Jeff and I were exchanging thoughts the other day, as we often do. This particular topic was one that has interested me for quite some time, and which still baffles me. Basically, it sucks that everyone works themselves to the bone just to live. I know it’s not rocket science, and that’s not the part that baffles me. What baffles me is that people don’t normally make their living doing what they love. Instead, they get stuck doing something they might not like, possibly even hate, and have to work 40-50-60 hours a week doing this, just to get by (obviously, I’m generalizing, there are very fortunate people who don’t find themselves in this situation-I do envy them a little).
Regardless of what you do, and whether you like it or not, our society works so hard to achieve certain milestones: a new car, a home you can raise your kids in, financial security to provide your children with all the things you didn’t have. (there was an interesting article on this recently, I’ll try to post the link later.) I think the latter one is one that scares me the most. Jeff and I have been talking about having kids more and more often lately, and one thing that scares the bejesus out of me is the thought of not being able to provide my kids with the comforts I want to provide them with: a decent house in a safe neighborhood, camping trips, I want my kids to travel and see the world, I want them to take swimming lessons or whatever lessons they want to take, rather then telling them they can’t do this or that because we can’t afford it.
We work so hard to achieve these things. And here my thoughts go off in two separate directions. First, why is it so hard? Why can’t we grow up and do the things we want to do with our life, and also be able to achieve our personal goals? My friend Brooke, for example, easily one of the smartest people I know. She majored in anthropology, and I know she would love to go back to grad school, maybe get her PhD and teach at a university. But she can’t afford to go back to school. Jeff would love to make a living off of his art, but it takes time and financial investment, and possibly going back to school. And me. I would love to work at saving the world somehow, working for a non profit, an NGO working on international development, or just volunteering constantly. But I’d have to start by working for free somewhere to get some experience and work my way up with most organizations. I can’t afford that right now. So it leaves us all working at jobs we don’t like, doing something we’re not passionate about, just to pay the bills. We’re not even working with a house in mind, we’re just working to get by. Why can’t we do what we love, and make a living by it? I know people can and they do, I just wonder why we all can’t.
My second direction, and this was prompted mostly by my conversation with Jeff. How did our society come to value these milestones, and how did life get so complicated? I know life was difficult back in the day because they didn’t have many of the comforts and technological advances we have, but I think that also made life simpler. Brooke mentioned recently that we always feel sorry for people in developing countries living in their dirt huts, but hey, what if they’re happy that way? They don’t need large screen TV’s, and remote-controlled everything. They just need a roof, water, food. Simple comforts. That’s how we started. How did we get to where we are today? How did we come to need so much, and to desire one achievement after another? It’s common knowledge that we, as people, always want more. Once we get that house, we’ll want a new car. Once we get the new car, we’ll want to expand the house, or buy a vacation home, or who-knows-what. It’s hard to stand back and appreciate where you are in your life, and be thankful for what you have, rather than constantly looking forward to the next step, and checking the next achievement off our list. I know it’s especially hard for me right now. There was a presentation I went to a couple weeks ago, and the speaker mentioned this is partly cultural: we are a forward looking culture, while others look towards the past, such as Native Americans, and some are focused on the present.
I need to learn to focus more on the present, to be happy with what I have, and to aim for the stars, but still be happy with wherever I land, since that is probably where God wants me.