“That’s because you work for Google.”

Lately, my identity has been going through somewhat of a crisis. I sense that more and more, I am being defined by my day job as an engineer. Those around me treat me a certain way and assume things about me just because of my occupation.

It almost has become routine for my conversations with others to cause them to say, “that’s because you work for Google” as if what I am saying only applies to people at Google.

Me: “I really enjoy what I get to do everyday.”
Them: “That’s because you work for Google.”

Me: “I have the financial freedom to be able to quit my job and focus on music for a few years.”
Them: “That’s because you work for Google.”

Me: “I have been saving over half of my income from my day job.”
Them: “That’s because you work for Google.”

And the one that gets me most is when I am in a social setting meeting a new person through a common acquaintance, and the first words used to introduce me are “This is Shin. He is an engineer for Google.” as if that is somehow supposed to mean something. What does that even mean?

In most situations, the response “that’s because you work for Google,” is a bit off because the above statements were true long before I started working at Google. Well, except for the 50% savings ratio which I couldn’t quite reach for some periods while I was only working part time, but according to the financial software that keeps track of my income and spending, on average, I have saved well over half of my lifetime earnings during my adulthood, and 2017 was the best year yet when my savings ratio reached 100% of my take home income from my day job, which means I was able to cover all of my expenses for the year through my side jobs of music gigs and teaching, plus help from my investments earnings. This is despite having to buy a car last year. (Lesson: Invest early in your lives, always be developing your skills, and buy used cars everyone!) But my point is, it concerns me that many people hold the false belief that things are the way they are because of their occupation and income, as if those are the defining/limiting factors.

When it comes specifically to finance and what it means to be “rich”, I know from my personal experience that it has very little to do with income or perceived status, and much more to do with how I choose to live (related read: “The Millionaire Next Door”). I felt like a king even in those years when I made less than a quarter of my current salary and was living in a garage with barely any possessions, because I still had the financial freedom to be able to quit my job, and I was doing what I wanted to do with my life. Yet we are often taught otherwise. What we are brought up to believe in today’s society can be so mistaken and harmful for our well being. Here’s the secret: Most rich people don’t drive luxury cars, nor do they live in upscale neighborhoods.

Unless one is struggling to make ends meet to afford basic necessities such as a roof over the head or food to eat, poverty of the mind is a much bigger issue than the lack of the abundance of money. Being and feeling truly rich is about being rich in mind and heart, and that only comes from having a sense of purpose and knowing that we each have the power to shape our futures. The idea that a person’s fulfillment is defined by the money they bring home or the things that they own is a perspective that we must shift away from.

I wonder why there is so much desire for people to have lots of things in life. We should have figured out by now from just living life that possessions hardly ever add value to our lives unless the decision to acquire them is made with intention and purpose. Pursuing materialism can even take away from one’s satisfaction in life. And that’s not even counting the guilt that comes from the outward harm we cause to the rest of the planet with our desires. Can you even begin to imagine the environmental destruction if all 7 billion people of this planet decided to consume resources like an average American, buying nice things, living in bigger-than-necessary homes, and driving high-horsepower cars every single day?

I can’t judge others because I am nowhere near what would be considered an environmentally responsible citizen either, but I can and should be critical of the impact of my decisions, and so should you. That’s why I am very conscious of what I spend my money on. My simple rule is that I only spend money in ways I intentionally choose that are meaningful and add value to my life. Everybody is different and we all have the freedom to spend however we want, but at the very least, each person needs to define for themselves what it is that makes their lives worthwhile, instead of letting society just tell them and push them in directions while completely ignoring their intentions.

To start, for me, that meant going against what has increasingly become the norm and cutting my monthly spending on TV, internet, and phone all to $0. I also moved to within walking distance to my work so that I don’t have to drive every day. It’s not that I am “giving up” certain things as if to punish myself. And this has more to do with time than money. I am adding value to my life by cutting the time I would spend in certain areas that are of little value to me personally, and instead, I am using my newfound resources to focus on the things I love, such as studying physics and engineering, cooking with friends, spending an entire day in a coffee shop or a library with my nose in a book, or playing and writing music. At the same time, I can’t deny that due to my privileged upbringing, I have had many educational opportunities in life handed to me that have shaped me, and realize that mileage varies when it comes to the specifics of what one is able to do at this moment based on the current life situation.

But I urge you, let’s at least be intentional about which direction we go. How about asking a few questions to start: What is important to you? What do you love? How would you spend this very day to be able to say before going to bed at night, “that was worthwhile”?

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Shin Adachi

I am a pianist and composer based in Los Angeles.