The Downside of Upward Mobility

We’ve all heard the term upward mobility. It’s a simple and aspiring ideal for many: the goal is to move up the social-class ladder. But moving up isn’t always as great as it’s cracked up to be.

I’m not part of the elite class. I don’t think I’d want to be. However, I have worked my way up from the poverty level over the past 25 years. Sometimes, I think things were better before I started moving up.

From Poor to Middle Class

There was a day when my life was much simpler. I lived in small spaces, went without a car, and worked part-time. And looking back, I think I was happier when I had less money and more time.

Success as it’s represented by the majority suggests that we move up. The idea is simple: get a higher education so you can find a lucrative career, buy nicer things, and enjoy your upward mobility. But there’s a downside.

For every time you move up a little, you lose a little. Consider these issues:

  1. Schooling creates debt: I’m glad a went to school and I enjoy my career as a teacher. But my schooling put me into debt that I’m still trying to get rid of. In a sense, my schooling has made me into a slave to the clock. I have to work more to pay off debt.
  2. More money leads to more spending: Human nature is interesting. One thing most people want is more. Making more money might seem like a great thing, but it usually leads to spending more money. Spending more money leads to more debt and more responsibility.
  3. High-profile careers take time: My career is fairly low-stress. But doctors, lawyers, and many other careers take a lot time and energy, 60-80 hours a week. This means that you give up a part of your life for work. You have less time to be with your friends, your family, and to do the things you really love.

The Downside to Moving up Another Level

Personally, middle class is enough upward mobility for me. I’ve seen enough downside to upward mobility to convince me that I don’t want more. Sure, it might be nice to have enough money to live more confidently and enjoy a greater sense of freedom. But it comes with a cost.

Most of the people I know who have moved further up the ladder than me are strapped with debt. They own bigger houses, more expensive cars, send their kids to more expensive colleges, and it all leads to more debt and less time.

I’m not claiming that we shouldn’t make an attempt to improve our lives. Getting a basic higher education and being a productive part of society is admirable. However, there’s a fine line between success and selfishness. More is not always better.

My book, The Happiness of Simple, is yours for simply signing up for my free newsletter.