In Praise of Lifestyle Creep, Part 2: When a Career Becomes a Path

(Read Part 1.)

So last week I went to a Deliberately Unnamed Discount Hair Chain because I had been getting these amazing haircuts from this particular stylist. They were so amazing that I would always give a 100 percent tip, or $15 on a $15 tab.

But this most recent time, the stylist was not there — and I got the second-worst haircut of my life.

I thought about going back and asking for a free recut, because this discount hair chain did offer a 7-day satisfaction guarantee, and then I decided to look up my favorite stylist on Facebook instead. Even though we are not Facebook friends, Facebook did its job and told me exactly where he was working. (Yes, it felt totally weird, and right on the boundary of inappropriate. On the other hand, the salon benefited and the stylist benefited and I benefited and I’m pretty sure Facebook benefited somehow, so it also felt like the right thing to do in this situation.)

As he cut my hair, I kept thinking how both of our careers had grown since I first sat down in his chair, and how it was kind of perfect that he started working at this better salon right around the time I could afford to pay a higher price for his services. (It’s like inflation, but with people you like.)

I’ve seen a lot of my friends’ careers really take off in the past year, and I’m not sure if it’s the economy, or the fact that a lot of us are old enough to finally have careers that can “take off” vs. jobs you have to do because you haven’t found a better alternative yet. I keep feeling this joy and excitement and surprise, because this is a part of adulthood for which I am completely unprepared. I know how to hustle. I know how to sleep on the floor. I know how to make meal plans that use every bit of the wilted lettuce. I don’t know how to be when life starts to turn away from that; when, to borrow a phrase from Lev Grossman, we “become who we are becoming.”

I still don’t know how to be when I’m thinking of my career as something that might last for years, as opposed to all of the short-term and temporary jobs I’ve had in the past. I think I know how to be in terms of finances, since I’ve started focusing on saving money and paying down my debt and living on 50 percent of my income, which I am well aware is an incredibly lucky thing to be able to do. But I also know that, even with my current savings plan, I won’t be able to achieve a 100 percent Personal Finance Completion Badge this year because I won’t be putting $5,500 into a Roth IRA. (Next year, if all goes well.)

I know how to be when you’re trying to get by. I know how to be when you’re trying to save money. I don’t know how to be when you’re thinking beyond getting by and saving money; when a career becomes a path, when you throw out your grody clothes and your janky phone, when you get a better haircut and a bigger apartment.

It’s the moment when you stop thinking of furniture as cheapo stuff that you can leave behind the next time your life changes, and start thinking about buying furniture you might want to keep with you. (And, because you’re still me, still challenging yourself to find the right pieces of furniture for the smallest possible budget. Lifestyle creep is great, but frugality never goes away.)

Here’s a pic of the haircut:

I tipped $20 on a $29 tab and then felt ridiculous for not tipping the full $29. It wouldn’t have made any difference in my finances, and it would have been fun to continue the tradition.

Photo credit: Nicolas Raymond

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