Every job produces something.  The quality, necessity, and application of what exactly is produced is debatable, but at the core of each job is the act of production.

Some jobs produce ideas, data, analysis, feedback, and instructions.  Others produce physical products, like iPhones, cars, and furniture.  More produce services like government or yard care.  And most produce all three in one way or another.

Above the level of services that provide basic human needs and rights lies the consumer service industry.  This industry has exploded over the last couple decades as more people fill their lives with demands and obligations.  If you are working towards early financial freedom, or even just being more aware of how you spend your money, you can probably recognize the hidden prevalence of this industry that nearly every one else seems to take for granted.

In a service industry you are working directly for consumers.  I use the word consumers instead of customers because I’m talking about the awareness of how other individuals spend their money.  Customers implies simply purchasing a product, while consumer implies using or experiencing a product and the service packaged with it.  The service industry is not just about people buying things.  It’s about their total experience – things like convenience, accuracy, and timeliness contribute to the perceived value, or, “was it worth what it cost?”

One of the results of becoming more financially conscious is that you gain a heightened awareness of how the people around you view money.  Coworkers eating out for lunch every day becomes a noticed expenditure rather than just another part of the day.  Working in the service industry itself can lead to sensory overload.  Every interaction you have with a person is based around the spending of money on a service (and/or product) that you may have recently decided is excessive or wasteful.  You notice those who use shopping as a distraction, spend more for convenience in a revolving pattern of over-scheduling and increasing obligation, and appear annoyed that there’s a line because everyone else is doing the same thing they are even though it’s comforting at the same time.

It can be easy to turn to cynicism, especially if you forget that not too long ago you probably thought that a fun Saturday afternoon involved spending several hours browsing stores in the mall.  It’s easy to let your stress morph into cynicism – when you get stressed just think of how you’re different because you’re buying your freedom instead, and your job instantly becomes more bearable.

But cynicism is corrosive.

It will make you believe that there is nothing else out there worth learning, that most people are not worth your time, or that you have everything figured out and no more mistakes left to make.  When you start feeling cynical (and you will know), write down the reasons.  I’m willing to bet that most, if not all, of those reasons are actually assumptions.  Some are probably valid, based on your interactions with tons of people every day.

Remind yourself that those interactions all take place around the spending of money.  Which is probably all you’ve been thinking about lately.

This time of year especially I think everybody notices it.  Stress over holiday shopping, traffic in and out of stores and malls, the fact that it gets dark at 4 in the afternoon, and crowds seemingly everywhere are prominent figures in a cynical portrait of the holidays.  

But they are human beings just like you and me, and although they might have different worries and cares it’s important to remember that we’re all just searching for happiness.  Some think they’ve found it but are wrong, while others have truly found what makes them happy.  And others still don’t even know what they’re looking for.  Consumption isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s wrong intentions, excess, and disregard for one’s role in the world that it can become dangerous.   

So relax and consume a cookie or two.  But leave some for everybody else.