We are surrounded by opinions. Everybody’s got one, and they’re always about you: what you should be doing, what matters, what’s important, what makes you “cool” or “normal”.
As early as grade school, we are taught that we have expectations to live up to. That’s fine. As organisms, we tend to be pretty lazy by nature – we like things that feel good, and as children, we want to do them. So if we aren’t given boundaries and expectations, we become goof-offs. So I get it.
But somewhere along the line from grade schooler to adolescent to young adult to adult, a transition needs to take place, where we discover our own expectations for ourselves. We start determining how to live our lives. Because the social and educational structure of our society is entirely dependent on “other people’s expectations”, or OPE (yeah, you know me), we don’t learn how to make active decisions.
So we just “do” things. We don’t know why we do them – it’s just the way things are done. We’re just going with the flow in life, doing what’s expected of us so that other people think we’re normal and cool and whatever.
And what happens when we live up to OPE? Well, we’re generally broke with lots of debt. We work jobs and live lives that lead us unfulfilled. We complain about our unhappy marriages and treat our children as liabilities that we resent.
I’d argue that we’re unhappy because we’re letting life happen to us, instead of the other way around. Over the years, I’ve worked hard to live an intentional life, and while I continue to work on it (because I could be way better than I am now), I’ve noticed that the things I am intentional about – the active decisions I make in my life – have a major impact on me and those around me. Those decisions are what make me happiest and most fulfilled.
You don’t think you’re going with the flow? Take a look at the symptoms…
Symptom: You work in a job you hate because “it’s a job”, and you need the paycheck.
Why it’s hurting you: You’re unhappy for 40+ hours a week, which is way unhealthy for you.
The treatment: Find something you love and get after it. Build a business around it – the internet is an amazing resource these days.
Why you won’t do it: You think it’s an unnecessary “risk”. You have a family to provide for, after all.
Why you’re wrong: What carries more risk: building a customer base or client base where you are receiving multiple streams of income that are easily replaceable, or hanging all your income on making sure the boss likes you and the company doesn’t have a bad quarter? People get fired. Layoffs happen. They’re destructive and a part of life. When you lose a client, you might have to tighten your belt while you get another one, but your whole financial life doesn’t shatter. It mitigates risk – it doesn’t create it. And you are working happier to boot.
Symptom: You bought a house before you could afford it. Now you’re upside-down. But it’s okay, “everybody” has a house with a 30-year mortgage that they refinance 4 times.
Why it’s hurting you: You immediately have a poor relationship with your money. Money becomes a source of stress, and so does your home.
The treatment: Sell the house, pay off the balance of the sale (if you’re upside down), get a rental, and save up some money. Then, when you have a 20% down payment, find a reasonable house you can afford to pay within 15 years.
Why you won’t do it: You’re “building equity”! It’s the “adult thing to do”! Because you “should” have a house.
Why you’re wrong: Basic teaching-kids-about-money lesson here – if you can’t afford to buy something, then you shouldn’t have it. You don’t have the money for a house. That equity does you absolutely no good when all you do with it is get more debt. That’s not the point of getting a house. Being house-poor is one of the lousiest decisions that impatient married couples make.
Symptom: You’re a slave to brands and price tags – you must have this brand of paper towel, this type of cleaner, this type of dishwashing detergent, and so on. If the prices go up on these things, you are stuck paying the bill. You also find yourself saying, “I wish they still made [insert product name here], but I can’t find it anywhere…”
Why it’s hurting you: You’re always buying more. It’s exactly what companies want you to do. It’s not about making a product that does a good job – it’s about making a product that you think does a good job and you’re willing to pay out the nose for it. Every other week, you have to pick up another bottle of whatever or another pack of stupid stuff just to use up in a couple weeks and throw out the container for more. It’s wasteful and expensive.
The treatment: Start making your own cleaning supplies. Think it’s expensive and time consuming? With about 4-5 different main materials (Borax, washing soda, vinegar, dish soap, and water – you can get all of this for less than $10) and 1.5 hours of my time, I made dishwashing detergent, rinse agent for the dishwasher, laundry detergent, a shower scrubber, reusable dryer sheets, a bleach gel pen, and an all-purpose surface cleaner. All of these will last us well over a month and beyond, and I have tons of leftover materials. And they work just as well as anything we’ve purchased.
Why you won’t do it: It doesn’t do as “good” of a job in your mind, because you can’t smell the chemicals working. You “don’t have time” to do that.
Why you’re wrong: As you’ll see, you can spare the time. Besides, the cost savings alone winds up being well worth your time in the long run, doesn’t it? And vinegar does most general disinfecting work just fine. Want a little more protection? Throw a little bleach in there. Works just as well as any commercial stuff. And you’ll waste a lot less with your reusable containers.
Symptom: You think the internet is a wasteland of your time, outside of Facebook.
Why it’s hurting you: Because there is so much out there to learn, and the internet has given a voice to basically everyone. While that’s not always a good thing, there are lots of great resources out there.
The treatment: I’ve banged this drum before – get a Google Reader account and start subscribing to a few blogs. Even Pinterest is great for learning a lot about cooking, repurposing stuff, and saving money.
Why you won’t do it: Because blogs are “stupid”, and you think everything online is a dumb YouTube video or an old LiveJournal account.
Why you’re wrong: Because I’ve used the internet to build a business, learn to cook, cut expenses like crazy, make more money, and generally be a better human being.
Symptom: You spend way too much money on clothing.
Why it’s hurting you: Because you’re broke. Also, because the clothes you’re buying fall apart faster than ever.
The treatment: Start looking at online sources. You’d be surprised. Many major brands are on Amazon these days (that’s where I buy my jeans now – affiliate link). If you’re a guy, I highly recommend Everlane and Frank & Oak. You’ll spend a few bucks more, yes, but those pieces will last you ten years because they’re made to be better. I also highly recommend The Tie Bar, because ties are a dime a dozen anyway. Save up a couple months and do your shopping there. Women have even more options than men.
Why you won’t do it: Because you don’t know what you’re buying, and you’re painfully worried about the sizing.
Why you’re wrong: There are plenty of reviews of everything online, so just Google around to see other people’s feedback. Also, most online stores have a size chart of some kind to give you a better idea. Plus, they’ll usually have free size exchanges or something like that to help you take care of the problem without added expense. And in the long run, you’ll look better and save money.
Symptom: You have “no time”.
Why it’s hurting you: You’re exchanging your money for convenience instead. It’s at the heart of all your problems – why you won’t make stuff or cook or build something.
The treatment: Turn off the TV – even just once a week. My wife and I have instituted a policy in our house called “No TV Tuesdays”. This means that, after dinner, the TV is off for the rest of the night. Instead, we’ll play a game together or whatever to be productive and spend time together, instead of spending time next to each other. In your average night, you’re probably watching 1-3 hours of television. Keep a log and pay attention. Even if you cut out one of those nights, you can be really productive.
Why you won’t do it: I’ve “earned” that break! “I don’t want to miss [insert stupid show name here]!”
Why you’re wrong: Again, you’ll save money. But besides that, who says it won’t be fun to do something else? Building stuff is fun. For me, cooking is fun. Learning something new is fun. Lots of things are more fun than you think. You’ll have more control over your time. Besides, you can DVR that show and watch it later, or on Hulu or whatever. It’ll still be there.
Symptom: You won’t pick up a book because reading is “boring”.
Why it’s hurting you: You’re not growing, intellectually. That’s an important part of being a contributing member of society.
The treatment: Get a Kindle. Join Goodreads. Join PaperbackSwap. Go to the library. Do something involving books, is what I’m saying. And get ones that you’ll be interested in.
Why you won’t do it: I “don’t have time to read!” “Reading is boring!”
Why you’re wrong: Yup, reading is boring, if you just read stuff that bores you. Pick genres you like. If you like that Twilight crap, there is literally a Paranormal Teen Romance section at Barnes & Noble now. History books are my thing – I love exciting, true stories of the human condition. Fiction is booming. There are tons of books to read. Flip off the TV (with the remote, not your finger) and pick up the book. Read for 15 minutes before you go to bed. Do anything.
Symptom: Your method of disagreeing with someone is to shout your opinion louder than them.
Why it’s hurting you: People don’t like you. You become expendable in certain circles (like work, remember?). Your social life takes a hit.
The treatment: Listen. Hear what somebody else is saying. Put yourself in their shoes. Learn how to disagree without preaching at somebody or getting angry. You’re both entitled to your opinion.
Why you won’t do it: “BECAUSE THEY’RE WRONG. I CAN’T LET THEM BE WRONG.”
Why you’re wrong: a)Why not? So they’re wrong. So what? b)You’re not hearing them. I’m not saying you have to think that everybody is right all the time. Far from it. But what I am saying is that you want respect, so you need to dish it out too. It makes you a more agreeable person, which benefits you socially and professionally.
Symptom: You’re depressed and stressed about the state of the world we live in.
Why it’s hurting you: It leads to more arguments and more worrying.
The treatment: Turn off the freaking news. With 24-hour news cycles, both online and off, news sources aren’t reporting news anymore. They’re just taking mundane stories and sensationalizing them, or they’re making it up just to have something to say. 99% of the time, they’re just drawing attention to stuff that has been happening forever and, while often tragic and sad, is nothing new (Nancy Grace, I’m looking at you).
Why you won’t do it: “I need to be informed!”
Why you’re wrong: No, you really don’t. Your life doesn’t change because some kid was kidnapped walking to school the other day. Is that a horrible tragedy? You bet. But it’s not your kid. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t care about the story or pray for the family members who are suffering. But that stuff doesn’t happen nearly as often as it used to. Just because it happened once doesn’t mean it’s going to happen to everybody. An asteroid exploded over Russia and killed people. Terrible tragedy? Yup. But I’m not going to live in my basement for the rest of my life now. That’s called “overreacting”, kids.
Symptom: All your conversations revolve around your complaints about stuff – your health, politics, the economy, your job, your kids, your wife, etc.
Why it’s hurting you: Um, who wants to listen to you bitch all the time?
The treatment: Look on the bright side of things, and take an active role in improving the stuff that bothers you. Let go of the rest of it.
Why you won’t do it: Because it’s your life, and everything sucks.
Why you’re wrong: Everything doesn’t suck. Your attitude does, though. There was a time when adults were faced with things that sucked and you know what they did? They rolled up their sleeves and fixed the problem. Then they moved on. If today, you are wearing clothes, are getting paid to do something, ate a meal, drove a car, have a family to come home to, and live in a country where you can openly criticize politicians without getting your legs broken, then be thankful. You’re way ahead of a lot of people in this world.
Symptom: You’re fat and unhealthy.
Why it’s hurting you: Do I have to say it?
The treatment: Start eating healthier. Eat crappy foods in moderation. Get up and do something active a few times a week.
Why you won’t do it: “I have bad genes/don’t have time to exercise/can’t afford to eat healthy.”
Why you’re wrong: You may or may not have bad genes, but you can beat them into submission by working at it. You do have the time, you just don’t do it. Schedule a time to work out and stick to it. And eating healthy is amazingly affordable these days. Stick to the outer edges of your supermarket and avoid the inside aisles. If you know a thing or two about cooking, you can save a lot of money.
Symptom: You sit around, wishing you could travel more.
Why it’s hurting you: There’s a great, big world out there! Lots of people to meet, food to eat, and culture to discover!
The treatment: Start carving out a few bucks to do it. Draw a line in your budget to save $25 a month (or whatever) into a separate savings account for vacations and then don’t touch it. Suddenly, it’s going to build. With the dawn of travel hacking, there are plenty of ways to save money while traveling.
Why you won’t do it: “We can’t afford it and I can’t get off of work!”
Why you’re wrong: Basically, the bigger the trip, the more time you need to spend planning it. Living somewhere else for a few days generally won’t cost you a whole lot more than where you live now. Great services like AirBNB allow you to find budget accommodations (we used this in Europe quite a bit). Our Europe trip was huge – 2.5 weeks away going from city to city and experiencing as much as possible. Some people looked at us and said, “Oh, it must be nice.” What they didn’t see is that we literally spent two years planning that trip. A lot of time and energy went into it, and it paid off.
Symptom: You’re overspending on technology.
Why it’s hurting you: Again, like the house, you’re expected to have certain pieces of technology, and you keep having to replace it every other year.
The treatment: Learn more about your tech and how you use it. The vast majority of consumers are lured by marketing campaigns into thinking they need features that are completely overkill for what they actually need.
Why you won’t do it: “Everybody has one! I’m a creative person so I need one too!”
Why you’re wrong: Some people probably should have a Mac. But you probably don’t. What most people need is a glorified web browser. Any basic computer can handle 90% of what you’re planning on doing with it. You also probably don’t need that unlimited cell phone plan either. Look at your last bill and see how much you used in minutes, texts, and data. You probably could switch to Ting Mobile and save about $300 a year or so (and yes, that includes the cost of the phone). Quit assuming that you need unlimited everything and the best machines and start looking closely at what exactly you are using. The savings here are astronomical.
Do you have any experience in living intentionally? When did you start, and what pushed you there? Any tips?