From my vantage point as a headhunter, entrepreneur, and a first-generation 1%'er, I see the biggest trap holding people back from their happiness is this:
Living an unexamined life by following society's, parents', and your own self-limiting assumptions.
I retired at 28 from ever needing to work a job again because I invested in my self-improvement to make sure I could retire young and wealthy. Now, as that dream has become a reality, I can now impact and help others do the same.
From my observations of my candidates, friends, and colleagues who are still very much stuck in the rat-race, these are the most common trappings that many people around me suffer from, which make young and wealthy retirement impossible.
#1. Need to compete with others. Whether it's your house, your car, the number of your academic credentials, your job, your appearance or your shoes, people are so concerned about impressing others that they never stop to think about themselves.
Instead of going for the job that best suits your natural skills, you'll pursue the ones that will please your parents and impress your friends. Instead of properly planning for your financial security, you choose to "treat yourself" to a BMW and a home when you have zero knowledge about real estate investing.
Don't forget: Comparison is the thief of happiness.
#2. Doing things for the sake of them without knowing what you're doing. When you do the easy thing, you'll ultimately waste time and resources. Many people I know buy homes in real estate markets I wouldn't touch with a 10-foot pole. As a successful real estate investor, I can show people how to make millions in this business, but they prefer to plow all their capital into an over-priced primary home to become a mortgage slave.
Many do this just so they can pose in front of a home with keys in hand to post on Facebook. Many do this to project an aura of success to the world. The reality is, when housing markets correct or when you need money to do other things, you've already dug the grave that you must continue to lie in. Many don't see that in the Facebook statuses, but that's there.
Don't buy investment vehicles you don't understand, that includes your primary residence. Just because the bank will give you a loan doesn't mean you should do it.
#3. Following society's, parents', teachers', managers', religious leaders', politicians' and every authority figures' doctrine without ever questioning it. My parents tried to force me to become a lawyer. That would take $200k worth of investment and 3 years I could not afford. Instead, to their dismay and intense dissatisfaction, I rebelled to become a headhunter.
By 25, I was making over $215k a year and bought a condo in Brooklyn, in an area others considered dangerous. I made an offer the day I saw it with no hesitation. Many warned me against it and called me crazy. 2 years later, I sold my home for a 400% return on my downpayment. I then bought 3 more properties, all in locations others again warn me against.
If I listened to others' doctrines and views, I would not be able to be one of the 1%. Courage is needed to break free, and once you do, you will reap the rewards of being in the minority. Most people have no real estate investment experience, so I ignore their opinions every time. Instead, I trust in my own hard work and research to learn this business which is actually quite simple.
Don't listen to people who aren't already successful in whatever it is you're looking to do.
#4. Marrying someone or dating someone because at a certain age you "have to". As someone who is constantly pressured by everyone in society to settle down as a 30 year-old Asian American woman, I face this issue everyday. However, I refuse to acquiesce.
When you have not found someone who truly supports you, is similarly successful, ambitious, hard-working, and morally sound, you are settling for less.
I have seen unloving marriages. In fact, I grew up as a child IN one.
My parents' relationship is horrifying, miserable, filled with pain, regret, and suffering. Only now in their old age, are they finally maturing to deal with each others' issues in a more healthy manner, but it's still not ideal. I am constantly caught between them to comfort them.
Having seen the horrors of marriage without love, I can't afford to follow the pressures society exerts on me to just "deal with it" and "make it work".
Don't stay with someone just to "not be alone". That is bound to cause misery because it is a short term fix to a long term problem.
#5. Being forced to prioritize reproduction. This more negatively affects women for obvious reasons. For a large part of my life, I have been told by Disney movies, society, and parents to be a consummate wife and mother.
Many industries help people reproduce: in-vitro, pills, hormone treatments, sex therapy, etc. While our global population is exploding at unsustainable levels, I'm dismayed to see how we're still pressured to procreate in EVERY. SINGLE. OVER-POPULATED. COUNTRY.
Even if I find the right partner to marry, I would be more interested to adopt. The world is filled with children who need love, nurture, and financial caretaking.
What could possibly be a good reason why I must have a child other than to please my egotistical needs to leave a "legacy"?
#6. After procreation, women are at risk for serious consequences. As a headhunter and a financially-wealthy woman, I see how children can affect a woman's chances for success and happiness. Women are out of commission for a long time. They suffer physically, many in irreparable ways. Many women stop progressing career-wise specifically because they are getting ready to take a step down to have children.
After women bear children, the burden is still currently unfairly lying squarely on mothers' shoulders to continue sacrificing career and personal freedoms, while the divorce rates continue to take their toll.
Men in our society are less penalized career-wise and socially. They're still able to attract mates, date, and divorce should they decide to go another direction. Although having children can be rewarding, I can't help but think, having been born as a woman, how many societal expectations can hurt our independence, freedom, and choices.
To be clear, I'm not against procreation, but I think it's valuable to pause and think about why we're expected to do certain things.
#7. Not preparing enough for retirement by "enjoying" life in younger years. Many feel that consumerism is needed to maintain "happiness" when really, psychologically, Maslow's hierarchy of needs proves that people actually need security as the building block to happiness.
As I said in my Inc interview, people skip too many steps by neglecting the truecornerstone of success, financial wealth creation. This means, not saving money to invest, instead wasting money on consumerism and retail spending. Everyone needs to be an investor because it's rare to hit financial wealth through a JOB.
Don't be afraid to become an investor. Everyone needs to. To reach true success, everyone needs to be educated in investing and finance.
99% of people reading this will disagree with pretty much everything I write, which is exactly why these are all the biggest traps that society, parents, the media, and conventional wisdom propagandize.
After all, the world needs as many people in the rat race as possible for governments to maximize their tax dollars!
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