Trading Hours for Dollars: How Long Can You Keep It Up?

One of the things that pisses me off about self help or any other of the “gurus” out there is that they make a living telling you how to live your life.  I have a strong suspicion many of these folks spend less time living their own lives how they should, and more time telling others what to do.  It’s a shame so many people get sucked into this.   But there’s a reason why self help gurus make so much money.  It’s because every person out there (including myself) is undeniably desperate about trying to live a life that they desire.  And rightfully so.  Shouldn’t we all aspire to do that?  So while I’m not going to tell any of you what to do, I can only share my own story.  I can only relay to you what I’ve done and the steps I’ve taken to get closer to that desirable life.  Truth be told, I’ll never get there fully because the picture of what a desirable life is constantly changes. But at some point you reach a place where you realize that that’s not only OK, but sometimes it’s fun.  A topic I did want to focus on is “trading hours for dollars.”  The reason is because I do happen to think that too many of us wind up making this critical mistake in our lives.

What is trading hours for dollars?

In essence, this phrase is all about freedom and flexibility.  When you hear all the self-help gurus out there talking about trading hours for dollars what they’re really saying is “how much longer are you going to become a slave to money at the expense of the freedom and flexibility in your life?”  They use that as a savvy pitch to get your money to “learn” how to “undo” all that you’ve learned over the years.  However, there’s some validity behind this.  At some point in our lives many of us resigned to accepting money in return for our time.  Some of us accept more money for more time.  And some of us (many of us), have been accepting less and less money for more and more time.  It’s a vicious cycle and the promise of financial freedom is generally what keeps many of us “locked up” in jobs we don’t like.  If you essentially “trade” 30-40 years of your life to work, then the “promise” is that you’ll be able to spend the next 15-20 years in “retirement bliss,” which I believe it total horseshit.  I could write a book about this (and maybe I will).  But to make things simpler, life shouldn’t be about trading hours for dollars.  Life shouldn’t be about sacrificing valuable time for the promise of a life that you have no clue what will look like.  The thing is, tons of people don’t know what the hell they want when work “stops.”  Many find it boring.  Many think to themselves, “this is what I put in the last few decades of my life for?”

Yes, it’s easy to preach “live in the now.”  It’s easy to just tell people to “stop” trading hours for dollars.  But frankly it’s just not the case for everyone.  Not everyone minds it.  Some people enjoy long hours and the work that they do.  Some people wouldn’t see it any other way.  And you know what?  That’s their right and it’s completely OK.  To those people, wonderful, best of luck.  But if you happen to be a person who isn’t thrilled about all this time you’re giving up, then I might be someone you can relate to.  It’s not easy to make the transition.  No one said it would be.  But it’s 100% totally possible, and that’s a fact.

How I traded hours for dollars

When I first graduated college I did what everyone else did.  I looked for a job.  I wanted to wear the suit, commute to work, “feel important.”  And you know what?  I did it.  I wore the suit, commuted to New York City from Long Island.  Had a job in a tall building making cold calls ALL day.  It was absolutely miserable.  I thought that because I was doing what everyone else was that I would feel OK.  I was dead wrong.  I lasted at that job for 6 weeks and quit.  The funny thing is that every single job after that was more or less the same thing.  What changed were the situations I was in and the money I was making.  Each job took me to a slight bit of extra job satisfaction and money.  But ultimately for 7 years after I graduated college I was floating along the corporate path.  Yes, I was making money, and yes learning about finance and a future I might want.  However, all this time I could never shake not wanting authority in my work.  Do I regret those 7 years?

Not even close.  It was a fantastic learning experience.  The only regret I have is that I didn’t start taking steps toward working for myself sooner.  But getting out of it all at 28 isn’t such a bad thing.  The thing is, when you’re making money and climbing up the corporate ladder, it kind of shields you from the self realization that you might not be living the life you want.  And that’s OK.  Some come to the realization later on than others.  Most people get to “breaking points” well into their 30s or 40th before either making a change or it being too late to “get out.”   By no means am I trying to scare anyone here.  It’s simply a fact of life.  Many of us have traded hours for dollars before.  The question is, how long can we do it, and is it worth it?

How I began to turn hours into dollars and life

You hear the term “have your money work for you” often.  I get that but it’s a little more than that.  Believe me I’ve written about finance and will write plenty more but if you want to know the secret to it all, I think it’s this: It’s not about trading hours for dollars.  It’s about USING hours to make dollars and have life experiences.   If you can get all three of those working together, that’s a life that you can appreciate and enjoy.   For me, the second I got out of my full-time career and began working for myself was the day I started to learn how to combine the three.  The actual how of me getting to that point was working my ass off from 6pm-1am until I was making enough money to quit my full-time job.  Period.  No shortcuts.  I sacrificed a year of my life and I wouldn’t trade that year for anything.

Look, the using my hours to make money and live a good life didn’t just start right away.  First I had to learn how to excel at my own business.  I had to learn how to grow my websites.  When they grew, I had to learn how to offload some of my work onto others so that I wouldn’t be working as hard.  When I learned that and was making a good living, I had to allocate money into particular investments, etc etc.   It took time but now I’m at the point where I know I don’t have to put in more than 3-4 hours a day on my sites.  I’m putting away a set amount of money into investment vehicles where I don’t have to do anything and they get solid returns (think stocks, real estate).  And most importantly, I’m able to spend time with the people I care about.  No, it doesn’t happen overnight but it can DEFINITELY happen.  Look I’m 15 years in and I’m still learning.  But at least I’m learning and I’m enjoying my life along the way.

What’s holding you back?

9 times out of 10 we’re not living the lives we want because something is holding us back.  Those things are plentiful.  Job security, financial security, being “too” comfortable.  Essentially all of these things add up to one thing: fear.  Fear of change, fear of losing money, stability, status, you name it.  And frankly it’s extremely difficult to get over these fears to make a significant change.  So how do you get over them?  Well, I’d be lying if I said that were easy.  It’s different for each person.  Some talk to a therapist.  Some seek out the help of a life coach.  Some take medication.  Some realize small steps lead to big steps.  To me it’s all about making a plan, sticking to it, and being as consistent as possible.  And the hard truth of it all is that no one can “make” you do it but you.  The sooner you place responsibility on yourself, the better off you’ll be.  What are you going to do?

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