this point I tuned out, because I could see where the guy was going and I think he was missing the bigger picture. But I was happy to add his little speech to my collection of stories about the common theme of artificially imposed competitive worry. These scary little talks pop up in all areas of life, and with them we are creating a dog-eat-dog world in the middle of a very comfortable and well-appointed dog food factory.

You’ll see this phenomenon in varying degrees in the school system: At one end of it, my own family has become curious about the hippy free-for-all concept of Unschooling, while traditional schooling methods are more rigorous. And the trend seems to intensify in the Northeastern United States, where many of the wealthier residents are afflicted with Ivy League Preschool Syndrome). Further East, the Indian and Asian cultures value education highly, but often under a very strict regime of long hours, reduced leisure, rote memorization and a focus on competition.

Unfortunately this phenomenon does not end on graduation day. The nature of large-scale capitalism is competition and survival of the fittest, which I believe can be a good thing overall*. But when you apply constant competition on the level of individual humans in a win-lose battle, the results are not nearly as good.

Most of us seem to come pre-packaged with a desire for more. If something is good, more of it must be better. A 4-cylinder car provides amazing transportation options, so people naturally try to get more of that amazement by buying 8-cylinder trucks. A few square feet of interior space is a very useful form of shelter, so given the resources some of us will amass tens of thousands of these square feet.

But the phenomenon of more extends even further than material conveniences. It leaks right into the way we live our lives and perceive our value as human beings. If you enjoy your job, you may find yourself advancing relentlessly until you become the CEO. If you own a business, you might find yourself growing it just because the customers and the money are there and you don’t want to waste the opportunity. But what if higher status and higher income were not the things you really needed to achieve a happier life? You would end up trading precious time and life for something that really delivers no value to you, because you had enough in the first place.

Some people call this tendency mindless accumulation. This bad habit is built right into us, as you may have seen in the recent psychological study described in the New York Times. In that rather amazing experiment, researchers found that people were willing to endure annoying noises for far too long, just to accumulate chunks of chocolate that they knew they would never be able to enjoy. This tendency was more prevalent among high-achieving and high earning people like you.

You might think that a fake self-discipline guru like Mr. Money Mustache would be immune to this effect, but unfortunately this is not the case. I still get little thrills every time I earn an extra chunk of unnecessary money, and strive irrationally hard to avoid the pain of losing any of it. People with an even stronger version of this tendency will tend to work in unsatisfying jobs much longer than they need to. Several MMM readers have shared stories in the past about reaching multimillionaire status and yet still feeling compelled to accumulate more. And just to prove they are not that unusual, a 30-year-old described the addictive process that led him to be unsatisfied with a $3.6 million annual bonus. He used the very appropriate term “Wealth Addiction” to describe his condition. The underlying brain chemicals probably function in just the same way as many other compulsive habits.

I find that the tendency to mindlessly heap more onto our plates even occurs with life experiences. I had a very happy life even back in 2011 before starting this blog. As it took off in subsequent years, more opportunities popped up as more wonderful people were brought into my life through the magic of the Internet. There were chances to go on more trips, speak at schools and conferences, meet people for lunches and dinners, write books and make videos. This all sounds like very fancy stuff – the type of opportunities one should not squander, because they are not offered to everyone. But at the same time, every activity you add to an already-full life means that something has to fall out the other side (unless you can cut out sleep, which unfortunately is not an effective strategy). So I feel opportunities slipping away every day. I see how much more I could get done if only I would work harder and become more efficient at everything.

But then I calm down and remind myself, just as I am reminding you today, that it is not a contestLife is not a contest, and we get more out of it by cooperating wholeheartedly with each other rather than beating each other’s asses at everything.

The young students should be encouraged to become scientists and engineers if they love the field as I did, but being artsy and creative, insightful and broad-thinking, or optimistic and good with people are equally valuable and rewarding skills. After all, Apple didn’t revolutionize the world of technology by adding more features and buttons than its Korean competitors – it did so by paring things down to a simpler and more human form.

Companies don’t pay the highest salaries to those who can memorize the most arcane technical details or work the most hours – those dollars tend to go to those who can inspire and influence the most people. But you can take any strategy that works for you, since making the highest salary should not be anyone’s goal anyway.

And you and I, as well as our kids, won’t attain the widest smile on our deathbeds by racking up the largest bank balance or longest list of countries visited. This achievement will probably be earned through a more balanced life. Slow down and take the time to look around you. If you are a chronic lifetime overachiever, give yourself permission to accomplish a bit less. You might just find you are living a bit more.


* Because it weeds out the natural tendency of entrenched power to become complacent and start behaving like old royalty. The fat cats of a big old conglomerate can bribe and lobby for a while, but when deprived of their revenue stream by a younger, nimbler competitor that better serves the needs of customers, the eventual flushing of the toilet is inevitable. Healthy business competition has been happening for quite a while now, and I’m thankful for it.

  • jlcollinsnh January 26, 2014, 5:38 pm

    Reading thru, and planning my comment, I was all set to link to that article about the 30-year-old who was disappointed in his 3.6M bonus. But then in over-achiviing MMM fashion you went and included it in your post. :)

    Great stuff, and I can especially relate to all the cool opportunities that have flowed my way since launching my blog.

    At first, in kid-in-the-candy-store fashion I said yes to all the cool stuff, and soon had far to little do nothing time.

    Now I’m in the process of weeding. Tough when even the weeds are pretty.

    • Johnny Moneysed January 26, 2014, 6:13 pm

      Jim, I’m in a similar situation as well. As time goes on and I become an increasingly more efficient human being I find myself wanting to fill my new found free time with more stuff

      But it’s nice to break the monotony of more by relaxing with my family or spending days of literally doing nothing.

      • Free Money Minute January 27, 2014, 2:56 pm

        Why add more stuff and more money when your most precious resource, time, will be depleted at a quicker rate!

        • Will Murphey January 28, 2014, 6:36 pm

          Reminds me of one of my favorite books:

          The Freedom Manifesto: How to Free Yourself from Anxiety, Fear, Mortgages, Money, Guilt, Debt, Government, Boredom… by Tom Hodgkinson

          He preaches many methods that instill a sense of relaxing and not taking life and earning money so seriously.

          • Steven January 28, 2014, 10:07 pm

            This book is amazing. This guy gets it and he’s getting me excited about getting it too

    • Scott January 27, 2014, 4:37 am

      Me too! I just read that article a few days ago and was thinking “This is going to be AWESOME when I post this!”

      My biggest take-away from this article is that achievement needs to be defined by you, not society. I do think introducing kids to as many things as possible at an early age is a good thing… and if they don’t know what they want to do, find something that builds a ‘stache until they do know ;)

      Great article!

    • Miss Growing Green January 27, 2014, 10:05 am

      That article (about the man who wasn’t satisfied with his $3.6 million dollar bonus) was interesting. It really shows how the concept of hedonic adaptation can effect even the most “successful” people. No matter how much you make, that readjusts to a “normal level” in your brain, and suddenly really big bonuses feel just like the small ones used to.
      Breaking free of that mental box and realizing those sorts of forces are at work on our psychology is what separates the sheep from the sentient.

      • g33k_babe January 28, 2014, 5:55 pm

        Very interesting article (and perspective).

        I’ve been lurking around reading MMM’s posts for the past few weeks and am already a fan!

        A lot of MMM’s views resonate since I was raised in a lower middle class family in a erm ‘developing nation’. Life has changed quite a bit now that I work in the Silicon Valley and am part of a double income (graduates MS/PhD) no kids household. At times I find myself flabbergasted at my spouse’s wasteful usage of electricity (he grew up in an upper middle class household in America. And although he is not ‘wasteful’ by American standards and very proactive about savings & investments).

        I often find myself wondering why are people buying things without realizing the additional obligations ($$$s, time in maintaining them). Glad to have found similar people here.

        Wonder if MMM would be interested to write a post about social networks & their adverse effects on our unnecessary consumerism?

  • BNL January 26, 2014, 5:41 pm

    I still get little thrills every time I earn an extra chunk of unnecessary money, and strive irrationally hard to avoid the pain of losing any of it. People with an even stronger version of this tendency will tend to work in unsatisfying jobs much longer than they need to.

    You got me…

    One of my favorite posts from you. This is exactly how I feel, and sometimes it helps to hear it from you.

    • shawn January 27, 2014, 9:22 am

      Applause….hand clapping Applause. From the original post and from BNL’s insight.

  • TallMike January 26, 2014, 5:48 pm

    I suppose it doesn’t say anything good about me that I was so excited to be one of the first comments on this post, does it?

    The disconnect between what competition teaches/encourages and what I’ve found to be truly important as an adult is rather startling. I was a serious ski racer for many years, competing at a national level in college. Through that, I met some of my closest friends, but I don’t think skiing taught me much about how to be present for those friends when they faced the loss of friends or family, how to be present for my father-in-law when he died from cancer, or how to be patient (I’m still working on this one) with my own children. The parts I did benefit from (physical fitness, understanding how to train, perseverance) don’t seem all that tied to the *competition* aspect per se.

    So, I have to ask myself why we put such an emphasis on this with our young people.

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 26, 2014, 7:47 pm

      Yeah! I have wondered about this “Make the kids compete with each other” stuff since I was a kid myself. Hanging out with friends, life was never competitive – it was always building stuff or having adventures around the town.

      As soon as adults enter the picture, kids were suddenly pitted against one another, as if they could not think of anything else to do with us.

      So when I am taking care of groups of kids these days, it’s all freestyle creativity and no contests.

      • Maverick January 27, 2014, 7:07 am

        Yes, I believe there is a lack of creativity today in children. Games are created FOR them; many go to organized sports or play video games. When I was growing up, my friends and I would build tree forts, rope swings, create our own card / board games, create games in the yard/woods, or modify our bicycles. We loved street hockey but had no “court.” So we would grab our parents wheelbarrows, stack on long planks and haul them down the road to temporarily “build” a 12″ tall board court on a bank parking lot after hours. At the end of the night, we’d break it all down and haul back up the road.

        In the winter we would take our sleds to the nearby golf course, lay face down on the sled and lock your feet on your friend’s sled behind you and make a long “train” on the steepest hills… play hockey on the frozen lakes.

        We always had a good time.

        There were no parents involved!

        • Clean-shaven January 27, 2014, 9:54 am

          Maverick, have you seen this gem from Sir Ken Robinson? Touches on your/MMM’s observations RE: creativity…


          By the way, street hockey was the best back in the day! I think I broke every window in my parents’ garage with errant slapshots.

          • Dave January 29, 2014, 3:07 pm

            I was very pleased (and amused) to hear from my freshman son the other day at Georgia Tech. Intramural soccer game. My son’s not a soccer player. Did you win? “Oh no, of course not.” Why, ‘of course not?’ “Because our team plays by combining soccer with freeze tag and Red Light Green Light. You have to run along on one of the many lines on the field until you tag someone, at which point you’re free to roam. And, at any point our goalie can yell ‘Red Light’ at which point everyone on our team has to freeze until he yells ‘Green Light.’ We lose, and it’s fun.” Amen, kid. Amen.

      • theFIREstarter January 27, 2014, 10:18 am

        There is definitely a nature vs nurture argument to be had here although I think the correct answer is there’s a bit of both at play, as in some people are born with a competitive spirit while others probably have it drilled into them.

        We used to have 20 a side football (soccer) matches as far back as I can remember, maybe 7 or 8 years old? And most kids wanted to win even back then. Had we been corrupted by our super competitive adult influencers already by that age or was it simply that the drama of glory and defeat was all too exciting and enticing to just boot a ball aimlessly round a field on our lunch break?

        I think as you have quite rightly pointed out the issue is when adults get too involved and everything becomes ultra rigid, extra rules and routines must be adhered to, then the fun is sapped right out of the previously enjoyable activity.

        Healthy competition in the business world and greed or wealth addiction or however you want to dress it up, are also two completely different things in my opinion. (Fair play to the guy for realising and getting out though!)

        • Oliver February 3, 2014, 11:35 am

          Yet it’s interesting that when the 41st kid turns up wanting to play, he/she joins the side which is losing. Even in a ‘competitive’ game the kids recognise that the game is itself the result of collaboration, without which they would not have a game.

      • Kristina January 27, 2014, 11:46 am

        Wholeheartedly agree. We cannot find sports, activities or interests where the parents and coaches don’t turn everything into a competition.

        Hubby and I regularly find it amusing that everyone is actually average even the “best” ones and really you never actually win anything, so why can’t we all just focus on learning and having fun. Honestly if we should be practicing anything it is failing not winning, everyone everywhere does far more of that anyway.

        I am sick to death of competition and performance measures in our current culture.

        Also that teachers speech before the robotics event is shameful. All of this Asia anxiety in our culture is unwarranted. My mother has been working in China since 82 and living there since 97. I have lived in Singapore. FYI they are people too! Not superhuman, not smarter, not dumber, just people like us trying to make their way in the world.

        • Karyn January 28, 2014, 6:18 pm

          In Melbourne, Australia (a traditionally Caucasian country) there are four selective schools. These are schools where students sit exams to gain entry and only the top students are accepted. The student bodies of these schools are 96% Asian. Asian people make up about 18% of Melbourne’s population.

          Apple now plays second fiddle to Samsung. Toyota outsells GM. For all the kids who won’t get to retire at 30 one would hope that they are sufficiently prepared to get a job in the future world, and that American companies are still around to hire them. And if that means listening to “scary” speeches to motivate them to take an interest in science and engineering, and to pay attention and study harder – then listen up kids!

          • Mr. Money Mustache January 28, 2014, 6:51 pm

            These would all be very good points if it were a contest. Which it is not.

            The US economy is larger and more filled with jobs than ever. But more importantly, higher salaries, more exclusive schools, and outselling each other will do nothing for our quality of life. We passed the point of having enough to reach self actualization and peak happiness at least 50 years ago.

            People who love science and engineering should still practice the field, though – there are plenty of us. It’s just not a contest, and there will be plenty of jobs for everyone else.

            • Karyn January 28, 2014, 7:45 pm

              But don’t you worry about what kind of jobs will be available to someone who didnt participate in the education system? 50 years ago you wouldnt have needed to have graduated high school in order to get a decent job. Then over time finishing high school became the minimum required to get work that paid above mininum wage. These days having a college degree is the bare minimum to get your foot in the door of something that isnt menial. What will the future be like? Will kids need graduate degrees to get a job (I see this happening already in many fields) or just need to be amongst the top graduating college students in order to be accepted into a professional role? If you can’t compete you get left behind – the problem is that the world for those left behind is changing and it may not be such a pleasant place if you are trying to survive on a low income in a menial job in the “service economy” because you didn’t achieve what you needed to in the education system. I still believe that the best options in life come about as a result of a good education, if you drop out because you don’t want to compete, then you are ultimately limiting those future options. Not all future employers are so understanding – do you think that Google, Apple and other high tech companies are hiring college drop outs or are they recruiting from the top echelons of the best schools in the world?

              This is from a job ad for a Google software engineering INTERN position – “Minimum qualifications – Currently pursuing a BS, MS or PhD in computer science or a related technical field. Typically within 12-18 months of completing a Bachelor’s or Master’s degree, or at any stage in your PhD”

              • TomTX January 28, 2014, 7:59 pm

                Mmmkay – their stated minimum qualification for an intern is a college freshman in computer science on a BS track.

                Kinda undermines the point you were trying to make.

              • Karyn January 28, 2014, 9:01 pm

                My point was that today an undergrad degree is enough to get you a job. However, Google is already wanting PhD’s for an entry level position – in the future this will probably be the mininum qualification! And realistically speaking, in terms of competition today, who do you think will get the job – the undergrad or the PhD student?

              • prosaic January 29, 2014, 7:15 am

                The difference between your and MMM’s comment is so interesting to me, because there is only one difference, but it’s huge: fear.

                Your comment is like so many I read, with a strong, deep undercurrent of terror at being left behind, of fear of not meeting external standards imposed by a system that you (I say that in the general “you”, not just you personally) are expected to fit into.

                And fitting in is fine, and working to achieve within a system with externally-defined goals is one thing.

                Doing it because you’re terrified of being left behind (or of your children being left behind) is quite another.

              • WageSlave January 29, 2014, 11:21 am

                Is Google the only employer? Are they even a proxy for STEM jobs overall?

                Hopefully MMM will correct me if I’m wrong and missing the point, but I think he’s a lot like Gary Taubes in some aspects. (Gary Taubes, for those who don’t know, is making the radical statement that conventional dietary guidelines are basically bunk. Carbs are bad, fat is good.)

                I mention Gary Taubes in particular, because one of his blog posts (can’t find it now) talks about people like himself and their role throughout history. What about the guy who first proposed the world was round, or the earth rotates around the sun (rather than vice-versa)? These facts common knowledge now, but at the time, they were radical ideas. At some point, everyone else caught on, but until those ideas were generally accepted, the people proposing them were considered wackos.

                And that’s the point of Taubes’s post: how do you separate the wackos (there are plenty) from the ones that look like wackos but are simply ahead of their time? I think this is where MMM fits in: he’s clearly suggesting an alternate lifestyle, “breaking away from the pack” so to speak. Is he a nutjob or just ahead of his time? Only time will tell. But in the meantime, you have basically infinite resources at your disposal to learn and think critically about the trajectory of your life. And from that, determine if MMM is a kook or a visionary.

                As in nature, it’s typically safer to stay with the herd. Leaving the herd usually results in death. But it can also lead to a new species! And the point MMM is trying to make is that in today’s world, it’s not so bleak as “Darwinism” might suggest. Of course, it still takes courage to follow a non-traditional path like MMM: courage to be different, but not to face death (thank goodness!). Today’s world is cushy enough that you can be different, and perhaps the biggest risk is nothing more than potential ridicule from people who don’t share the same values. And what if we are on the cusp of a 21st century Renaissance? In a Renaissance-type culture, MMM and his ilk will be the norm.

              • greg February 2, 2014, 1:11 pm

                “over time finishing high school became the minimum required to get work that paid above mininum wage”

                I feel this is very extreme. I interview about a hundred people a year, and recently strongly (and successfully) advocated for hiring someone straight out of high school for a fantastic position — lots of freedom and income putting the candidate in the top 20% of income earners in the US.

                I *do* agree that it is hard to find places that want talent rather than pretty meaningless credentials.

              • Diane July 6, 2014, 7:13 am

                I think your concerns here stem from a misunderstanding of how engineering internships work.

                My company has internship positions during the summer for students- it’s a great way to support the community, ensure today’s students are getting real-world experience, and find excellent employees after graduation.

                We have internship positions open for undergrad students AND graduate students- they are not the same jobs. I guarantee that google has MULTIPLE internships available- some designed for undergrads, some for masters students, and some for PhD students. The work will be quite different for the different positions- there’s no way they’re going to hire a PhD intern for a job designed for a college sophomore. (Too expensive to hire an unnecessary PhD, AND too boring for the poor PhD!)

                Also, MMM addressed the “there are no jobs available unless you have a higher degree!!!” concern in two posts, starting here: http://www.mrmoneymustache.com/2013/07/25/50-jobs-over-50000-without-a-degree-part-1/

            • David January 29, 2014, 2:12 pm

              Hey, don’t forget about all the vocational jobs out there that pay really well, People keep harping on how college is the only way to make a good living but there are VAST shortages of things like elevator repairmen, escalator repairmen, HVAC (heating and air conditioning people), auto electronics technicians, mechanics, machinists, welders, you name it the jobs are in the vocational arts. And these jobs cannot be sent overseas. Frankly, college is a total waste of time for most people seeking work nowadays.

      • Deborah February 3, 2014, 2:00 am

        You should look at this article http://www.essentialkids.com.au/younger-kids/starting-school/ripping-up-the-playground-rule-book-delivers-incredible-results-20140203-31wc2.html#utm_source=FD&utm_medium=lifeandstylepuff&utm_campaign=rulebook about a study done in New Zealand. Several schools took part in this study for a Ph D, and relaxed the playground rules.

        This school stopped having any rules about what happened in the playground, provided the kids with a large pile of “junk”, and ceased mowing an area of the school grounds. The children became very creative, building huts out of junk and that translated into an increase in creativity in their school work.

  • FI Pilgrim January 26, 2014, 5:51 pm

    Great post as always. You speak to one of the main factors that convinced me that financial independence was what I wanted to strive for– the concept of “Enough”, which was laid out so well for me a few years ago in “Your Money Or Your Life”. The concept of defining enough for oneself is both daunting and appealing, and something I strive to get much better at.

    Wanting more of everything, even when I don’t need it, is so ingrained in my psyche it disgusts me.

    • Joe January 26, 2014, 10:29 pm

      > Wanting more of everything, even when I don’t need it, is so ingrained in my psyche it disgusts me.

      I work amid a culture in which “enough” really is enough. I think our constant drive towards improvement has a lot to do with our cultural ascendance: whatever sufficiency your ancestors once practiced, they were overpowered and absorbed by some culture with an over-sized work-ethic. This is what we’ve inherited, through force of selection.

  • Ron January 26, 2014, 5:54 pm

    Thanks. You at your counter-cultural, counter-financial conventional wisdom best. I trust you know there’s a large middle ground between standardized test obsessed “we have to win the global economic race” public schools and unschooling. In particular, there are a lot of alternative schools, especially progressive public schools of choice and independent private schools. Schools with balanced curriculums. Your emphasis upon cooperation and references to creativity and the arts makes me wonder, once again, about your intense commitment to data analysis. Educational outcomes that matter most are the most difficult to measure. And fortunately, everyone is irrational to varying degrees. Keep pounding that different drum.

  • Daniel January 26, 2014, 6:07 pm

    When it comes to education more is always better…just my 2 cents

    Americans should stop excusing their lousy school system. Even Mr MMM is using the standard prejudice that asians only memorize stuff but dont innovate or are not creative. We should recognize that as the cheap excuse it is and move on.

    The reason why america is a great innovator is threefold: The market is hughe, anything catching on and being a great product will hit a large market immidiatly, the culture and attitude towards entrepreneurs is positive and failing with your first business is not considered a failure at all (VERY different to other cultures!), starting up a company is as easy as 1-2-3 – very little does it have to do with the general population being better educated or skilled (they are not) nor the people being more ingenious than others (they are not) – but the labor market is unbelievable flexible….that’s key.

    Excellent read for MMM: (or anyone else interested in the true obstacles in US education) Amanda Ripley: The smartest kids in the world and how they got there.

    And a last comment: The teacher was totally out of line with that speech….what was that to teach/help the kids ? He was basically putting them down for no reason – not helpful.

    • PonderingNotPandering January 28, 2014, 3:30 pm

      The “more is better” attitude towards education would be great if it were free. Unfortunately, we live in a world where programs cost resources and we have to make tradeoffs.

      It may interest you to know that if you examine international PISA scores a bit you find that America is not doing all that lousy. Asian kids in America for example, outperform Japanese kids who spend a lot more time in the classroom and test prep. White kids in America do fairly well, scoring better than Austrians, French, Danish and New Zealand kids. Also, Hispanic American kids do better than all Latin American countries. America is a lot more diverse than Japan or Denmark though, so there are going to be differences when one compares averages of all students.

      Blog post with sources

      • Daniel February 5, 2014, 2:17 pm

        I am making a linguistic difference between education (which is the more encompassing part) and training (which is more narrow in scope). The latter being done in places like schools, universities ect. – unfortunatly not much true education going on these days. I dont mean to follow liberal arts to infinity (I am a pure science guys), but some Humboldt ideal would still be nice in the 21st century.

        And yes, it costs resources. Her is my confusion: US parents are incredibly willing to shell out thousands for pre-kindergarten schooling, and than again thousands for college – but in the meantime (aka middle and high school) US kids loose years compared to international standards. Why is that tolerated ?

        And the US (given all its wealth and self proclaimed leadership) is a lousy average when it comes to education – proven time and again in international tests. You can argue the testing criteria, you can see in the data that there is bias within the US with better and worse groups depending on locality, ethnicity or more, but on average I think it is quite embarassing.

        And you can track it down to two very simple issues that can be fixed: The irrational focus on school sports programs (taking time and money away from academics) and parents attitude towards education.

        Thats the point, its our parents attitude thats lacking and its fixable….hence the status quo is embarrasing, IMO

  • J.R. January 26, 2014, 6:10 pm

    I think this post perfectly summarizes everything you preach on the blog. There comes a time when enough is enough. Deciding when that is, is the key to happiness.

    My favorite line of your post: ” If you are a chronic lifetime overachiever, give yourself permission to accomplish a bit less. You might just find you are living a bit more.” This should come as no surprise – I believe many of your readers (myself included) are overachievers, that’s why we happened to find your blog. This quote is refreshing to hear since many of us keep reaching for more – its time to change that.

  • frugalecon January 26, 2014, 6:19 pm

    I think that these ideas could be tied into the message of a book I read years ago that I still think of. It is called “Finite and Infinite Games” by James Carse. The premise is that most people are stuck playing finite games in which there is a winner and a loser, while the most rewarding games of life are ones in which the object is to keep play alive, for the pure enjoyment of it and the infinite possibilities that the game creates. Finite games are focused on achieving wealth and status, which are really about keeping score (and there is no reason to keep score except to know who has won the game), while infinite games are focused on keeping play alive and exploring new possibilities of relating to the world. To me, achieving FI is about moving fully into that infinite game.

    • Dave January 27, 2014, 10:02 am

      This little book, “Finite and Infinite Games”, changed the way I looked at the world when I read it in the early 90’s. Thanks for the reminder frugalecon. I just found my old yellowed copy on the bookshelf in the basement. It will be interesting to read it again in light of MMM’s observations.

      • Frugalecon January 27, 2014, 7:30 pm

        Glad to hear it resonated, Dave. I should find my old copy and reread it too!

      • greg February 13, 2014, 7:21 pm

        Thanks to you guys I have another great angle at how to look at things! This is the third time within 2 years that I have been recommended truly life-changing books by others … 2/3 from recommendations on choice blogs =)

    • Awakeinwa January 27, 2014, 8:03 pm

      From a young age, many of my loved ones were stricken by death by heart disease of which I was responsible for care and treatment. Blame it on genes.

      From my dad suffering imminent heart failure requiring triple bypass to my grandmother’s botched 2nd angioplasty by an overzealous cardiologist, to my god grandfather suffering stomach cancer within 2 years after my god grandmother’s death.

      Or more recently my 3 year old son’s congenital heart defect that required surgical repair at 10 days old, which stressed me to point I had to get a liver biopsy which caused massive internal bleeding engendering a crap immune system that yielded sepsis, I can safely say the last thing on your mind as you are blanking out, feeling life and blood leaving your brain and soul is indeed just love bound to worry for your family, whether you have provided enough, whether you have done enough with your life to date.

      I will affirm what Steve Jobs said in his Stanford speech; death is the ultimate equalizer and antidote to dogma. What matters is contributing a verse or two back to the human flow building on what came before that help and enrich other people’s lives rather than gluttonously hoarding wealth mindlessly rather than making one’s time on this earth count with those you love and commune with.

      I spent two decades in tech, 11 years at Microsoft working in the bowels of Windows division, working with really smart and rich people. I went from workaholic to wanderer in that time. Smarts and wealth doesn’t matter. Happiness, meaning, and love does. At 40, it’s striking as a techie to envision your life as a smartphone battery indicator with battery half full, with an uncertain 0% gauge that can strike anytime.

  • andrea January 26, 2014, 6:49 pm

    Thank you! I needed to read this today, as I just finished working on my resignation letter for a part time job that sucks the life out of me. We have plenty and can live off of one income, but the need to have more made me keep going to work! Now I can focus on things I love and maybe get paid for it if the time is right. Keep up the good work!

  • Annamal January 26, 2014, 6:51 pm

    In the distant past I remember reading about an American who was shocked at the number of people in New Zealand who would be happy if their children were plumbers (where plumber stands in for any number of reasonably paide but not mega-income earning jobs).

    It’s not a universal cultural constant or anything but it often does seem to be a point of difference, the idea that you can have “enough” and then go fishing (or tramping or any one of a number of other non-productive things), it certainly seems to be a philosophy that most of my extended family operates by.

    • Major Tom January 27, 2014, 11:28 pm

      While I understand your sentiment, it just happens that New Zealand plumbers earn a very high income, easily commensurate with degree holders who work in offices!

      • DC January 28, 2014, 11:58 am

        Licensed plumbers earn a very high income in most developed countries, not just New Zealand. And since plumbing installation and repair is a critical component of real estate development and maintenance, many plumbers springboard into real estate investment. It’s not the money that’s better in New Zealand; it’s the mindset!

      • Aaron January 28, 2014, 3:31 pm

        I have a degree in computer science and am working on my Master’s degree in CS also, and I know plumbers with less experience in their respective field that earn more than I do in the United States.

    • lurker January 28, 2014, 11:00 am

      are you actually say that fishing is not PRODUCTIVE?????? have you ever been fishing????? LOL it is zen practice in a canoe and I always let the fish go…peace

  • lhamo January 26, 2014, 7:28 pm

    What a shame that the educator responsible for your team felt the need to frame the issue in those terms — it probably put a really negative slant on what could have been a really joyous exchange of transnational geekdom!

    On the topic of addiction, others on the forum might find Gabor Mate’s book “In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts” interesting. Warning: It is pretty depressing, as the core theme is about his work with drug and alcohol addicts in Vancouver BC. But he also reflects on addictions of other kinds, including his own (workaholism and compulsive purchasing of classical music).

    I’m having an interesting struggle with this issue myself at the moment, as I was approached by a headhunting firm for a very exciting new job opportunity. It would be a big jump in profile, influence, compensation, and probably stress. The stress part will potentially be mitigated by the fact that the compensation would be sufficient to allow DH to FIRE, and he is actually interested in considering that. And since the position would involve a relocation, it means we would have the money from the sale of our apartment to fall back on should the opportunity not turn out to be a good fit for me and/or our family. I have already run the numbers and seen that we have enough to FIRE, but due to DH’s reluctance we may need to take it in stages. Seems like letting him go first is a good strategy!

    I am going to pursue it, if they are interested in discussing further, but one of the reasons I am is because I know I don’t NEED it. I can go into the discussions feeling perfectly free to be 100% myself. If they like that and want me on the team on my terms, great. If not, I wish them and whoever they hire the best of luck.

    It is so incredible to have this level of freedom! The freedom to dream big. The freedom to try, and maybe fail. And learn and grow from the process, without fear.

  • Done by Forty January 26, 2014, 7:29 pm

    Mindless accumulation has been on my mind lately, as it’s tricky to know whether we’ll be able to leave the careers in a few years, or to work slightly past the point of ‘enough’. Maybe way past the point of enough, just to be safe.

    Good stuff as always, MMM.

  • insourcelife January 26, 2014, 7:32 pm

    I wonder how you would describe Snapchat CEO’s rejection of a $3 Billion offer by Facebook- is it “Wealth Addiction” or something else? What would you do?

  • Taryl January 26, 2014, 7:37 pm

    I should probably consider my response overnight. But tomorrow I’ll be at the office working to pay off the mortgage ASAP.

    All I have to offer is that it took a late diagnosis of MS to teach me the value of time and the uselessness of stuff. Over the years I’ve winnowed down my possessions and actives and, in spite of health problems, I’ve never felt happier.

    When that darned mortgage is gone I’ll be both free and happy.

    Why wait until life forces a change?

  • rick January 26, 2014, 7:45 pm

    Hahaha…I love this and it fits right in with something my 15 year old going through. He was trying out for the school talent show, and had to lug his guitar with him all day for the the try outs. While in his Algerbra class the teacher went off on him about how he has to do well in school to get into a good college etc (he’s getting a B+/a in the class with minimial effort). And he says that he currently has no intent of going to college, and that he wants to be a musician.

    The teachers reply was pretty mocking and the typical “you’ll never make it” kind of comment, And my son said he’d be happy to check in with her in 20 years and compair notes on whose “likes” thier job more. I was pretty proud of his retort.

    Though we get the final laugh, this next week we are pulling him from school early (he’ll miss only that algerbra class) so that he can attend a mini camp/lesson which is being taught by Dweezl Zappa. And I’m going to state as much in his excuse for leaving school earily.

    This kid is naturally good at school when he tries, but he has hardly put down the guitar in 3 years, and he’s excells at that. Myself growing up – had an artistic bent (and heard all the same stuff the algerbra teacher said) and my wife is an artist, we’re very much supportive of his choice to focus on his music. All of us know it can be a rough road, but I’ve always stressed the idea of being satistified with what you do, over what you make from what you do to both my kids.

    • dude January 27, 2014, 9:06 am

      ugh — this reminds me of an econ professor I had in college who I told, when the subject came up somehow in class, that I was planning to apply to law school. Specifically, I said I was hoping to get accepted by our well-regarded, though by no means rarefied air local law school. He huffed and said there was no way I was going to get into that law school because his daughter, who graduated summa cum laude from our very undergrad institution, didn’t get in. I was floored, and quite pissed, and responded immediately that I’d wager his weekly paycheck on it if he cared to take my bet. In time, despite his unprofessional outburst, I came to like the guy, so I didn’t take his money when I marched into his office one day later that year to show him my acceptance letter at a Top 10 law school.

      And speaking of competitive — man, top law schools are ridiculous environments for unfettered, cut-throat competitiveness.

    • David January 29, 2014, 2:17 pm

      Another day has gone by and I did not use algebra even once.

      • lurker January 30, 2014, 8:40 am

        and a day seldom goes by when I don’t wish I played guitar as well as Dweezil. or anyone that great….wish your kid luck from me! Rock on!
        Pursue those passions! who knows where he goes……?

      • MDM February 25, 2014, 12:37 am

        Yes, that’s likely true on a given day, and the same could be said about many specific things one learns.

        Important points in this blog such as calculating amount needed to retire based on the 4% rule; “to calculate a weekly expense compounded over ten years, multiply the price by 752”; etc., are however based on algebra.

        Having been fortunate to have math-adept children, it was a shock to volunteer in a local middle school and find many 7th grade students who did not know their multiplication tables*. Kind of hard to do back of the napkin calculations without knowing those multiples.

        Not everyone needs to be an engineer, but ensuring kids grow up with enough smarts to do those quick algebra calcs is worth doing. Now, if the subject had been geometry….

        *Time spent helping those students was indeed time well spent.

    • John Adams February 27, 2014, 10:49 am

      “I must study politics and war, that our sons may have liberty to study
      mathematics and philosophy. Our sons ought to study mathematics and
      philosophy, geography, natural history and naval architecture,
      navigation, commerce and agriculture in order to give their children
      a right to study painting, poetry, music, architecture, statuary,
      tapestry and porcelain.” -John Adams

  • One Clover January 26, 2014, 7:56 pm

    Competition is what is needed when there isn’t enough pie to go around. This hasn’t been the case for several decades now, but the structure is still used to keep the rich and poor neatly divided.

    Since there is plenty of pie to go around, a larger emphasis on cooperation is necessary to make sure everyone gets some.

  • Tristan Hume January 26, 2014, 8:11 pm

    Sometimes a real contest can also obscure the value of the activity being measured. I notice this in my high school when it comes to marks and competition. People compete to get into University/College and lose sight of the value of the education. They cram for tests and never remember a thing afterwards. They join clubs like “Model UN” purely because they “look good on applications.” Once some people get admitted they contract “senioritis” and stop attending classes because their marks don’t matter anymore.

    Contests are designed to measure a metric tied to something valuable but once they are instituted people lose sight of what is important and aim only to optimize the metric. In your example the metric is income and the real value is doing good work for the world. In my school example the metric is marks but the real value is in the learning. One famously bad example is paying programmers for lines of code. When people treat things as contests they lose sight of what really matters.

    • Forrest January 27, 2014, 2:32 pm

      “Sometimes a real contest can also obscure the value of the activity being measured.”

      Did someone say NFL?

  • Lil January 26, 2014, 8:25 pm

    No need to compete with others. I feel so much less stress knowing that, but then I saw this quote and realized I still strive to be a better person. Not a better person compared to someone else but of myself of yesterday.
    “Life is a competition… not with others, but with ourselves. We should seek each day to live stronger, better, truer lives; each day to master some weakness of yesterday, each day to repair a mistake, each day to surpass ourselves.” –David B. Haight

    • Mrs PoP January 27, 2014, 7:59 am

      Thanks for the great quote – it definitely epitomizes how I often feel. And that attitude is probably one of the reasons I’ve always gravitated towards sports where your primary competition is a PR, not the others on the course with you.

      It’s also worth saying that competing with yourself isn’t always about having “more” of the stuff you have now. (The big bonus checks come to mind here…) But it’s about having more of what you want, and if that’s time or love, or friendships… that’s well worth the internal drive to achieve.

  • La Tejana January 26, 2014, 8:53 pm

    So well said MMM. I actually was thinking a lot this weekend about what my life would be like when I’m older. What would matter at that point and what would constitute a life well lived for me now to have an impact then (if that makes any sense). I tend to take on WAY too much and have for a very long time. Wanting to be super woman and do it all. But really- what’s it matter? I’d rather spend more time investing in relationships with family and friends than furthering my career or accumulating money/stuff. However, with all the “do more” and “be more” crap that is all around us, it’s hard to not get caught up in it at times (still no excuse, but just saying).

  • Laura January 26, 2014, 8:55 pm

    MMM, if you haven’t already seen it I recommend a movie on Netflix called “I AM” by Tom Shadyac. It addresses many of theses same issues. I think you will appreciate it.

    • T-Lou January 30, 2014, 10:47 pm

      Amazing documentary Laura. It really brings home the advantages of cooperation versus competition within all living communities.

  • payitoff January 26, 2014, 10:45 pm

    Thank you! the keyword is BALANCE. life is sweeter when you know you have made every aspect of your life worthwhile.

  • Hanne van Essen January 26, 2014, 11:07 pm

    I thought the first part of the teacher’s speech was good though. I try to encourage my kids to be creators rather than consumers.

    • HealthyWealthyExpat January 27, 2014, 3:43 am

      Yes, the start of the speech was going in the right direction, and the teacher would have been good to stop at the end of the first paragraph. If we foster the conditions for our kids to create, there is no need to fear competition. The creation of something new transcends competition, putting the creator on a whole new plane. I recently read a good, and somewhat humorous, short book on this called “Choose Yourself” by James Altucher. While it meanders through a whole slew of topics on how to live life, the focus is on the importance of creativity in the digital age.

    • Yuriy January 27, 2014, 9:58 am

      I also thought that the first part of the teacher’s speech was right on, and was rather surprised to see MMM go on to criticize the teacher. I think the idea of being a creator vs. a consumer is very important and I think it’s actually a big part of what this blog preaches, though MMM takes a different approach to creating than perhaps this teacher does.

      The second part is mostly correct as well, though it does seem a bit odd for him to be saying this to the kids. The early STEM education in some other countries is much more rigorous. Yes there are problems with some of the approaches for some students, but the way the US system teaches to the lowest common denominator is downright pathetic.

      I think the rest of this post is excellent, but I don’t quite see how it was inspired by what this teacher had to say. I’ll have to take MMM’s word that the rest of the speech was more focused on the nationalist competitive overtones of the second paragraph than the very important points already made.

    • MoneyAhoy January 28, 2014, 6:24 am

      Exactly! It’s much more difficult and fulfilling to create vs consume. The rest of his speech was downhill from there though :-)

      One thing that was pointed out to me on a recent trip to Shanghai, China: the Chinese are great at memorization, but put several in a room and ask them to come up with something creative and it is literally beyond their ability. All the creativity is stomped out of them through constant competition with each other in school.

  • Karunesh Kaushal January 26, 2014, 11:49 pm

    One of my friends always says: “After you have a certain amount of wealth or status or whatever, it all becomes a video game high score.”

    • @freepursue January 27, 2014, 7:31 am

      I love that analogy! It’s accumulation of units. I’ve heard it said that when we are not easily differentiated from one another (5by5.tv/B2W, episode #5), we will try to find small ways to one-up each other, no matter what the unit or measure is: money, office supplies, video game scores, etc. How does any of that matter in the end? The one with the biggest number of [fill in the blank] does not win. The one who didn’t care and did what made him happy, however, does.

  • Ann Stanley January 27, 2014, 12:37 am

    Great post. As a teacher I’ve had to listen to that sort of competitive ‘this-is-your-only-chance/someone-will-get-what-you-deserve-if-you-don’t-look-out’ stuff a lot. Poor kids. Such bullshit. It always sounds to me like teachers overstating their own importance and the importance of schools. You should have heard the nonsense when I unschooled my son for a term to relieve him of the boredom. They said he would miss out too much and find it difficult to catch up. Catch up on what? It was Year 9 for G–‘s sake!
    I love your metaphor about dogs fighting dogs in a dog food factory. That’s brilliant! There’s so much to go around and so much opportunity for bright kids in the Western world. Relax and let them find out who they are.

  • Mr. Grump January 27, 2014, 1:42 am

    To play devils advocate, doesn’t competition, whether it be internal or external, make the world a better place. For example, traditional phones were enough for everyone for a long time but through competition we now have cell phones/mini computers in are pockets. What if the motive isn’t to beat the other guy or company but just to be the best at something…

    I agree it can be a double edged sword but I can’t help but think how different the world would be if we just settled for “good enough.” Would we have cell phones and 60 mpg cars?

    The Haight quote for Lil above sums up what I am trying to say.

    • Paul January 27, 2014, 7:32 am

      Mr G- it’s an interesting thought exercise. And as you mention, two sides to the same coin. We might not have mobile phones / mobile computers, but nor would we have the expectation of permanent availability or the distraction of mindless gaming/surfing rather than being present in a given moment. We may not have 60mpg cars, but what if in the name of simplicity we simply drove less? We might still be mailing letters rather than having instant communication of email, but we also wouldn’t be inundated with irrelevant correspondence just because typing your name into the cc: is easy. The advent of computers/email/etc were initially had us thinking a 3 or 4 day workweek was inevitable- after all, we’d be so much more efficient! Instead it’s transformed into the ‘never off’ mindset. I think competition and fruits of it lead to more options for higher quality of life- but we have to be careful to choose quality over quantity.

    • Sofie January 27, 2014, 7:49 am

      And what’s the point of all those gadgets? If you look at how happy & satisfied people are with their lives, it doesn’t really get any better than hunter-gatherers – but can be way worse. Add in pollution, extinctions, diseases etc and it’s hard not to think that civilization was a major mistake.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque January 27, 2014, 7:50 am

      Yes, I think that’s why he gives the shout out to capitalism and the benefits it has for us.
      The caveat, immediately following, is that we needn’t apply this destructive habit to every facet of our lives. I’ve seen this happen to 4th year university students who are applying to med school. There are a limited number of spots, and friends can become quite unfriendly with each other suddenly …

    • phred January 27, 2014, 5:45 pm

      You overlook the possibility that much of progress is not from competition, but just results from people fooling around.
      The first cell phone did not arise because of some race to the marketplace. It arose because some electronics hobbyists in Chicago wanted to have Star Trek type communicators. One of the hobbyists worked at Motorola. The rest is history.

  • Lisa January 27, 2014, 2:01 am

    “Life is not a contest, and we get more out of it by cooperating wholeheartedly with each other rather than beating each other’s asses at everything.”

    I teach my students exactly this. It used to annoy the head of our Business department, but I live it and it’s interesting to see the students’ curiosity about my life. Why don’t I drive a car? How do I get groceries? Why do I live in that (nice but blue collar) neighbourhood? Why do I work part-time when I could make so much more money working full-time?

    It’s also interesting to see one of my friends, who believes that if you aren’t competitive, you are just lazy, observe that I am not lazy.

    And it’s also why I can not stand the Bill Gates approach to how teachers should be compensated.

    Thanks for the post.

  • Sean January 27, 2014, 2:17 am

    I started reading your blog in May of 2011, but have never posted until now! This latest article reminded me of a favorite quote from William Ellery Channing. Imagine if we taught our children this instead:

    “To live content with small means;
    to seek elegance rather than luxury,
    and refinement rather than fashion;
    to be worthy, not respectable,
    and wealthy, not, rich;
    to listen to stars and birds,
    babes and sages, with open heart;
    to study hard;
    to think quietly, act frankly, talk gently,
    await occasions, hurry never;
    in a word, to let the spiritual,
    unbidden and unconscious,
    grow up through the common

    – this is my symphony.”

    Wise principles to live by. By the way, thanks largely to you and your blog (and the shared knowledge of the other brilliant Mustachians reading this right now), this year I will be able to save more than 80% of my salary and in two years will be saying sayonara to a job that I no longer need! It would be ironic in context to this article’s subject if I were telling you this out of a competitive spirit… really, I just want to acknowledge you, your wife, and this great community of readers for the incredible and practical knowledge that has been shared and implemented. Be assured that you have many readers who have been there in the shadows for years, whose lives have been fundamentally affected as mine has.
    Thank you, and keep it up!

    • Clint January 29, 2014, 10:36 am

      Congratulations! And thanks for the great quote! I’m cutting, pasting and sending to my wife right now.

  • Ricky January 27, 2014, 5:13 am

    Really enjoyed reading this.

    I agree and disagree with life is not a contest. For the majority of poor countries like China and India, it definitely makes sense to work harder and employ a more rigorous mentality on education and work since they are not yet fully developed countries. For us, it does make sense to keep up with our current pace and continue to innovate, so I won’t say that life is completely not a contest. There are, for all intensive purposes, unlimited people in the world, chasing limited resources. That alone is a contest.

    Here in the U.S., if you’re smart, you can never go to college and earn a decent wage and “make it”. In India or China, that isn’t possible. They will never retire at the same rate someone could here.

    Also if life wasn’t a contest we wouldn’t have the things we have. Apple would have conceded to Microsoft years ago. Elon Musk wouldn’t have seen a market for luxury electric cars. NYC wouldn’t be the sprawling world class city that it is.

    I do agree that there comes a point when you have to recognize what you have as an individual and decide at what level you are satisfied vs mindlessly achieving more paper and status.

    • Ms. Must-Stash January 27, 2014, 7:29 am

      I think part of the disconnect here is that competition needs to be handled differently for individuals than for companies, which is what MMM addressed with this statement:

      “The nature of large-scale capitalism is competition and survival of the fittest, which I believe can be a good thing overall*. But when you apply constant competition on the level of individual humans in a win-lose battle, the results are not nearly as good.”

      So, for individuals, we need to put things in perspective and not let our obsession with “winning” overpower our lives. But as a business, why not try to come up with a product that revolutionizes the world and beats the competition? For any great innovative company, like Apple, I think the goal is not just to win – but to solve a fundamental problem, have a breakthrough insight, change the way we look at the world, etc. All great stuff!

      • Ricky January 27, 2014, 8:27 am

        But ultimately, corporations are made up of real humans who make real decisions. Separating your work life from your personal life is fine. In fact, that’s why corporations exist: to shield any personal liability from professional liability. Concurrently, this whole business ecosystem full of individuals being competitive and “cutthroat” apparently must exist in order to give us, on a personal level, comfort and convenience.

        Since we’re on the Apple train, do you really think Steve Jobs treated Apple as a “job” and a means to an end? It was his life and he was sure as hell competitive. I don’t even like the word “contest” because there is no “winning” in life, and I doubt that he felt that he was “winning”. There is only success or failure, both being relative terms. I’m sure he considered himself successful.

        So do you think without Steve’s competitive and willing nature you would be holding such a well conceived device that literally changed your life?

        • Karyn January 28, 2014, 6:52 pm

          Steve Jobs used to fire people that he didnt consider to be “good enough” for his team. He classified people into A grade and B grade – if you werent an A you were out the door. Apple was a seriously competitive working environment and many smart people couldnt cope with it and left (either willingly or not).

    • crazyworld January 27, 2014, 9:44 am

      As a person that actually grew up in India (and moved to the US as an adult), I am in agreement here. We can be all easy-going here in the US, because of the social safety net. I can’t speak for China, but in India, there was (and is) immense pressure to do well in school, unless you had rich parents and therefore the safety net of family wealth.
      Sure, you could be naturally creative/have business smarts/some unique trait, that could help you do well in life. But for the average person, getting a good education at a good institution was an important ticket to economic well-being. Still is. You are responsible for not only your own life, but you have to look after your parents at a minimum and possibly some of your extended family at times. There is obviously a lot more I could say and a lot of nuance, but life over there was not a well-appointed dog food factory.

      Could you be happy with less there? Of course. But your options would be very limited.

  • Doug B January 27, 2014, 5:20 am

    This was a very good article. Being here for the last 4 weeks +/- its good to have found a place where so many have the same thoughts that I have had for many many years. Because of the pressures we and others put on our lives I felt the ongoing fear of not failing. People would always say your so successful whats the trick blah blah blah…and that created more pressure when really I was just make decision because of as I said afraid to fail and not because I liked what i did. All it did was cost me a marriage, I lost my 20’s and 30’s working and lost a ton of sleep and worry worry worried all the time. My thoughts as I mentioned were more the thinking of The Mustachian way. I didnt want to work the rest of my life and i liked jeans and flannel shirts HOWEVER, i got caught in the trap, made boat loads of money and eventually striving to be better and better everyday in 2008 lost half my wealth. Fortunately I had enough conservative ideals in me to think some things long term and despite my losses remain debt free and have nice house , 4 beautiful kids and a great wife. I cant say I regret my decisions because I wouldn’t of learned or slowed down and be who i am today. I did learn money doesnt buy you happines but family, friends and smelling the roses does. I am now much more at ease and spend more time with my kids and see all there sporting events. My net worth is close to 2 million with all assets and my wife works 6 days a week for me at the office and i work at home because i would of died on the course i was on. So now we live one day at a time while trying to rebuild our wealth . I am 49 she is 45 and in the next 3-5 years with help of things i am learning here in 2-5 years I am done. Also besides learning to slow down and appreciate things and learning whats more important I have become more confident that my thoughts years ago are proving to be true, so I am listening to myself now more!

  • Omaha January 27, 2014, 6:17 am

    “If you are a chronic lifetime overachiever, give yourself permission to accomplish a bit less. You might just find you are living a bit more.”

    That struck me like a thunderbolt.

  • Holly January 27, 2014, 7:04 am

    I recently read an article on the differences between American culture and other cultures (can’t remember where). Anyways, to summarize, the author argued that Americans think of everything in terms of money. How much money will I earn? How much money will I get for doing this?
    On the other hand, Europeans and other cultures tend to think of work and other life factors in terms of quality of life. They think of how certain things will make their life better, not about how much money they make.

    • Jasen January 28, 2014, 8:14 pm

      “As one digs deeper into the national character of the Americans, one sees that they have sought the value of everything in this world only in the answer to this single question: how much money will it bring in?”
      Alexis de Tocqueville

  • @freepursue January 27, 2014, 7:45 am

    Your article hit home big time, especially the following quote:

    “If you own a business, you might find yourself growing it just because the customers and the money are there and you don’t want to waste the opportunity. But what if higher status and higher income were not the things you really needed to achieve a happier life? You would end up trading precious time and life for something that really delivers no value to you, because you had enough in the first place.”

    My husband and I were in that very situation this past fall. We were thinking we needed to grow our business and had made a $500K offer on a building. The offer was refused and I am happy about that. Over the Christmas period, I realized that, though we would only be financing $100K of it, the building would tie up a significant amount of our savings AND I was taking on a huge responsibility….for what?! So what if the business plan looked rosy, even while being very conservative!

    Our business is just fine, thank you very much. We have just a few committed hours every day and take clients on when I want to. We do it because we make a difference in people’s lives, not because we need the money. The only reasons for us to get bigger would have been: 1. That’s what we’re supposed to do. 2. What will people think? – we don’t look successful if we don’t grow 3. Will we feel ok with the status quo over the long term? Will we regret not doing it?

    As a high achiever who is trying to reform herself, this has been a very big life lesson…a major lightbulb moment.

    Thank you for this important post.

  • L January 27, 2014, 7:54 am

    “Life is not a contest, and we get more out of it by cooperating wholeheartedly with each other rather than beating each other’s asses at everything.”

    On the one hand we tell people everyday that we have to be the best and beat everyone. On the other, we tell people everyday that we have to work as a team. I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one who finds this contradiction difficult.

    The quote above reminds me a lot of “Nonviolent Communication”. I feel that we can achieve so much more when we are open and honest about what we want. Often, that brings us together in cooperation.

  • Sofie January 27, 2014, 8:02 am

    Sleeping is an important activity, just like eating. Just because you’re unconscious doesn’t mean you should try to limit it (or whatever reason people have for trying not to sleep). Losing sleep is your health falling out the other side.

  • ChoicesChoices January 27, 2014, 8:15 am

    Ok, THIS is my all-time favorite post on this (or frankly any) blog I read. This one will be printed and posted where I can see it daily as I really need to step back from my neurotic competitiveness and fear of not enough. AND I need to turn the intensity WAY down on my 2 kiddos.

    My financial advisor told me 4 weeks ago that I was good to go…had enough to retire early and spend my time raising my kids, which is what I’ve been working so hard to do. And I am hesitating, wanting to be certain, an extra few months to accumulate just a little bit more, get things just right, maybe a shot (slim) at a layoff package. My boyfriend asked me the other day what it would take for me to feel safe or comfortable leaving my cushy job that I don’t like…I couldn’t answer.

    I’m going back up to the top of the post to read it again.

  • Judi January 27, 2014, 9:10 am

    This current model of continuous growth, competition, and fighting for resources worked really well in times of scarcity but it is not going to work forever in a world with limited resources. As poorer countries make their way out of poverty, it will be interesting to see the societal and cultural changes that are inevitably coming.

    People that are interested in alternate theories about what drives societies forward may enjoy the book “Non-zero” by Robert Wright. It shows how cooperation as well as competition works to further human advancement.

  • Dave G January 27, 2014, 9:26 am

    A couple of supportive articles I’ve read recently that I think ground your point – we don’t necessarily have to focus on economic growth for growths sake, at the cost of time: http://www.motherjones.com/kevin-drum/2010/07/no-growth-economics-and-you

    And free, unstructured play is one of the most beneficial educations opportunities we can provide children, and should learn to re-embrace as adults:http://www.independent.co.uk/voices/comment/give-childhood-back-to-children-if-we-want-our-offspring-to-have-happy-productive-and-moral-lives-we-must-allow-more-time-for-play-not-less-are-you-listening-gove-9054433.html?utm_hp_ref=parents&ir=Parents

  • Rachel P. January 27, 2014, 9:26 am

    Fantastic post MMM! Anyone concerned about their child’s educational performance in regard to developing the North American brand of “competitiveness” should look at Finland. Pasi Sahlberg, formerly a Senior Advisor in the Finland Ministry of Education, wrote a great book about Finland’s educational reforms (Finnish Lessons). Finland is one of the very top ranked educational systems in the world and yet Sahlberg argues that “to prepare young people for a more competitive economy, our school systems must have less competition”. Sahlberg has also argued that “real winners do not compete!”

    In the book (Finnish Lessons) Sahlberg states that in Finland “we only wanted to be average, but we wanted that average to be very high”. His point has been that standardized testing, and the related competitive frenzy, do NOT prepare kids for high achievement in the world. Finland should know since almost all their kids leave school speaking several languages (including English) and routinely score in the top two positions in the world in math and science on the PISA. This is all without standardized tests and the dog-eat-dog mentality of so much U.S. schooling. Teachers and students in Finland also spend far less time overall than their U.S. counterparts in school (i.e., teacher preparation for classes each day, and students’ time spent on homework) yet they outperform us. In the U.S., everyone appears to be working longer and harder yet without the requisite payoff.

    The current dog-eat-dog mentality of schooling in the U.S. simply does not reflect a broader understanding of what schooling is really supposed to do, nor does it shed light on the increasing limitations of “competitiveness” as defined by more, and more, and more.

    • Jimbo in Limbo January 27, 2014, 10:02 am

      I believe I posted this on here before, but it’s related to your post so I’ll post it here again:


      This approach to teaching, I believe, is the “right” one and ties into MMM’s philosophy.

  • Jimbo in Limbo January 27, 2014, 9:43 am

    A phrase that you hear a lot and that displeases me: “Leaving money on the table.” As if it were a sin. Greed and grasping for every crumb is definitely an affliction. And, as a species, we’re more programmed for cooperation than competition. But Nash won a Nobel for game theory proving that cooperation is a better strategy then competition for just about everything.

    • lurker January 28, 2014, 10:56 am

      Think I read that cooperation makes us happier too…..teamwork is more fun and thrilling than trying to “beat” someone….so if it is a better strategy and makes us happier maybe this individual achievement crap needs to be shelved….for good. Tribes have more fun!

  • CorrectingMistakes January 27, 2014, 9:49 am

    This New York Times opinion piece is a bit more in line with the typical Mr Money Mustache way of looking at the world, mixed in with a bit of psychology.


    Short para-phrase version (tl;dr): Successful groups of people have a belief they are superior and are capable of great things. They have a sense of insecurity that pushes them to PROVE they can succeed. And finally…they are good at fighting short-term impulses to achieve long-term results.

    In the “personal application” bit of the article, it talks about how these qualities can be developed: You put aside comfort and work hard. You experience a measure of success. You develop that sense of superiority. Knowing what you’re capable of, you begin to develop that chip on your shoulder to prove you are capable of a repeat performance, and MORE. And so it goes. If that isn’t Mustachian, I don’t know what is.

    I thought it was an interesting read.

  • Corinne January 27, 2014, 10:12 am

    Maybe I’m wrong – but wasn’t the teacher’s reason to give the ” pep talk” to kids the fact they they are way behind other nations? If yes – then it seems our education is not doing enough. If no – was he so out of touch with reality? As a person working in the medical field I can tell you that the basics of medicine are super hard work – arid, boring immense amount of reading and memorizing (anatomy, pathology, physiology, pharmacology etc). But no computer can replace a good doctor. No amount of creativity and imagination can help you with these studies. Just applying ass to chair. But the skill of studying doesn’t come overnight. Nobody all of a sudden can sit in front of the books for 12 hours and study.It takes time – eg half hour in grade one, one hour in grade five, 4 hours in grade 10 etc. So , what I am saying is this – let’s not underestimate good old fashion learning. You will understand this if you will ever be in acute pain and a doctor will say – I don’t know what this is – let me check my computer, wait here one hour:-) And competitiveness?? Please let my doctor be an overachiever!!

    • Mr. Money Mustache January 27, 2014, 3:43 pm

      I hear your perspective, Corinne – it is the one in favor of academic rigor and many people still subscribe to it.

      I personally feel differently about the same things – I’d be fine if doctors did NOT have to memorize everything and instead used computers and peer-based crowdsourcing as their reference material. These days, the network has far more information than any individual so it seems unnecessary to try to reproduce the information in our own fallible brains.

      What I DO want my doctor to be good at, is the physical stuff – stitching and needles and mending – so he or she can properly apply the methods recommended by the network. And also optimism: inspiring patients to take care of themselves so they need less medical care in the first place.

      I would go so far to say that “good old-fashioned learning” ,where you cram stuff into your brain that doesn’t really want to be there, might be eliminated entirely. My own decade of calculus and differential equations, never used once in my software engineering career, would be a great place to start the chopping :-)

      • Steve January 27, 2014, 10:05 pm

        I think about what you just wrote here ALL the time. I also wonder how much better off we’d be if our schools taught us how to think, the immense power of thought, the difference between thoughts and feelings, the impact thought has on feelings, the difference between your conscious and sub-conscious mind, the power of habits, how to manage time, how to manage money…sort of what I’d call a combination of personal development (70%) and home economics (30%). Wow, I guess this was a stream of consciousness. Sorry…But we hear the corny aphorism all the time that our brains are more powerful than computers — at least for now. So let’s spend time, in school, studying the “RTFM” for our brains.

      • Corinne January 29, 2014, 9:29 am

        You feel very strongly about your rhetoric. It is something admirable. As long as it doesn’t fall into fanaticism. But since this is your blog and your opinions count more here – I bow to them. And I wish your son will become the man you hope he will be.

      • DC February 11, 2014, 11:40 am

        It’s really refreshing to see you point out that the Emperor indeed has no clothes RE: The Long Math Slog. I’m a land surveyor who graduated from a 4-year surveying program housed in a college of engineering. I had to take math through Calc III, along with Linear Algebra and 3 semesters of engineering physics. Just after I graduated they increased the rigor of the program by requiring math through Diff Eq. I have, of course, used none of this. The justification was that one might want to go to graduate school in geodesy or sensor/instrument design, etc. Probably 3% of grads do this sort of thing. Oh yeah: it didn’t “teach me to think analytically” either. Ha. Fortunately, the professors and content in my major were wonderful.

  • David January 27, 2014, 10:15 am

    Thanks Mr MMM, i needed this reminder today. Great post.

  • EscapeVelocity2020 January 27, 2014, 10:43 am

    Just wondering if MMM went to a First Lego League competition (using the NXT robotic kit?). I recently spent a day as a referee watching the kids compete, and the most depressing aspect of that competition was that it came down to who could play the rule-book the best and disqualify the other team. I guess it’s a good life lesson for ‘the real world’, but maybe we should be trying to change the real world as opposed to getting the kids conditioned to win by making the other team lose…

  • Joe January 27, 2014, 10:49 am

    I really don’t like the Asian rote study curriculum. The US based curriculum doesn’t sound that great either. The unschooling trend just seems too far out to me. I guess we’ll see how it goes.
    You’re right about the mindless accumulation syndrome. Everyone has it to a degree. One of my readers who can retire now decide to endure their stressful job for 5 more years so they can get their full pension. They don’t really need it, but they want to feel more secure. It’s tough to step away from the race.

  • jkenny January 27, 2014, 10:55 am

    Agree with the gist of the article, but just have to put in a plug for youth sports — seems like they take a bit of a bashing on this website. I am reading a book right now – Boys Adrift – that suggests many boys need/thrive on some sort of competition that can be lacking at schools today. Competition aside, there are many good life lessons to be learned on the sports field. Lessons about handling failure, supporting teammates, working as a team, being patient, perservering through coaches and maybe even teammates who may not be your best buds. Learning that if you keep at something you do get better at it. Think the league is too competitve? Sign up to coach – a tremendously rewarding thing to do for yourself and your kid. Competitive sports aren’t right for everyone – gotta know your own kid – but they are a supercool experience for lots of kids.

    At the end of the day, I believe it was Benjamin Franklin who said “Moderation in all things.” This is as true today as it was hundreds of years ago, whether your kid does robotics, baseball, or wants to be glued to their Playstation.

    Thought-provoking post.

    • frugalparagon January 27, 2014, 11:37 am

      My problem wasn’t so much seeing life as a contest–it was seeing it as a race. I skipped a grade in middle school AND graduated early from college AND got married that same summer–when I was 20. I remember my advisor telling me that life wasn’t a race and I thought to myself, “But of course it’s a race… I’m winning!”

      But it was more tempting to see it as a race when I looked like I was winning. That’s not true anymore. So instead of comparing myself to other people–which was never very productive anyway–I try to compare where I am now to where I would like to be.

  • Daryl January 27, 2014, 11:13 am

    In its place, I consider competition to be a good thing. The hardest part to figure out is whether something is worthy of competition, usually my answer is it’s not (i.e. do I want to compete with people on salary, home size, home quality, wardrobe, et. al.). The things we can choose to compete on are endless and most of the time not worth it.

    I look at it this way, the world population is currently about 7 billion people. If I’m competing and competition is a zero sum game, then chances are that whatever it is I, or anyone else, is probably losing. So, I’m trying to keep competition in proper perspective and enjoy life.

  • aereoplain January 27, 2014, 11:21 am

    Hello Mr. Money Mustache,

    I discovered your blog a couple weeks ago and I was happy to discover that, based on your recommendations, my wife and I have already amassed enough liquid funds (more than 25x our annual spending) to sell our business and “retire.” Prior to reading your blog, I was planning to amass about double the amount that you recommend. At this point, I’m trying to decide whether I’m participating in “mindless accumulation,” or if I’m just being reasonable and conservative whereas you are being very aggressive with your recommendations.

    To this end, I have a question regarding investing to achieve an average annual return of 4%. You mentioned in your “Start Here” post that you recommend first paying off all debt (We achieved this goal several years ago), and then putting most of your capital into stock index funds. My question is, how did this work for you in 2008? From late 2007 through early 2009, all the major market averages lost more than 50% of their value. It seems that money would become very tight after such a loss. Even though the market averages will tend to make up those losses over time, until they do you’ll be forced to either withdraw 4% of what remains (and risk not having enough to pay your living expenses) or to withdraw more than 4% (paying for current expenses but risking a portfolio drawdown that will not provide you with sufficient future income).

    Early 2000 through late 2002 was another poor period for the market averages – the NASDAQ shed 84% of its value, whereas the S&P500 lost 54% and the Dow lost 36%. Based on your posts, I don’t think you had left the work force at that time. However, someone who had the bad luck to do so in, say, late 1999 would be facing a difficult scenario by 2002 if they were to keep most or all of their capital in stock index funds.

    I’d appreciate any insight you can provide regarding how you handle these large drawdowns which are inevitable if you stay fully invested in stock index funds all the time. Perhaps your rental income is enough to get by on?

    Thank you.

    • Ricky January 27, 2014, 1:24 pm

      I’m no expert but I do have a bit of insight on the subject.

      No one lost money in 2008 except the ones that actually sold. If you were heavily invested and rode the storm you would unarguably be in a much better position now than you would have been in even if you had purchased RIGHT before the crash.

      The idea is to move into less riskier investments and more into fixed income the older you get. The older you get, or the closer you get to retirement, whichever comes first, its time to start thinking about fixed income obviously. Drawing 4% a year obviously doesn’t work when the Dow ends up being 30% down for the year (because, like you said, you lose shares more quickly). I think for this reason you should be diversified enough in fixed income that it doesn’t matter what the market does when times are rough. Owning dividend paying stocks and bonds lets you “ride out” the storm. Ideally, you would wait until the end of the year (or whenever you want to base your period) and make sure you can withdraw 4-5% without crushing your principal. Again, its the fixed income that pays you to wait.

      I can’t remember if MMM has shared his specific asset allocation or not. At any rate, even if he is fully invested in index funds, even the VTSAX (at the moment) is paying you 1.74% just to wait. This isn’t much, but its better than nothing. Also, of course his rental income is another safety net. He also has emergency funds and cash I’m sure.

      You don’t get in trouble by being diversified. Its when you’re all in and don’t know what you’re in when you’re in trouble.

      • aereoplain January 27, 2014, 3:35 pm

        Thanks for your thoughts, Ricky.

        you should be diversified enough in fixed income that it doesn’t matter what the market does when times are rough.

        After rereading and further exploring MMM’s blog, I realize that he didn’t recommend just putting all your money into index funds and regularly withdrawing your living expenses from that. In addition to rental income, he has dividend-paying stocks and website income, etc.

        During all the time I’ve had regular income from work, I’ve kept all investments in stocks and/or cash since I never had to withdraw funds for any reason. Once I sell my business, I’ll need to replace its income stream with some sort of regular fixed income to offset poor stock market years. I’m now reading the guest post by Sean Owen, “The Dividend Aristocrats.” I’ll definitely look into dividend-paying stocks and ETFs as well as other fixed income vehicles.

    • Mr. Frugal Toque January 27, 2014, 6:34 pm

      Just to be clear, 4% is the safe *withdrawal* rate.
      Your investments should be returning 7% or so.
      You withdraw 4%, leaving the other 3% to handle mild fluctuations and inflation.

      • aereoplain January 29, 2014, 10:57 am

        Thanks for your helpful comments, Mr. Frugal Toque. I had confused MMM’s recommended withdrawal rate with the expected rate of return on investments. I agree that 7% is a reasonable estimate for average annual return on investments. With that in mind, a 4% withdrawal rate does seem to leave quite a bit of wiggle room for inflation and poor market years. I like the idea that your wealth will grow during not just good market years, but also during average market years. This increase in wealth will help a lot when the inevitable poor market years occur.

  • Trinitee January 27, 2014, 11:22 am

    Regarding adult imposed competition and the way it impacts our kids in school, you might really dig Teacher Tom’s blog. He is a preschool teacher who respects kids as full fledged people with fantastic minds who have the ability to make wonderful things happen together.

    On a personal note, I recently opted not to apply for a full time position (I work 15 hours per week) that I had a really good chance of getting that would increase our earnings by $50K a year so that I could continue to be at home as much as possible with our 4 year old son. After the initial, “oh my gosh, we could majorly accellorate our savings toward FI,” the trade off would have been full time day care for the wee one, not something I ever planned to do. I had been growing concerned about other passing me by professionally (I work 15 hrs per week) and losing opportunities, but in the end I know there will be other opportunities. We are doing just fine and, at least for the next couple of years, more money doesn’t necessarily mean a better life for us or our son.

  • CGray January 27, 2014, 11:23 am

    Hey MMM, if you’d like to have a tangent post about why “more” isn’t “better”, “David and Goliath” by Malcolm Gladwell focuses on the topic of an inverted U-shaped curve. The idea is that most humans have the idea that “more is better” and that “good” or “pleasure” derived from something is directly related to the amount of that something (e.g. ability to be a good parent as a function of wealth). However, Gladwell argues that the relationship is not linear, but actually that of an inverted U, stating that “more is better…up to a certain point and then it becomes worse”. It’s a great read, and one that is relatively short as well.

  • John January 27, 2014, 11:46 am

    Well written, well done. Thank you.
    We all need to slow down, take a deep breath, and enjoy the short lives that we are given.

Leave a Reply

To keep things non-promotional, please use a real name or nickname
(not Blogger @ My Blog Name)

The most useful comments are those written with the goal of learning from or helping out other readers – after reading the whole article and all the earlier comments. Complaints and insults generally won’t make the cut here, but by all means write them on your own blog!


welcome new readers

Take a look around. If you think you are hardcore enough to handle Maximum Mustache, feel free to start at the first article and read your way up to the present using the links at the bottom of each article.

For more casual sampling, have a look at this complete list of all posts since the beginning of time. Go ahead and click on any titles that intrigue you, and I hope to see you around here more often.

Love, Mr. Money Mustache

latest tweets