Thoughts on perfection.

I was inspired to write down a few notes on my problem with the illusion of perfection by an interaction with a close relative over this past weekend. We have been saying for many months (years?) that we want to take a trip together as a group, but we never got around to doing it. An opportunity arose in the form of an invitation from another family member to join them this Fall on a lake trip. I thought it was a great idea, and began researching immediately. I got the details together, such as where to stay, the estimated cost, who we were going with, and the dates to go. All the basic necessities you need to plan a vacation. When I asked the rest of the group if I could go ahead and book, one family member wanted to put the plan on hold “until we got all the details together”. He was experiencing some anxiety, because not every single detail regarding the trip was planned out. Details such as what to eat, who to hang out with, what water activities to do. So much anxiety that he did not want to commit to booking a location just yet. Which is what happened in every past trip we tried to plan, hence the months and years that have passed since we first decided this was something we wanted to do. Someone else in the family had to explain this aversion to me so that I may better understand it. For this family member, not having an extremely detailed game plan set in stone causes anxiety. He had high expectations of what a trip SHOULD look like, and feared deviating from that picture perfect image. And his anxiety leads to inaction. This happens a lot, and to many people.

For example, I know many friends who have personally expressed to me their dissatisfaction with the work that they do. When I delved deeper into the reasons for their dissatisfaction, with a focused interest on what their true passions are in life, I notice that all of them have current jobs that do not equate with their true passions. The solution to the problem was simple. So I point this out to many of them, and when I asked why they don’t just open up their dream coffee shop, or travel the world (or insert-dream-job-here), they give me a list of excuses.

“I cannot afford it.”

“It’s too risky.”

“I don’t have the time.”

Or my all-time favorite: “I still need to achieve ____ and ____ and ____ before I can even start that process.”

They fear failure. They fear the unknown. They fear not having a perfect plan that will guarantee them success. They fear not being a perfect person, and mostly, they fear having others judge them for it.

As human beings, it is in our nature to make mistakes. We are also blessed (or cursed) to be one of the few species on Earth capable of self-awareness. Together, these two human traits make us doubtful creatures, constantly re-assessing our value and worth based on what we perceive to be ideal.

Growing up, many of us are taught that ideal equates to perfection, or at least, as close to perfection as you could achieve. The problem with perfection is the fact that perfection does not exist. Many are aware of this but still continue to search for that which does not exist. Obsessing over perfection leads to very detrimental effects to one’s lifestyle, and fear of making mistakes could cause us to make the biggest mistake of our lives, which is, to not act at all.

We are constantly surrounded by social media and advertising that show us a picture-perfect image of what the ideal is. Even though most of us understand that these images are staged photographs of what could be and not necessarily what is, it is difficult to separate the subconscious conclusion that we, too, could attain this picture-perfect state. Because of this assumption, our goals become unreachable when they mirror the expectations set before us. Perfection can then lead to that ever-famous saying, “If I can’t reach it, why bother try?”

“Our lives are defined by opportunities. Even the ones we miss.”

-Eric Roth

We have to stop fearing the imperfect. There is no perfect. Inaction, by definition, leads nowhere. We have to stop waiting for that ideal time. We have to stop waiting for the stars to align. Make them align yourself.  The person who acts towards an unreachable goal and falls short achieves more than the person who did not try at all.

So ACT.

And quickly.

Because as humans, we also have the power to adapt. Follow actions with even more actions, even if they are corrections of previous actions. And repeat this again and again and again. Never stop. Take back your life. Live it to the fullest and live it well.

And when you get there, reach back and pull someone up with you. Each one, teach one. I’ve had a mother of two thank me for giving her the courage to quit a busy and stressful office environment, in exchange for a slower practice with less days that was more suited to her lifestyle and gave her the time to be with her kids. She had been afraid to try and see what’s out there, until we prioritized her life goals together. A co-worker kept telling me that he always wanted to take a DJ-ing class, and so I kept telling him he should do it! A few months later, he told me that seeing me take pottery classes and guitar lessons inspired him to finally sign up for DJ classes. And it was very humbling to hear someone older than me, more experienced than me, and wiser than me, tell me that my frequent travelling motivated him to plan a three week vacation to visit multiple countries in Asia where he used to live. People want to act. They just need help being unafraid.

Oh, and about that vacation. I booked it.

A Healthier Planet: Groceries Sans Plastic

Image result for whole foods bulk shopping

While it doesn’t come new to us that plastic pollution is becoming a more prevalent and pressing matter, it was new to me just how dire the situation actually was, until recently. We were on a fishing trip in Hawaii and I was sitting on a boat with my brother when it came up in our conversation that I was hoping to decrease my red meat consumption and to substitute that with fish and other sea dwellers. My brother suggested I watch the Netflix documentary, A Plastic Ocean. And while I won’t give away any spoilers, let’s just say that after I did, my resolve to cut down on further plastic consumption has hardened significantly.

While I have increasingly tried to reduce the amount of plastic waste in the past year, in the form of grocery bags and disposable dishware and ziplock bags, etc., it dawned on me that plastic is literally everywhere. I walked into grocery stores and department stores this weekend and I was shocked at how much plastic I saw. I think it’s safe to say that more than 99% of the store had plastic on it or was made with some part of plastic. There are so many one-time-use plastic capsules and containers that we never think of. Toothbrushes are made out of plastic. Your lip balm container is plastic, as well as your shampoo and lotions. Clothes with polyester have plastic in them. I mean, most people are wearing plastic! That’s crazy to me.

So this week, I decided to try a new project, which is to reduce (or all together eliminate!) the consumption of plastic. (Thank God we live right next to Mother’s Market!). But even Mother’s Market has their meat wrapped in plastic. I had to trek to Whole Foods, which was my savior! Otherwise, we wouldn’t have had anything to eat this week! Here are a few tips I have learned in the ONE day that I went grocery shopping without plastic.

  • BULK DRY FOODS, INCLUDING COFFEE BEANS AND TEA LEAVES. Whole Foods and Mother’s Market as well as other eco-conscious groceries sell dry foods such as rice, flour, nuts, granola, (fig bars even!) in bulk. Whole Foods also has a Bulk Chocolate section, as well as Bulk Cookies section for all you sweet tooths. What I love about the bulk section is the ability to purchase only what you need, which also helps to eliminate the food waste problem that is occurring. I can easily confess to buying a sack of flour in the past and then not needing half of it until past its expiration date. Wasteful and tragic. The bulk section allows you to simply bring your reusable container(or my favorite, glass jars!), and fill them up with whatever you need for the week. TIP: Go to the cashier first to weigh out your containers, that way you can subtract how much they weigh when you check out at the end of your grocery run.
  • PEANUT BUTTER AND ALMOND BUTTER. My husband loves peanut butter. So how excited was he when we came upon the section at Whole Foods where you could make freshly grinded peanut butter and almond butter?! With different flavors to boot! We ended up making honey peanut butter and it dispensed straight into our reusable glass mason jar. Pop the lid on there and you are all set! Oh, and the verdict: Best peanut butter ever!
  • MEATS. This one was easy. Most groceries, even Ralph’s and Albertson’s, have a fresh meat and fish section. All you have to do is remember to bring your container. You just hand them your container, they weigh it all out, place the meat into it and print out that sticker to hand to your cashier!
  • CHEESES. I was afraid this was going to be a toughy. We like to eat cheese at our house, but if you think about it, what cheese isn’t wrapped in plastic?!?! I think I purchase at least one of those shredded cheese packets every week that I’m at the groceries. And what about the cheese to go with our crackers and fruit? Wrapped in plastic. I was worried for a second that we would have to give up cheese forever. Then my husband figured it out! We headed over to the deli section and asked them to slice cheese for us and put it in our container. The selection is limited, and it isn’t the classy type that you serve with dried dates and cracked black pepper crackers, but it’ll do for your everyday cooking! For the nicer stuff, try stopping by your local cheesery (we’ve got one in Costa Mesa just down the street), and ask them to slice a big chunk off of their cheese wheels, to go!
  • BREAD. Bread usually comes packaged in plastic, but Whole Foods has fresh baked bread every day, and tons of different types too! It was so difficult choosing which one to get this week. The one covered in pumpkin seeds or the baguette? You just let them know your favorite and they have paper bags that can be used to carry the loaf out. Or, my more preferred option, you can bring in a large rectangular linen, and wrap that fresh bread up as if you were in France and were stopping by a bakery on your way to a picnic. Might as well bring a picnic basket with you while you’re at it.
  • MILK. We know we wanted cereal this week, but the problem was in the milk. Milk comes in those plastic gallons or half gallons which I definitely did not want to buy. They also come in cartons, but even the cartons are lined on the inside with a film that contains, you guessed it, plastic. So what solution did I find? Companies such as STRAUSS Creamery sell their milk in glass jars. And you can take the glass jar back to Whole Foods who will ship it back to Strauss and the creamery itself will reuse the glass jars. The only problem? They use a plastic containing lid, probably to seal the milk properly. I will keep returning the glass jar with the lid, to prompt them to think of a reusable option at least. The nice thing is, if you live close to their creamery, you can swing by and fill your own container, but alas, no creameries near me. Also, I was happy to see that there were multiple other companies that sold milk in glass jars as well, so yay for the movement!
  • MAKE YOUR OWN SAUCES. Okay, so I know it’s easy to find sauces in glass jars these days, but I wanted to go that extra step and try to reduce consumption of other individual containers as much as possible too. So this week, I made pasta marinara and green enchilada sauce out of vegetables and spices. And it was very rewarding. Mike says the enchilada sauce was the closest he’s had to the best enchilada sauce he ate in Mexico. I bet it’s because they make them fresh there too.
  • EAT FRESH. The subway mantra applies to this no-plastic campaign. I came to the sudden realization that if I am to cut out all plastic, I have to cut out all frozen foods. Including my ever-loved acai berry packets from Trader Joe’s. All frozen foods come in plastic packaging. There’s no other way around it. But you know what, it’s for the better anyway. Healthier meals, happier planet.
  • FRUITS AND VEGGIES. Skip plastic bags when buying produce. I use these reusable net mesh bags from New Zealand to put my veggies in, and when I get home, transfer them to a bowl so that the bags are free to re-use again. Usually, berries and the like are packaged in those clear plastic baskets, but you can head to a local farmer’s market, and fill your own container with your favorite summer berries. Or return those green plastic baskets to your local farmer’s market guy and he can re-use it again! The worst are those nets that hold multiple avocados or cuties. How many of those avocados go bad before you are able to use them anyway? Just grab one or two individual avocados and oranges instead!
  • SUPPORT LOCAL BUSINESSES. Ice cream isn’t the first thing that pops into most people’s head when it comes to grocery shopping, but it’s the first thing that pops into mine! One of my favorite local ice cream stores is Kansha Creamery in Torrance. They make ice cream daily, and give part of their proceeds to a charity, which changes every year. They also promote having their customers bring in their own containers to serve the ice cream in. And they will sell you ice cream pints, placed in your own container! The ice cream is great, albeit a little pricier than a tub, but you’re saving the planet, and hey, it might even help with your summer diet! Might I be so bold as to also suggest supporting local carnicerias by buying freshly made tortillas?  The second thing that pops into my head. They will welcome the business, and your belly will welcome the tortilla. Win win.
  • ASK FOR AN ALTERNATIVE. And the best thing you could possibly do? Start a conversation. Ask for an alternative. You may get weird stares, especially at large grocery stores such as Ralph’s and Albertson’s, but it does get people thinking. I asked for my meat at Ralph’s to be packaged in my container, and there was a moment’s hesitance, but he said “Ok” anyway. When I was ringing up my order, the couple in front of me were whispering, not so subtly, “Is that tupperware??”, when staring at my pile of check-out items. And then the wife goes, “I never even thought of that!”. The cashier guy himself paused in the middle of check-out and asked, “Did you bring all of these?”, to which I said “Yupp! Just trying to reduce plastic waste.” To which he shrugged and kept ringing up the order. You wouldn’t get these questions or stares or comments at places like Whole Foods or Mother’s Market, which is to say that you are surrounded by very like-minded people in those areas. But it’s important to continue this habit in other aspects of your life as well, to other grocery stores who might question you or think differently of your routine. One day at the grocery store can bring a lot of awareness to a lot of people.

I know that there are a lot of people out there who know about the situation, but don’t care. But it is also true that people cannot care if they don’t know. A lot of people simply don’t know. They don’t know the severity of it, nor are they aware of the alternative options that they have. And you know what, most people will be willing to change. How often do I see people bringing their reusable bags now that they have to pay to buy grocery bags in LA and OC and SF? Or opting to carry their items out in their hands instead of paying for a convenient piece of plastic? I like to believe that people are inherently good. That’s just how I am able to sleep at night. How about you?

Other tips for readers and me alike are welcome in the comments below! Thanks!

Future blog post on how I reduce plastic in other aspects of my every day to come! 🙂

 

The Hawaiian Fisherman and the Mexican Fisherman

I was in Hawaii this past week, and my family took a fishing trip up the coast of Kona on a beautiful sunny Tuesday. One of the crew members was a nice, happy man in his 60’s who has been a fisherman his whole career. We got to talking, and he proceeded to tell me that when he first made the decision to become a fisherman in his 20’s, his father was very disappointed in him. He went to UCLA and completed all his biology courses and was on his way to becoming a dentist. But he just couldn’t do it. He even worked as a lab technician and the margins gave him nightmares. It still gives him nightmares to this day, he joked. Shortly after working for a lab tech, he came to Hawaii and decided to become a fisherman for the rest of his life. His dad was embarrassed of this fact, because all the kids of his friends and family were becoming professionals. Lawyers, doctors, and engineers. And when his friends would ask him, “Hey, what’s Frankie up to?” He would have to tell them, “Fishing”.

Well eventually, his dad accepted it all when Frank caught the largest marlin on record. Over a thousand pounds! He even showed us the newspaper article of his catch. Well that day, they were walking back from the dock, and his dad said, “You know son, you did good.” At this point of his life, he had just bought his own boat, gotten married, bought a house and was about to have his first kid. And he got the record for catching the biggest fish. And he said, “Dad, I’m going to be just fine.”

I then asked Frank if he ever heard of the Mexican Fisherman parable. I had just read it on the flight to Hawaii from Erin’s Chasing Slow. He said he hadn’t, and so I told the following story to him:

An American investment banker was at the pier of a small coastal Mexican village when a small boat with just one fisherman docked.  Inside the small boat were several large yellowfin tuna.  The American complimented the Mexican on the quality of his fish and asked how long it took to catch them.

The Mexican replied, “only a little while. The American then asked why didn’t he stay out longer and catch more fish? The Mexican said he had enough to support his family’s immediate needs. The American then asked, “but what do you do with the rest of your time?”

The Mexican fisherman said, “I sleep late, fish a little, play with my children, take siestas with my wife, stroll into the village each evening where I sip wine, and play guitar with my amigos.  I have a full and busy life.” The American scoffed, “I am a Harvard MBA and could help you. You should spend more time fishing and with the proceeds, buy a bigger boat. With the proceeds from the bigger boat, you could buy several boats, eventually you would have a fleet of fishing boats. Instead of selling your catch to a middleman you would sell directly to the processor, eventually opening your own cannery. You would control the product, processing, and distribution. You would need to leave this small coastal fishing village and move to Mexico City, then LA and eventually New York City, where you will run your expanding enterprise.”

The Mexican fisherman asked, “But, how long will this all take?”

To which the American replied, “15 – 20 years.”

“But what then?” Asked the Mexican.

The American laughed and said, “That’s the best part.  When the time is right you would announce an IPO and sell your company stock to the public and become very rich, you would make millions!”

“Millions – then what?”

The American said, “Then you would retire.  Move to a small coastal fishing village where you would sleep late, fish a little, play with your kids, take siestas with your wife, stroll to the village in the evenings where you could sip wine and play your guitar with your amigos.”

I told him I was glad he didn’t become a dentist. I told him that I was a dentist who looked forward to living a life like his. I love my job, and I can call my own hours and can pretty much do as I please. I pursued dentistry because I wanted to be in a profession that gives back to the community and helps others, that contributes to something past myself. But the loans tie me down. I am chasing the slow life, but it’s still a chase. He was already living the slow life and has always been. It’s nice to know that he was free from anything that could have tied him down. He said that a buddy of his says the same thing. His buddy is in his late 70’s and everyone keeps asking him, hey man, when are you going to retire? To which his buddy says, “Let’s see, when I retire, I would spend my days fishing and playing golf. Oh wait! That’s what I do now!”

We’ve all got an American Dream, but I am starting to think that some people have the dream all wrong.

My money egg

I was not always debt averse. Like so many millions of Americans, I used to embrace the idea of debt as a given, a necessary evil. Only recently did I realize that only half of that term “necessary evil” was true. I graduated dental school about a year ago, with a staggering debt of over $550,000. Many of my classmates graduated with a similar debt and the common concensus was, “God this sucks, but this had to have happened for us to be here today.” While part of that may be true, because none of us had half a million dollars lying around at age 22, or whenever it was that we started dental school, it did not have to be such an overwhelming total sum. There was a voice in my head telling me that this was just not right. I must have messed up somewhere (and I did) but I did not know where. This unsettling feeling in my stomach prompted me to get my financial story straight. I hired a financial planner even before I started work to start understanding why being in so much debt was bothering me.

Some people can have financial debt up the wazoo and not bat an eyelid. Apparently, I am of a different breed. In the past five years, I experienced an ever-growing discomfort with my ever-increasing debt. They came hand in hand. In order to tackle the debt, I had to first see where it all started and what led me to this moment. One of the first things our financial advisor did when he met us, even before he hatched a plan or gave us any insight on how to regain control of our finances, was give us an assignment. He had us draw our money eggs. The money egg was supposed to include every experience we have had regarding finances from birth until now. We could also only draw pictures of those experiences, with our non-dominant hands. At this point, Mike was rolling his eyes to the back of his head. I had convinced him that a financial planner was what we needed but this was turning into a sort of psych therapy situation for him. I, on the other hand, practically jumped up and down with excitement and worked on the assignment as soon as I could. It ended up being a very smart way to begin approaching our finances.

My money egg totally explained my progression toward debt aversion and ironically, my progression towards a minimalist lifestyle. This is my money egg. Warning: it’s basically my financial life story and then some, and I’ve been alive twenty seven years, so yeah, it’s long.

I was born in the Philippines, a third world country, to parents who came from opposite social classes. My mom was from what was considered to be a well-off family, had seven brothers and sisters, all of whom got what they wanted and more growing up. My dad came from a small province near Manila which my mom called the ghetto and from my dad’s childhood stories, I can believe that it was true. By the time I was born, my parents were what you would consider successful folk in Manila. My dad and mom were both engineers and when I was born, they were both working. We were well–off enough that my mom was able to quit her job, and they were still able to provide a personal nanny (or yaya) for me, my sister, and my brother. We had three yayas living with us in our home. I remember having two dogs, pet fish, two doves. My sister and I went to private schools and enjoyed privileges that our neighbors could not. But it was still a third world country. Definition of privilege there was like, as cute as a little girl wearing her mother’s heels.

When I was eight, my dad was offered a job in the States. In hopes to provide his children with better access to, well, everything, my dad accepted and we moved to California. We went from having three nannies to living in a single bedroom of a home of one of my dad’s friends (coworkers?), who I didn’t even know. I remember the single bed my parents shared with my two year old brother, and my sister and I were squished sleeping on the floor in the space between the bed and the desk. I vaguely remember having to step over each other to move around in that space. It was summer, all the kids were out of school, so we were stuck in that one bedroom all day long. We were rarely allowed out because my parents did not want us to bother the owner, but the few moments we were allowed to sit on the couch in the living room were the best. We were growing kids and we had to stretch our legs. I remember it always being hot, hot, hot. That’s what I remember most. The terrible heat.

Eventually, my parents moved us to a town home in Milpitas. I know that my parents were determined to give us kids a wonderful life, and they worked hard to do that. We started to get our bearings and move up the social ladder. My dad moved jobs frequently, always in search for a better life for his kids. I really appreciated his hard work, motivation, and pretty much, for just biting the bullet and doing what he had to in order to do what he thought was right. My mom was doing the same thing at home. One of the things that I really appreciated about my parents was that they worked. They worked their ASSES off.

After a few more years, my parents bought a beautiful four bedroom home in Pleasanton, CA. Each of us had our own rooms again! My dad also at this time was working three jobs. I hardly saw my dad during this time period. I remember begging my mom to wake me up at 6am so that I could go with her to the train station so I could drop him off and wave goodbye as the train took him off to work, not to return until midnight. Sometimes I’d try to hide silent tears rolling down my cheeks as he zoomed by. He worked a 9-5 job as an engineer, and then worked afterwards as a janitor for Blockbuster when it still existed (or was it Hollywood Video?), and later on as a janitor at Staples. At one point, he also was a retail salesperson at Robinsons-May (also when it still existed). He was in the lingerie department, and he hated it. But he did it anyway because he did what had to be done. It was also at this time that my brother started kindergarten and my mom started volunteering at school. Eventually, she started to work part-time for the school district. They were climbing up that social ladder real fast. We hosted parties nearly every weekend. We were the kids that always got the newest gaming console the night it was released. What I didn’t realize was that while I was getting every Disney sweater I wanted, my parents were working harder and we were eating mac and cheese and spam once a week. It was the most interesting paradox. We got every console that was released for Christmas, but I ate more beans from a can with rice and Vienna sausages on toast than my classmates. After two years, my parents decided to move yet again to Irvine in SoCal. They sold the house and my dad took an “even better job” in Orange County. All for the sake of searching for a better, more improved life.

This is where I stop and say, as kids, we hated the moves. I moved 10 times before I got into high school, including moves from house to apartment to apartment to motel to house etc. We lost a lot of friends along the way, and growing up, that was a pretty big deal. I was thirteen when we moved to SoCal, which in my head, the most “CRUCIAL” time in my life, aka the most dramatic time in my life. I think my sister took it harder than I did. I have never seen anyone resist my parents as much as she did. She fought until she got out. But I couldn’t blame my parents for trying to give us what they thought was a better life. In retrospect, I think if we just grew up in the same spot and established roots somewhere, (anywhere!), we would have probably had an improved life at home during our teen years. Less rebellion, less discontent, and more stability in general.

But on with the story about the continual search for more. We moved to Irvine and my dad started his new job and my mom started working at Irvine Unified School District. It only lasted one year before we moved into an extended stay motel, preparing to move yet again to Ladera Ranch. My parents bought another four bedroom home because my mom couldn’t stand living in a tiny apartment any more. My parents were ecstatic at finally owning a house again. A house located in a very affluent neighborhood, with well-paved streets and maintained parks, doggie bags included. 8 pools within a 3 mile radius, it was glorious. And off course, with each move, the accumulation of more stuff.

My dad continued to work for Robinsons-May even after it turned into Macy’s until he set his foot down in December when he said he did not want to work on Christmas Eve because he was going to put his family and kids first over money. I really admired him for making that move. He never went back to retail after that point. It was a wonderful Christmas, except I think my sister rebelled on the night of Christmas Eve and it actually turned into a tear-stained Christmas. Nothing short of usual family drama. Not shortly after, my mom took a second job in the afternoons at a tutoring company, Mathnasium. It is from here that she will eventually launch her own tutoring side business a few years down the road.

Up until this point, my parents have been trying to achieve an improved life for us. I would argue that they already achieved that in Pleasanton. We had what we needed and much more, and we kids were very happy kids. There’s a line between need and want. And then there is want-for-no-reason-at-all-just-because-you-can. The page turns, and that is where life took us. This is where I (slowly) started to learn that money cannot buy happiness. It can, but only up to a certain extent. Once you cover your basic needs, as well as ensure a stable income to the point where you don’t have to constantly worry if you will be supported next week or next month, money does not buy more happiness. Sometimes, I think the opposite could be true. It was the constant moving that got to my sister and I. Most of our arguments with our parents stemmed from that. Most of the blame and the resentment. My sister was never the same after our final move to Ladera Ranch. Granted, those were also the teen years and maybe it would have happened anyway, her turning rogue on us like that. But then again, maybe not.

At age sixteen, I started to work at Jamba Juice. My parents raised me to be a hard-worker too, and I liked the money I was making. I remember my mom telling me that, now that I was making money, I could start buying my own clothes, with the implication that I needed more clothes. When I started work, I opened my first debit card and my first credit card. My mom had her name assigned to my debit card so she could “help me monitor it”. What that also allowed her to do was to withdraw money from the account whenever she needed to borrow extra. By 18 years old, she had convinced me to open up 2 more general credit cards, which she later used to borrow to buy groceries and to buy other things that she needed. She also convinced me to open a credit card at Banana Republic, which I was now working at, so that I could make use of the discounts. I bought into it and spent paycheck after paycheck on clothes, saving very little for myself. It was a reward, she justified. I also bought clothes for her when sales were happening, and she paid me back, albeit a few days or weeks later. And I was okay with it.

When I was 18, my mom insisted on throwing me a traditional debutant ball. I told her that was not necessary, I dreaded the thought of going up in front of everyone and perform dances and speeches and whatever else. But she insisted and like a good daughter I went along with it. It was a $10,000 birthday party. With photographers, videographers, two gowns, everything. It wasn’t for me, and I don’t even want to say it was for her. It was for our friends and relatives, to show them how well-off we were. So well-off that she could flippantly throw a $10 grand birthday party for an 18 year old. The following year, my mom insisted my sister had one too, and despite my sister’s much stronger resistance to the thing, she got one whether she wanted to or not. After my sister’s debutante ball, my credit cards were maxed out, and they would stay maxed out until I was 25. One was maxed at $2500 and the other $8500. Where was all the money going? I did not know it then, but I know now that all that money went to buy social status symbols. Symbols such as debutante balls and Banana Republic clothes and gaming consoles, random dinners and social events, everything a regular American typically spends money on. Well, minus the debutant parties. But that’s where a lot of the money was going to. In fact, I started receiving letters in the mail addressed to me saying that the payments on my credit cards were not being made. They were overdue, consistently, month after month. There were threatening emails saying the cards would be suspended if minimum balances weren’t met. I kept asking my mom about it and she kept brushing it off and saying, “Don’t worry about it.” But I WAS worrying about it. Eventually, at age 20, I got the cards back and closed both accounts. I forced my mom to open her own Banana Republic credit card. And I removed her from my debit card account. Today, only the $2500 credit card is paid off. The other one still has money unpaid. But I give them props, because they are at least working on paying that down now, after repeated, heavy arguing over the last five years.

Let me pause here (again) and say that I am not an ungrateful child. My parents were doing what they were taught to be the right thing to do and I don’t hate them for that. They are good people. But they were misled by an American Dream. I am very appreciative of their efforts. They bought my sister and I brand new cars for our first car, which I am so grateful for! And compared to other kids I went to school with, these weren’t crazy expensive cars like theirs, but these were still brand new. That’s amazing and sweet and generous and kind. But as I look back on it now, I can’t help but think that that was also soooooo unnecessary.

Maybe in the back of my mind, I always knew we were short on money. I worried about money all the time. I worried about it enough that I felt the need to get a job at 16 years old. I even knew it enough that I chose my college based on how much money I would save living at home. I got into UCLA, which is where my boyfriend at the time decided to go, and which was viewed as a higher ranking college than UCI, but I chose UCI because I knew that I was the one who had to pay for my college education and I needed to save every bit that I could. My high school teachers and friends all thought I was crazy and tried to convince me to go to UCLA. But some part of me knew that I shouldn’t. I was slowly starting to become debt averse. However, even though I was smart enough to realize all of that, I was wrongly convinced that I could reward myself every time I got a paycheck with clothes and dinners and events and stuff in general. My parents sure supported that kind of lifestyle. You can never have too many shoes. And you need more professional clothes, even at 18! But I always had this feeling…

I graduated undergrad in three years and an extra quarter. I worked hard to pull that off so that I wouldn’t have to pay more money for the last two quarters. People asked why I did not just stay in school and take fun classes, and my answer what that I honestly did not want to spend more money. By this time, at age 20, I was working three jobs, just like my ole man. I was working as a dental assistant every day the dental office was open, at an average of 33 hours a week. It was an emotionally taxing job, serving a community of people who had very high expectations and demands in an environment that caused a lot of fear in patients. On the days the dental office was closed, I was working at Banana Republic (still!) on Tuesday and Thursday mornings before the stores would open. I lifted mannequins above my head and climbed ladders twice my height, nearly breaking my back every day to set up the shop windows before the customers came in. If it was a Sunday, I would work the floor, following consumers as they dropped piles of clothes on the floor and I folded it back for them into perfectly neat stacks. I saw customers throw clothes at sales people when they were displeased, complaining of the heat in the store when there were too many other customers walking around, and slamming dressing room doors because they waited so long in the lines. Retail was a place where I learned how NOT to treat people. And it was where I saw the first glimpse of how “things” could turn people into such monsters. After a long physical day at BR, I would have a few hours to myself before I would drive to Irvine to tutor high school kids from Corona Del Mar. Not exactly mentally draining, these sessions did provide me further insight into lives of very very rich people. Back then, I wanted that lifestyle. These kids were driving Mercedes and Maseratis like it was nothing. Their parents owned boats and they went on international vacations by themselves every holiday. Who didn’t want money when they saw that? What I didn’t internalize was that many of these kids were taking anti-anxiety pills. ADD pills. Disliked their parents, or never even saw them. They were stressed more than I was, because of the high expectations that were set upon them by their parents and their peers. They know of more people their age who committed suicide than I did from watching television. I mean, these kids were paying $80/hour to talk to me about their problems at school and at home. All I could see was the prestige, their beautiful clothes, their lavish vacations, their lack of concern for money. And I was blinded to believe that that was what I was working towards.

In between graduating undergrad and getting into dental school, I made a lot of dumb mistakes. I was making good money working three jobs, but I didn’t tackle my student loans. Instead, I went out frequently. Spent money on clothes, food, alcohol and more alcohol. I even did a celebratory trip to Hawaii with Mike to celebrate getting into dental school. My loans sat there and I paid the bare minimum which didn’t even cover interest. And so my loans grew. I was working my ass off, but my debt continued to grow. I was working so damn hard that I was sick for months at a time, because my body could not keep up with the stress. I couldn’t wait until I got into dental school so that the payments could be delayed another four years.

I didn’t apply to many dental schools, but I did get into two schools right away, as early as December the year before. Ohio State University and University of Southern California. I wanted to stay in California to be with Mike and be close to home, so I decided to choose USC, which happens to be voted THE most expensive dental school in the United States. I swear I wasn’t getting any smarter with the finances thing. I mean, I KNEW it was the most expensive. I got an apartment to myself across the street from campus, which also meant I was spending A LOT of money on housing alone. Two weeks after dental school started at USC, I got an offer to go to dental school at UCLA, which started a week later. I denied it! You want to know why? It wasn’t because I liked USC better. It was because of sheer laziness! I was already set up in my apartment, moved in, and I already met a few people at school. I did not want to start all over or commute across the city. That’s it! That is the reason I said no. It was probably the worst financial move in the entirety of my life. And I hope never to make a mistake like that ever again.

Debt is never a good thing. More debt in exchange for a supposedly more prestigious school does not make the debt valuable. It’s not worth it. End of story. Yes, in order for me to achieve my dream of becoming a dentist, I had to go into debt. But I had a choice to take less debt, and I was a moron.

It was also around this time that my parents lost their house to the bank. This was the same year they had to take money out of their retirement fund to pay for something or other and were slashed with a big tax fee at the end of the year. But who was I to judge them? I stayed at USC. That single decision put me more in debt than my parents. So I cannot judge them for their financial decisions. I should be focused on working on my own spending habits rather than over-analyzing theirs. Plus, it turns out, I was growing up to be just like them.

Since I was living by myself in an apartment across the street from USC, I was dwindling down the few extra bucks I saved working three jobs during my one and a half years off. I was taking out the maximum loans possible (over $100k a year!) and still, by the end of my first year, I had no extra money in my bank account. I decided to move in with a roommate a little further away from school, but still in downtown LA. It made rent $100 cheaper per month. But it still wasn’t enough. In my second year of dental school, to the shock of my dental classmates, I took on a job as a librarian on campus and worked 20 hours a week, on top of being at the dental campus over 40 hours a week. I was exhausted, sickly, hardly spoke to my roommate and released all of my stress on Mike at the end of the day. After all the money financial aid was handing me, and the extra hours I was working, I was still going into further debt. Mikey had to lend me $1000-3000 at the end of every trimester to make ends meet. I would pay him back the minute I got my funds for the following trimester, which meant that at the end of the next trimester, I would need to borrow even more from him. How was this possible?!

It’s all those little things that you don’t even think about when you buy them. It’s that one shopping spree that you went on just because you were feeling down. It’s the new picture frame your apartment needed. It’s the chips and ice cream that you had to add to your grocery bill. It’s the second pair of Nikes you have because the last one has a mark on it. It’s the wedding dress you had to buy to attend your friend’s wedding, because she has seen you wear all the other dresses you owned. It’s the fifty books you have yet to read but buy impulsively because the cover calls to you. It’s that one time you were too lazy to cook so you went out to dinner with your friends. It’s when you got hammered at your friend’s party and offered to buy everyone a round of drinks. I mean, the list goes on and on and on. One bad financial decision after another. And these were just the little things. The big things were worse. The choice of housing for the sake of convenience. The choice of school due to laziness. The choice to borrow money from someone else for lack of discipline. It’s not consumption that’s the problem. We are human, and we need things. But it’s compulsive consumption that is the issue. The failure to see the difference between need and want.

By the summer after my second year of dental school, I was drowning in debt and I couldn’t take it anymore. I told my roommate I was moving out by the end of the week. A bitch move, and I can’t believe we are still close friends after that. I moved to Torrance to live with my boyfriend and his two guy friends, where my rent changed from $1200/month to $345/month. I quit my librarian job and paid Mike back every single penny. I committed to cooking meals at home with Mike as much as possible, and started budgeting our grocery bill to $50/week. I still follow this budget until today. I was taking a step towards debt aversion. But I continued to be a bad spender, or rather, a spender period. After all the money I saved, I spent any excess loan amount I had to travel or to dine out! Oy vey. I was so excited that I had “extra money” that I could not wait until the end of the trimesters to see how much I had left in order to live the good life. The truth that we all know is that, I have never had any extra money. As long as you are in debt, you don’t have money. I have been in debt since the day I opened my first credit card. But I spent the “extra money” anyway instead of paying back my loans. I continued this toxic cycle up until the day I graduated.

I wish I could say all of this ended after graduating dental school. After the loans stopped coming in and I was left with whatever debt’s version of a black hole is. Unfortunately, it didn’t end there. The summer after I graduated, I had to borrow money from Mikey. I was out of loans. In our entire relationship, I was very adamant about splitting everything in half. Down to the last penny. So any money I borrowed from Mikey, I kept tabs on. Until I graduated from dental school, Mikey and I were Even Stevens. I owed him over $16,000 by the time I started work. $16,000! That’s a lot of money I didn’t have. That summer, I was even more obsessed with spending. I had to have a nice loft apartment and I had to buy new furniture for it. I spent his money to take classes and workshops. I was in denial that I had to face a burdensome monstrous debt. I knew I had a problem, then.

Here is my issue with money. You might not have this issue but I did. And it all started with things.

The more things I wanted to buy, the less money I had.

The less money I had, the harder I had to work.

The harder I had to work,

The more stressed I was.

The less time I had with my friends.

The more sick I became.

The faster I tired.

The less personal growth I had.

And if I wasn’t growing,

Then I was dying.

And that had to change. ASAP.

I was just like my parents. Just like so many other Americans. We have too many choices and that was a problem for me. I thought I needed to have every choice offered to me. When I had to present my money egg, I knew all of this. I was aware of the entire story as it was unfolding, as I was living it day to day. In fact, I was hyper-aware, and that’s what made me worry so often since I was a young teenager. I knew this because I watched my parents go through it.  But I was also in denial. I deserve this. I worked hard for this. This is my reward. If they can have it, so can I. I am in less debt than they are. This is worth the money. All of these are excuses and lies that I fed myself. When I finished presenting my money egg, I couldn’t help but think to myself, that for once in my life, I made the right financial move. I hired myself a financial planner who did not tell me what to do with my money, but had me change my whole perspective of life in general. After presenting my money egg, he had me and Mike discuss our priorities, our future goals, and our dreams. He asked us questions like, what brought us happiness, what projects we wanted to start, when we saw ourselves retiring, what retirement looked like for us. He asked us what we wish we could had done in life if we were told that we had an incurable disease and we were to die by the end of the year. Then he asked us what we wish we could have done if we were told we were going to die tomorrow. If you were to die and had a million dollars in assets, how would you divvy that up? By asking us these questions, and writing down all our answers, he came back at us and said, look. From all the answers that were provided, there were a few things that mattered to Mike and I. Family seems to be the most important thing. Next came travel, hobbies, and self-improvement. After that was contributing beyond ourselves. There was no mention of a house or stuff. So we had to approach our financial situation in a way that allowed us those things not only in the future, but more importantly in the present. It was like a switch flipped in me. I radically altered my lifestyle. It was around this time that I started to embrace what I would consider the simple life and the concept of minimalism.

Minimalism is the thing that gets us past the things so we can focus on life’s more important things, which aren’t really things, at all.

-The Minimalists

In the last year throughout this process of gaining more and more control over my financial life, this is what I learned.

The less stuff I bought, the more money I had.

The more money I had, the more focused I was on paying down my debt.

The smaller the debt got, the less I worried about my finances.

The less I worried about finances, the less time I had to work.

The less time I had to work, the more time I had to learn about myself.

The more I learned about myself, the more focused I was.

The more focused I was, the more clear my priorities became.

The more clear my priorities became, the better my relationships got.

The better my relationships got, the more meaningful my life got.

As I discovered what was meaningful to me,

I realized that it never had anything to do with stuff after all.

 

 

 

My love-hate relationship with the internet

My relationship with the internet is a love-hate type of relationship. The love part is easy to see. Googly eyes, slobbery drool, drunken teenage stupor kind of puppy love. If you ask my husband, he would likely tell you that I am obsessed with Instagram. And it’s true. I am OBSESSED with Instagram, in a very unhealthy way. If you have me added as a friend on Instagram, you likely already know that in the past, I used to post once a day. Until I added a second account, which then made it twice a day. Some of you scoff, because the truth of the matter is that I actually have three accounts. THREE. Not including the other accounts I couldn’t keep up with and had to delete. And on one of those accounts, I have admittedly posted 4-5 times a day. I am seriously obsessed with social media, and have been for a very long time. Before I had Instagram, it was Facebook. And before Facebook, Myspace. And before Myspace, Xanga and Melodramatic. It was something that my generation grew up with, which is hardly an excuse, and something which affects the younger generations more profoundly than me.

Let me stop here and briefly say a thing or two about how I perceive social media. In my eyes and in my mind, social media is a platform that many people, including myself, use to portray an image that we want the world to see. It may be a true image, or it may not be a true image. Even if it is your true self, only a select part of your life is posted for the scrollers and their double taps. It is still an image. The surface of a body of water, flat, with no depth. I have spent hours and hours creating the reflection of myself in cyberspace, having wasted probably half of the last decade focusing on this (insert sarcasm) super important aspect of my life. I mean, image is everything, right? (Let that sarcasm drip.)

But let’s not stop at social media. I use the internet for other things too. I am obsessed with checking my email frequently, as well as checking my text messages to see if a red number bubble has popped up on the corner of that green little box. It is important to clarify here that I rarely get texts at all. I could hardly be considered the popular type, preferring being tucked away with my books in odd nooks and crannies. Despite this fact, checking my phone is an instinctual habit that I developed over the years. I am obsessed with looking up new releases of products from brands that I am loyal to. Even though I don’t buy said products, I want to be the first to know what new item other people come up with. I am obsessed with following people’s lives that I don’t know. Not even famous people’s lives! Mostly people who are creative, who throw events that showcase their new avant-garde ideas. And while it is a great source of inspiration, the extent to which I follow these people has become unproductive, at best.

It is safe to say that I love the internet for these aforementioned things.

But God how I hate the internet. Well, I don’t truly hate the internet. But I do hate the way I have interacted with the internet.

In my humble opinion, the internet has become the biggest food source for feeding my ego. And by ego, I mean the Eckhart Tolle definition of the word. Ego as our inner narrator, our sense of “I”, the voice in our head. Ego has it’s signature moves. The ego is never satisfied. No matter how much stuff we buy, how many accomplishments we achieve or delicious meals we consume, the ego never feels complete. The ego is constantly comparing itself to others. It has us measuring our self-worth against the looks, wealth, and social status of our neighbors. The ego thrives on drama. It keeps old resentments and grievances alive through compulsive thought. But most importantly, the ego robs us of life’s present moments. The ego is obsessed with the past and the future, at the expense of the right here, right now. I have primarily used the internet as a tool to try to satiate my forever unsatisfied ego. Vanity at its worst, I have found that my inner self continually tries to see what my friends, family, acquaintances, hell, even random strangers, are up to in their lives. There is a constant nagging voice in my head telling me that somebody MUST “need” me right at this very moment, prompting me to check the screen every few minutes. How egotistic is that? I feel the need to check constantly in case a life or death emergency comes along and somebody needs me. When really, truth be told, in a true emergency, I am pretty sure my friends and family would be calling 911 first, or well I hope they do. Even if they did call me, I would probably tell them, “You should call 911 right now.” Pretty much, if you are reading this, don’t call me in the case of an emergency, okay?

In addition to allowing the internet to feed my vanity, I have allowed the internet to eat up so much of my precious and valuable time. All this talk about decluttering and minimizing in order to live a slow, simple, and meaningful life cannot save me from the single fact that the internet adds so much noise to my every day. My thoughts are constantly fragmented, disconnected from each other, interrupted by every silent whisper telling me to go online to check what I’ve been missing in the last five minutes of everyone else’s life. That’s exactly what it is! I am missing out on so much of my own life because I am continually concerned with everyone else’s life. Anyone else? Don’t get me wrong, the internet adds value to my life too. I mean, you’re reading this ON MY BLOG. And I couldn’t have graduated dental school without Google, let me tell you that. So yes, the internet has its uses. But it has definitely been overused (by me) and has prevented me from creating the particular lifestyle that I am currently working towards. The internet is a wonderful source for, well everything. But that’s just the problem. I don’t want everything anymore.

I am constantly being informed of what new products are out, which trends are popular, where I have yet to vacation and explore. The internet has on blast what my family and friends are up to, who made it to that last party, what so and so just bought, who that one-girl-i-met-once-in-passing just got engaged to, blah blah blah. I wake up every morning and go on automatic scroll mode. My fingers are cramping from double tapping for two hours. I seriously think I’ve cross-eyed myself because of all the fast scrolling I’ve been doing. And the worst part is, I end up despising myself every time I binge on surfing the net. I literally would look forward all day to get home and relax after work, and then come home, and turn on my phone. The next thing I know, it’s 9:30pm and I have to start getting ready for bed.

I have been working pretty hard to minimize the excess unnecessary STUFF and have cut out those which do not add value to my life, only to realize that I am still so far from living a very meaningful life. There is plenty of room for improvement. Where I am succeeding in terms of physical clutter, I am failing in terms of mental clutter. There is so much noise around me, and I want to start focusing on cutting the fat out of that. I use the internet as a pacifier 99% of the time. Like others use Netflix, or TV or weed or chocolate or coffee, I use the internet as a crutch, a drug, a way to pass time, not even for enjoyment, but just to fill a void. Like everything else, it takes up space in my life and currently, it is using up way more space than I want it to. It’s a problem and I’d like to fix it now. My initial thought was naturally the extreme method of cutting out excess noise: Killing the internet at home. Quit cold turkey. Go big or go home. But I live with another person and that is absolutely not (“no way!”) an option. Trust me, I asked. Morals of the story here: What does not add value to your life, may add value to someone else’s, and, it is never a good idea to try and change somebody. So with plan A out of the window, I have plan B, which took shape based on a friend’s internet policy. She is way ahead of my time, and is much better at living a meaningful life than I am (*bows down*). I figure I’d start with a 30 day trial run to see if removing internet use at home would add value to my life. Here are some goals I have for reducing wasteful internet use.

  • Upon getting home, separating myself from my phone, by placing the phone in a designated space and then letting it go.
  • Putting the phone on Silent and removing Vibrate.
  • Checking email only once a day.
  • Entering Airplane mode when going to sleep.
  • Not keeping the phone on the bedside table.
  • Allowing only maximum 2 hours of Internet time per week (plenty of fun time!)
  • Making a list of things I want to watch, listen to, or look up, and setting the list aside until the designated time to use the Internet.
  • Removing notifications and phone apps

Even as I am writing this list, I am having second thoughts, doubts, and heart palpitations. I’d imagine this must be what it feels like to abstain from an addicting drug. Because that’s exactly what it is. But I should stop being a baby, quit my whining, and just do it. The worst that could happen is that I hate it, and then revert back. The best that could happen? I could start reading more, writing more, exercising more, trying more, focusing more, dreaming more, healing more, sleeping more, inspiring more, connecting more, loving more, living more.

Worth it.

If you have any suggestions at all as to how to minimize internet use or mental clutter in general, let me know! I am all ears.

Living slow, saying no

Life is a whirlwind, and that’s the simple truth. The dogma of western culture states that an individual has increased freedom with increased choice. This unquestioned thinking has led to what some describe as the paradox of choice. It is so embedded in our culture that it is difficult to stop and think that the opposite could also be true (which it is). That is, the abundance of choices may lead to an overwhelm that could rob us of true satisfaction.

I used to be a “Yes Man”. Born with a strong urge to please others and to be the most helpful I could be, I said yes to everything. I said yes to all social events even though I was introverted, I said yes to peer pressure even though I knew the difference between right and wrong, and I said yes to all projects even though I was stressed and extremely overworked. It garnered me a lot of “friendships” and “accomplishments” and many, many people liked me. But I was tired most of the time, sickly at best, and honestly dissatisfied with a lot of my relationships, including my relationship with myself. Most importantly, I did not have a very strong sense of self. I had a very deep understanding of what others wanted me to be. But I did not know what my own goals in life were, what values meant the most to me, which relationships I truly enjoyed, and what it meant to be truly successful.

Confused about what success truly meant, I said yes to a lot of ideas that were shaping my life to become what others expected of me. I bought a lot of clothes in different styles so that I could be socially accepted by different groups of people. I bought stuff just to shape an image that would be appealing to the public. I bought into the idea of getting married at a young age (at 18, I said I would be married by 21), and buying a home as soon as possible (I was planning my future home as early as 20), and having kids (by 24!). At the same time, I had planned to be a doctor by 26, I had wanted to have a large smattering of friends, and hoped to be working towards a vacation home, a dog, and even more stuff. I never thought of travel. I put my hobbies aside, or rather, discarded them completely. In order to gain this level of “success”, I had three jobs in college, stayed out late partying with random groups of people, said yes to many school events, and studied my ass off. I hardly saw my family, despite the fact that I lived at home during undergrad. I stopped being religious, which isn’t so bad because I still haven’t gone back, but when I was religious, I used to at least thank God every day, and I think a part of me stopped being grateful at that time, so that wasn’t too good. And I never took care of myself. I was sick for months at a time, because I honestly didn’t allow myself enough time to get better. Always saying yes, my life was a mess.

So in 2010, I met a boy who was living slow, and saying no. It was frustrating at first, and I couldn’t wrap my mind around why he would say no to a LOT of ideas, events, and things that a normal person would embrace. Even his movements were slow. He could be described as deliberate. Purposive. Intentional. Calculated. Most importantly, he was someone who was true to himself, and nobody else. He was also the most satisfied human being I had ever met. One day, we were eating breakfast omelettes and potatoes that cost $7 a plate, because we were still living on close to nothing, and out of the blue, I remember him saying, “You know, we are two very lucky people.” He expounded, saying we had everything we need and want, and more, and we had each other. We had things that some people never found in a lifetime. “Life is good.” I married the damn sucker.

It took forever, but he was the first and only person who ever taught me how to live slow and more importantly, say no. Over the years, I learned that time was more important than money. My work goals changed from wanting three jobs to earn money to buy stuff, to working ONE job that I had to love doing so much that it does not feel like work. I quit the librarian position I hated during dental school, which I only had to take in order to make ends meet when I was living at a conveniently located, high rise apartment in the middle of downtown LA. I moved to a small bedroom in Torrance and cut my rent from $1300 a month to $375 a month.  I got rid of clutter and stopped buying junk. I did not go out excessively, except to celebrate important occasions, and I cooked healthier meals at home. The money I saved, I used to travel the world with my partner in crime, and we learned more about ourselves and each other in the process. I started focusing on experiences and hobbies rather than social status symbols. My favorite thing to do in my teens was to hit the mall, scour the sales, and go out with friends. My biggest worries in my teens were the perception of self, and what others will say about me. My favorite thing to do now include taking classes and learning things that improve myself and increase my contribution to society, whether it be art or science. My biggest worry now is whether or not my friends and family will be safe today, whether or not other people in parts of the world are suffering, and whether or not I will do good by my patients through my work.

My relationship goals changed from saying yes to all my acquaintances or people I hardly met, to saying no unless I really, really liked you. I became selective in who I chose to hang out with, and I lost a lot of relationships along the way, but I regained a few that were more important to me anyway, and that was worth it. I learned that you shouldn’t try to change the personalities, beliefs and values of others, that changing the people around you is never a good thing. But you can still change the people around you. I cut out the excess fat. I realized that people who did not share the same values and beliefs as me only take away time from people who do. I don’t mean to say that you should cut out everyone who does not agree with your beliefs, but surround yourself with people who have the same end goal. You and your friend can vote for different presidents, but if both your end goals are to try to improve this world to become the best that it can be, it’s totally okay if the paths you take in order to do that diverge. Diversity is good, but so is working towards a common end. Now if you have a friend whose goal in life is to make someone else’s life miserable by spreading bad rumors about them, then maybe that’s not a friend I would want to keep hanging out with. And that’s just my personal preference, because it does not line up with my values and that’s okay. In return, I see my family more frequently. I built stronger, longer-lasting relationships, rather than transient relationships which last only half a decade. I have surrounded myself with a support system more focused on pushing me to become a BETTER person, rather than a more successful person.

My husband also slowed me down in my ridiculous fast speed chase of buying a home and having kids. Which gave me this opportunity to learn about myself. It gave me a whole new perspective on a way to live life in order to enjoy it most. I now have the time to take care of myself and to grow. He made me question why there is always this constant need for more. Or why there are social norms that we accept to be true. Why is there a timeline that one is expected to follow, a path that people expect you to take. What works for me, may not work for you, and vice versa. In order to live a meaningful life, I had to make room for only the things that matter. And very few things truly matter, in comparison to the abundances of choices we make every day. Some will still argue that with choice, comes freedom. Sure, it does, up to a certain extent. Kind of similar to the idea that money will buy happiness, only until your basic needs are met. Once you have food, shelter, safety, and a stable income, money has little effect on happiness. Likewise, freedom is defined by the ability to choose. However, choosing to say no to a lot of the choices offered to you will arguably give you even more freedom to fill your life with important matters and will lead to a more meaningful life as defined by individual ole you.

A call for materialism

As a society that is described as being too materialistic, I want to pose the question that maybe we are not being materialistic enough.

It’s true, in one sense of the word I suppose. We are too materialistic in that we are ingrained to habits of compulsive consumption. Too many people are trying to keep up with the Joneses, trying to buy the next “IT” thing, lining up on Black Fridays and at Apple stores. Admittedly, it was not too long ago that I did these exact same things. I remember it was a “family tradition” to go out every Black Friday with all my aunts and uncles and cousins to go on a crazy shopping spree. We would spend the entire Friday shopping until we dropped. Nightmarish at best, it was a “tradition” that we looked forward to every year. As consumers, we are caught in an absurd circle of micro trends, which are not really trends at all. These material goods are, simply put, status symbols. People line up at the Apple store with every new release of the iPhone because once a newer, “better” one is created, they no longer care about the one they have. In fact, the one they have suddenly emits a sense of dissatisfaction, a sense of unhappiness. We are confused about what will make us happy. As if the consumption of products will somehow magically add up to a satisfying life.

The definition of materialistic is as follows:

  1. Excessively concerned with physical comfort or the acquisition of wealth or material possessions rather than the spiritual, intellectual, or cultural values
  2. adhering to the philosophy of materialism, a theory that regards matter as constituting the universe and all its phenomena
Synonyms include: consumerist, acquisitive, greedy, capitalistic, bourgeois
Not exactly words I want to be associated with in general. But if you think about the philosophy of materialism, it is defined as a form of philosophical monism which holds that matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and that all things, including mental things and consciousness, are results of material interactions.
If matter is the fundamental substance in nature, and if we are truly materialistic, shouldn’t we be more concerned with the quality of our products? I’d like to ask if, maybe, the problem is that we are not being materialistic enough? We need to be true materialists, as in we need to really care about the materiality of goods. I call for an increase in materialism, which requires an invested interest in the true value of the products and materials that we purchase. It seems as if the stars aligned when “The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up” fell into my lap at about the same time I first saw the trailer for “The True Cost”. I suggest to anybody who wonders just how materialistic our society is to watch this trailer. Or better yet, the entire movie.
Something clicked and I realized, how was it ever possible to be able to buy an article of clothing for the price of $5. Companies must make a profit, materials must be paid for, so where do they cut the cost? The answer is simple and uncomplicated, albeit unfair and inhumane. Production is outsourced to poor countries with the enticing idea of enrichment. Large corporations addict these countries to the idea of uplifting their people out of poverty, which makes them stay, even when the production costs are reduced over time, enslaving their citizens into a dependency in the fashion industry. At the other end of the spectrum, distributors addict consumers such as ourselves to the idea of always faster, cheaper fashion. According to Liva Firth, “Each year across the world, 1.5 billion garments are sewn by an estimated 40 million people, working in 250,000 factories. These are predominantly made in countries described by the UN as the world’s least developed. All in all, the garment and textile industry is estimated to be worth some $3 trillion. And the bulk of that goes into the pockets of the owners of those fast fashion brands.”

 

It didn’t take much to convince me that a change has to be made. And it had to start with myself. If we are to be materialistic, then so be it. But I believe we can be materialistic while also being spiritualistic, being an intellectual and having solid cultural values. If I am to embrace the concept that matter is the fundamental substance in nature and that material interactions drive our consciousness, then those materials better be the best materials I can lay my hands on. And by best, I don’t mean coolest or most popular. I want to reach for materials that are sustainable, reusable, ethically made, and produced with care and love, not only for the consumer, but for the planet and the producers as well. I admit, it is a work in progress. It’s complicated, and also foggy at times, and it’s difficult to ask the hard questions. I have found a list of brands and companies that I support, but I am still a work in progress. At least I am progressing. And the hope is that society as a whole is also progressing towards the freedom from this cycle of need, want, now, now, now.

 

I’d like to end this post with a scenario posed by Liva Firth. If you see a car crash happen in front of you, would you stop what you’re doing to help the people involved? My answer is yes. The question is this. How far away from you does that car crash have to be for you not to help. My answer is that it has to be far enough that I cannot get there in time to be of help. Additionally, how far away from you does that car crash have to be for you not to care?

 

We are not far enough away that we are unable to help. Some may be far enough away that they simply do not care.