What Does “Failure” Look Like?
So often, we as American’s have been told, you work hard, study hard, get into a great college and the universe will open itself up to you. Is that really true? The reason I ask is twofold. First, factually the universe has been open up to anyone who can physically and emotionally get through the testing processes, since man built the first space ship and sent monkeys into space… The second thing is, in my opinion, that thought process limits your brain to thinking in one singular, linear direction. If you cannot think outside the box and you constantly stay inside it, conforming to what everyone wants you to be or tells you, you need to be, many problems won’t get solved. This is why those of us who have the ability to think outside the box can come up with innovative ways to solve problems. I’m not saying I’m an innovator by any means, but I am an intellect, and I’m a problem solver.
Many of us wake up in the morning with an idea, a purpose, a problem to solve. So why is it, if our brains and their complexity are able to think in multidirectional avenues, are we told to conform to societal rules? Why can’t each of us value ourselves and our own abilities to be who we really are and what we want to be?
I had been sitting on a bench at a park one day, many years ago, and right next to me was a homeless man digging through his backpack. The only possession this man owned. He asked me if I had any food to which I handed this man a granola bar from my purse. I’m nosy so I asked him where he slept at night. His answer was so simple I almost couldn’t believe it. He said, “Wherever I want”. I thought about that for a minute. Wherever he wanted? So of course, me and my nosy self, asked if he had a job and how he made money to sleep wherever he wanted. He explained he was homeless and he was choosing to live that way. He didn’t want his government taking his money from him when he would work so hard to earn it. He didn’t want to be in debt and he tried explaining consumerism to me, which at that time was way over my head. I sat there with that man for nearly an hour before he asked me why I was there. I explained that I was contemplating where to go with my future. I was watching as my friends started medical school at UCLA. I was a little envious of them until I realized how the studying was affecting their ability to be happy. It was changing them. They were becoming callous and everything seemed to be an issue. They were becoming like most medical students, burned out and overworked and over stressed, but what for? Was all of that going to be worth it in the end? That was the same path I was on, but after watching their transformation to Medical Student rather than undergraduate after just their first year, I quickly realized that route was not for me. Exhausting myself and getting into more debt for the sake of being able to pay it off over the next 30 years didn’t appeal to me. Now I had to make a decision. Quit this last quarter before starting medical school, continue and get my BS and go to medical school or find something different altogether.
I realized after that conversation, I had been the ultimate consumer. I had to have as many credit cards as I could, I had to have a brand-new Acura Integra that I had dreamed of having since I was 16. I needed to work 4 jobs so I could make money to afford the things I wanted to do and pay my bills while going to college. I wanted to have my own apartment with no roommates, I wanted to go out to eat every night with my friends, I wanted to go to Disneyland nearly every weekend. I wanted and wanted and wanted. I didn’t distinguish between what was a necessity and a desire.
The more I wanted, the more I had to work. I was burning the candle at both ends. I had overextended myself credit wise, and though I could barely afford to do the things I wanted and felt I needed, I started failing in school because I had to work. My days and nights were filled. I’d go from my day job to school for 3 hours, back to a different night job. I’d wake up in the morning go to 5 hours of classes and then my afternoon job, then my night job. I was only sleeping 3 or 4 hours each night and I was also trying to make time for a boyfriend who was living 4 hours away in San Luis Obispo. At one point, I thought to myself, “What the hell am I doing?” I began to stop eating out, going to Disney, driving every weekend to see my boyfriend and started saving money to pay off my debt.
I finished my quarter, moved to San Luis Obispo and got a job. Paid down debt and broke up with the boy I moved there for. Turns out I didn’t like him as much as I thought I did now that things in my life were moving in a different direction.
I began to realize that as I continued living in places that had major freeways everywhere and billboards promoting beautiful women with cosmetic procedures and the latest and greatest vehicle, the next big thing for cellular phones and computers and wedding rings and, and, and, and… What I didn’t see, is anyone around me being happy. Nobody was having fun, nobody was doing anything in their lives except chasing that all important American Dollar. People were always angry, honking their horns at the vehicles in front of them while sitting in traffic as if honking was going to make anyone move any faster. People would be yelling out of their car windows, flipping people off and the negative energy was so immersed within this culture that it seemed impossible to escape it, and people were perfectly content to settle for that stress.
I couldn’t bear to be in that situation anymore. I wanted to be out of debt but I didn’t want to work my fingers to the bone and never see the benefit of it. I wanted to be happy, to be able to afford to go outside and take the world by storm wherever I went. I wanted to be free. I just didn’t know how to get there. I had been programmed by all the ads along the highways and freeways to “need” the things they were advertising.
I began to think about the man on the bench, “wherever I want,” and I thought to myself. What is it that I NEED in order to get what I WANT? That was a huge moment of revelation for me. We’ve been programmed that we can have anything we want as long as we can make the payments on it. The reality of it is, just because you can keep up on the payments for all of these things, doesn’t mean you can actually “afford” it. By the time you pay it off, you want something else, the next big thing. The financing and debt cycle starts all over. Then suddenly I also realized that the financing debt with interest is what kept people from being able to actually afford anything, but nobody wanted to be looked down on as “outdated.” This may not be what the average person thinks is “failure” because failure means something different to everyone and looks different through other people’s eyes. I see it as failure especially after the housing collapse of 2008, which realistically, let’s be honest, started before 2005. We, as consumers, just weren’t paying attention.
We all have things that make us smile, make us giddy inside. But what is it in your own life that makes your life worth waking up for every morning? What is it in your life that makes you truly happy? The happy that makes you smile ear to ear? When you can really feel your best self and your most inspiring self? Everyone’s ideas of happiness are different. For many it’s all the things they can afford, all the latest and greatest gadgets, the Jimmy Choo shoes, huge diamond rings, Gucci bags, etc.
I’ve found my happiness for now, and that means leaving everything behind, downsizing to a Cargo van acting as our tiny house on wheels, bringing education to underdeveloped nations about hygiene and clean water and teaching our child the skills and trades of other cultures, how they operate, how to integrate and teach him that happiness doesn’t need to come in the form of materialistic things that will become obsolete when we die. We don’t take those things with us to the grave, we take our memories with us until the day we die (unless we get dementia or Alzheimers). The less attached we become to materialistic things, the easier it is to let go of things that anchor us down causing our unhappiness and those aren’t necessarily materialistic things, it might just be an issue that seems unsolvable. My issue right now happens to be pain and the more I’m able to let go of the idea of what I used to be able to do, and get along with the idea of what I can do now instead, has altered my life dramatically in a very positive way from 2 years ago to now. It’s separating yourself from your things. The things you have, do not define who you are.
So, yes, in a way we as American’s have been programmed to fail by constantly being in debt and taught only linear thinking. For those of us who can escape that way of thinking, we become free to escape the ties that bind us to this dependence upon money or financing for things, and begin to use it more wisely to stay out of debt and live a life that is truly fulfilling to each of us. Again, if those things are what truly make you happy, then buy all the things you can! I just have found that having THINGS, clutters my life and gives me anxiety.
So please, just ask yourself, “Is what I’m doing right now worth it, and does it make me happy?” If the answer is no, identify the problem so you can find the solution.