“Our level of ‘I’ve gotta have it’ will never match our level of ‘I can’t afford it.'” – Bob and Susan Karcher
How is it that here in America, easily one of the most prosperous nations of all time, so many of us end up significantly in debt or even bankrupt? A big part of the answer is that we have made chasing the American Dream our primary focus. We have moved beyond simply providing for our families, conditioning ourselves to measure success in terms of how well our neighbors are doing by comparison. We have stopped focusing on the true standard—one between us and God—that tells us what we are called to be and do. Instead, we judge success by how high we’ve climbed on our own proverbial ladder.
We have all heard of the corporate ladder, and many of us have worked very hard to move up that ladder in our careers. I certainly did. As I made my way through the publishing industry for 25 years, I fervently sought each new promotion and the added pay and bigger title that came with each.
A closely related cousin to the corporate ladder is what we call the “Joneses Ladder.” It represents our ambition and drive to continuously reach for that one more thing that we believe will finally bring total satisfaction and financial peace.
While on the Joneses Ladder, we start to believe that fulfillment and success lies just one rung up from our current position. We rationalize reaching for the next level by telling ourselves we’re not asking for too much. “We are not trying to compete with Bill Gates or Oprah Winfrey,” we say, “that would be impossible. If we could get just one level higher on the ladder, we’d have what we need. And then, we would surely be happy!”
But once we have firmly arrived on the rung of the ladder we were reaching for, suddenly the next rung up on the ladder looks closer than ever. And then something triggers our desire to go higher—the neighbor who got a new car, the friend who got a higher-paying job, or the relative whose kids seem more successful than ours. Or it may be the next job, the next promotion, the next sale, the next accomplishment. The list can be endless.
We come from different levels of education, income, and status. But no matter what level we are on when we start, our level of “I’ve gotta have it” will never match our level of “I can’t afford it.” Instead of being content with our own comfort level, we want more than we can afford—and we keep reaching higher and higher for the next rungs on the Joneses Ladder.
Climbing the Joneses Ladder will never lead to lasting contentment, as there’s always some new level we’ll strive for if we allow ourselves to. As a result, the happiness we seek as we climb becomes impossible to attain because the Joneses Ladder rests on a shaky foundation and is leaning against a crumbling wall that assumes our achievements and acquisitions define who we are. They do not! All of our achievements can’t hold a candle to the joy we can discover when we start with a solid rock foundation.
If you find yourself precariously hanging onto a failing ladder, it’s never too late to refocus your life on the prizes that really matter – like faith, family, impact, and generosity. Strive for these and you’ll discover greater joy than any ladder-climbing could ever bring.
Enjoy this video. It will help bring this message to life.
Blessings on your continuing journey,
Author | Speaker | Coach