As children, we learn to delay gratification. If we save our pocket money, instead of spending it each week, we can buy a beautiful toy fire truck two months from now.
In school, we learn to plan. If we study diligently, we can get a good job. And if we work diligently at that job, we’ll end up with a decent retirement.
These are examples of giving something up now to have a better life later. It’s good that we learn about delayed gratification, because delaying gratification is often wise. Many times, Future You will thank you for it.
But it isn’t always wise. Let me share my personal example.
In 2015, I worked as a consultant. I earned plenty of money and I saved most of it. In fact, I had calculated that with seven more years of saving money, I’d have enough to never have to work again! I would be financially independent. Just seven years of delaying my gratification and then my life would be awesome.
Except I crashed on the way there. I pushed myself so hard at work that I burned out. For two years, I couldn’t do any work at all. And I didn’t just burn through my mental energy; I also burned through my precious savings, destroying my chances of enjoying that delayed gratification anytime soon.
But during these two years, I gradually realized a key truth:
You can have too much delayed gratification. (Just as you can have too much of almost anything else.)
Rather than working on a grand plan to become financially independent, after which I would do all the things I loved, I decided I would do the things I love now.
That’s why I’ve spent much of the past three years being with family and friends, rock climbing, scuba diving, writing, meditating, and working on my personal development.
Those activities don’t generate a lot of money. In fact, these days, I am roughly as “poor” as I was in 2013, about a year out of college and into my consulting job. I’m further away from my goal of reaching financial independence than I’ve ever been. But I’m also happier than I’ve ever been.
Of course, like almost everybody else, I do need to make a living. And I will. But I can’t tell you how grateful I am that I chose to be happy first and to focus on earning money second.
Are you slaving away at a job you don’t like because you think that it will lead to good things for you eventually? Consider whether it would be wiser not to delay gratification.
Sometimes, you have to insist on being happy now. And most likely, nobody taught you how to do this—so don’t be ashamed to ask for help.
P.S. Do you need help figuring this out? Are you not even sure what you enjoy doing? If so, let’s talk.