If you’re tired of always losing, stop playing the game

19 Comments

A few weeks ago, I shared how the economic downturn is affecting my city (and myself!). I was surprised by the number of commenters that are also from Calgary that agreed they’ve noticed the city seems more adversely affected than the news is reporting.

One thing people keep complaining about here is the price of gas. Nevermind that literally tens of thousands of people are unemployed, gas expensive. Every day the price of oil seems to fall to all new lows, but the price at the pump stays the same or even increases. People are outraged. You can see it in the comments on every article published by a major newspaper about the price of oil or the recession: “Oil falls 60% but I’m still paying $1.25/L for gas??!” followed by some complaints about the NDP or Prime Minister Harper, depending on their political leanings.

Holy shit, people. Why do you care about the price of gas?

I’ll tell you why: because you commute more than 1.5 hours each day to a job you don’t even like that you might lose in the next few months.

Your car is leased and you own an over-priced house with utility bills and property taxes increase every year. You keep filling your house with junk because you hate to leave the walls bare and you just love that you have so much room for “storage” now. Whenever you get down about how much your life costs you to live, you buy yourself token status symbols like watches, jewelry, clothes, electronics, and sports equipment to reassure yourself that you’ve “made it” and let everyone else know how well you’re holding it together. You care about the price of gas because you can’t afford not to. Every extra penny at the pump means everything else becomes just that much more uncertain. Can you afford an extra $50/mo in transportation costs? I have no idea, how susceptible is your budget to prices set by people that don’t care about you at all? 

To add insult to injury, you probably have credit card debt. You’re definitely still carrying student loan debt. It doesn’t bother you one bit that you’re paying for college campus beers you bought five years ago because you never think about it that way. “That was for my education”, you say, and then you feed yourself the narrative that your education was such a great investment to get you the job you now have that let you afford the house you now own and the car you need to ferry yourself between the two.

This narrative is stupid.

People don’t like to hear that because they think it means “your life is stupid”. It doesn’t. It just means you’re doing some stupid things. It’s ok, we all do. I probably have at least 9 stupid decisions on the go right now, but I’m bound to stop at least 7 of them once I re-examine the situation. We’re all buying into our personal narrative, but we rarely stop and ask,

“is this really the story of my life?”

There is a 100% chance you are distracted from the life you’re supposed to be living by trivial shit that’s getting in your way.

For example, the price of gas and not the personal and financial cost of commuting 1.5 hours per day. I’m no conspiracy theorist, but sometimes it feels like there’s just someone out there saying:

“If we can keep them distracted with something as inconsequential as actual pennies at the gas pump, maybe they won’t notice that Canada is in a recession?

or

Maybe if we show them low interest rates they won’t think twice about borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for school/cars/homes?

or

Maybe if we promise them a 3% raise they won’t get upset that your CEO will take home $3 million this year?”

Sometimes I get the feeling that people would live authentic lives if only Keeping Up With The Kardashians wasn’t on tv.

Instead, we spend a lot of time watching other people live their lives instead of going out and living our own. I’m a total sucker for MasterChef but even I acknowledge that for every hour I indulge myself watching that show each week, all I’m really watching is someone else doing exactly what they’re meant to be doing instead of spending that same hour that way for myself. God, it’s tragic when you look at it that way, isn’t it? I’m not giving up my Wednesday night MasterChef addiction but I will tell you I’m not adding any more shows to my tv time.

How much of your time is devoted to you?

I mean really devoted to you: improving your health, happiness, and impact on the world? Heads up: it’s not the 8 hours you spend at work each day, or your 1.5 hour commute, or your 3 hours of TV-watching every evening. It’s not your sleep, because you’re not even conscious then so obviously that doesn’t count.

It is the hours you spend connecting with your friends and family. It’s every minute you spend at the gym or meditating. It is the moments when you read quietly for pleasure or feel inspired to create something meaningful or whenever you teach yourself a new skills. It’s every time you have the opportunity to help someone in a transformative way. Those are your hours. The rest belong to someone else.

If you change your perspective and behavior you don’t have to play the game.

One of the reasons I don’t give a shit about the price of gas was because I don’t drive to work. It could double and the impact on my budget would be absolutely $0. That’s not to say I don’t drive my car, because I do, but I drive it on my own schedule to do my own things to help myself — not someone else, like my employer. I feel powerful in this position, because here is something terrible happening (ie. high gas prices) that affects virtually everyone else in a negative way but I remain untouched. It’s like being a little kid playing a game and standing in the safe-zone. Can’t touch me! Na-na-na!

It makes me want to experience this untouchable security in every single aspect of my life.

Layoffs at work? Doesn’t matter, I have multiple income streams. Interest rates increase? Don’t care, I don’t have any debt. Even less consequential things leave me unscathed: Keeping up with fashion trends? Probably for people who don’t wear the same thing every day. Can’t afford the new iPhone/iMac/iWatch? Who cares, I get 3-5 years (or more) out of all my electronics.

I’m not saying never buy anything, but I am saying don’t buy things that keep you tethered to someone else’s plans for you.

The government, your employer, every marketing firm in existence, they all want to keep you in a buy-happy trance. One where you know you have to keep buying and that just to keep up. And you whole-heartedly believe that if you don’t follow their rules you will end up a big fat loser. After all, who doesn’t put 5% down on a home, drive a car with an underwater loan, and work 40-hours per week hoping for annual raises so they can afford it all? Losers. Then they’ll tell you winners put 10%, drive a fancier car, and work 60 hours per week for bonuses to make it all ok.

But they’re lying to you, don’t listen.

You don’t have to win. You don’t even have to play.


19 Comments

  1. Reading this article kind of feels like being beaten up in a bar fight or something and I don’t even qualify for most of the things you just told me I was stupid for.

    Don’t even try to convince me you’re not playing to win – you’re just playing a slightly different game 🙂

    All that said, good advice!

  2. Spot on! Last year I started my new job, which came with the added benefit of converting my 45 minute driving commute into an 11 minute walk. I was spending $50 a week (even with car pooling). Beyond saving the cash on gas, walking to work is a absolute pleasure…even at 30 below! I bought good snow pants, boots and I could handle anything the True North could through at me. I feel even better about my choice in the rain and the snow…tests my mettle!

    Often people offer me a ride after work….and when I refuse, they look at me and ask “are you sure?”…like I walk because I can’t afford to drive and they feel sorry for me. I just smile and thank them for their generosity and remind them that I choose to walk. At $1.20 a litre, I feel sorry for THEM!

    I haven’t sold my car yet….but I’m getting close to pulling that trigger. Time to remove the safety net!

    • Bridget Casey (Author)

      ahhh I always get the pitiful looks that I must be poor because I take the bus.

      My fiance and I share a car but why would I pay $200/mo for parking if I can spend $100/mo on a bus pass for the same length of commute?

      Choosing not to drive to work is one of the most liberating positions to be in.

    • Cars are losing their place in the world. We’ve evolved so a lot of people no longer require them. North American cities are being built more better for bicycle and light rail transportation. Heck, even Uber or Lyft is really reducing my ‘need’ for a car. I’ve been thinking of selling it for a few months now. I LOVE the car but it’s turning more from a need to a want. I don’t want too many wants in my life. If that makes sense.

  3. Two things here hit me like a ton of bricks.

    First of all, oh my god someone else wears the same thing every day to work! This was the absolute best decision I ever made but it’s so rare to find other women who have done it, even in the start-up space. Isn’t it wonderful not even thinking about whether you’re wearing “the right outfit”? I’m still not over how much I love this decision.

    Secondly, the Masterchef thing. Whoa. You are so right that it’s an hour of watching other people do exactly what they’re meant to do, and that really hit me, as a die-hard Masterchef fan. (This week, with the past champs returning? I’m SO excited.) Like you, I probably (definitely) won’t stop watching, but it was just such a good point that landed so hard. Thank you for that – it’s going to stick in my head as I look at the fall TV lineup and really critically look at what I want to spend my time on.

  4. Susan

    I stopped complaining about the price of gas once it reached $1.48?L in St. John’s when I was in university. Given that Newfoundland was an oil rich province in 2007, that was a tough pill to swallow and I was driving a two door 1999 Sunfire that cost anywhere from $60 to $70 to fill up depending on how long I left it. But, ant the end of the day, companies still need to make money or they aren’t going to weather the current economic climate.
    I’m lucky that I’m only indirectly affected by the current situation and if something happens, I’m a big planner so I have about five back-up plans. I don’t have a lucrative side hustle (it’s another plan I’m working on) but I have an emergency fund that could sustain me until something else comes up and I’m not married to staying in Newfoundland (or Canada for that matter).
    Good read 🙂

  5. Natalie

    I had similiar conversation with my husband about gas prices. He complained the gas went up to 1.13 dollar per litre. Then i showed him the math, presumably he consumed about 40 littres of gas every week or (based on his current consumption). 40*1.13 = 45.2 dollars. When the gas price is cheap, let say 95 cents, 40*0.95 = 38 dollars. That’s about 7.2 dollars difference per week. If we both can’t afford this gas price hike per week we are in deep trouble. People complain about gas prices go up, but gas is necessity for commuting, like you mentioned in the article, if they can’t afford it, means that they haven’t take a really hard look at the numbers, 7.2 dollars per week, and how many take out coffees we are buying per week? how many take outs we ate per week? it’s all perspective when you put things in black and white numbers.

    • Bridget Casey (Author)

      “People complain about gas prices go up, but gas is necessity for commuting”

      It’s a necessity for commuting based on the other choices you’ve made: where you live, what type of job you do, etc. What I’m trying to say in the article is if you make different choices, you are no longer vulnerable to outside forces capsizing your budget.

      You have no control over the price of gas. You do have control of where you live and how you get to work.

  6. Jessica

    I’m a long time reader and I just wanted to say that your post recently (last couple of months really) have gotten a very high and mighty vibe going on. I appreciate your brutal honesty but it been a while since you have talked about how you are personally growing or learning or trying new things. Its all about how my (the reader) life is so crappy. I don’t drive, I don’t have debt, or have a mortgage, but yet I feel like I’ve just been yelled at.
    So what if someone drives a 15 min commute? That doesn’t mean they have an over priced house, and flashy cars, and watches and are lighting their pay cheques on fire.
    People complain about gas the same way people complain about the weather. Its not really affecting their lives, its just something to talk about in the elevator.

  7. I have to say that some advice you left in here has seriously struck me. This line in particular: “…all I’m really watching is someone else doing exactly what they’re meant to be doing instead of spending that hour that way for myself.” When I was at the gym yesterday and I hit that wall (you know, that wall where you’re ready to just kind of finish quickly and get out of there) – I thought about this. 20 more minutes at the gym serves as 20 more minutes focusing on my health, my body, my mental stimulation. I want to thank you for this little pick me up. It’s encouraging to keep partaking in activities that expand my mind (even though I get made fun of at work because I enjoy reading books, and can’t contribute to any conversations about the latest TV shows). It’s worth it and allows me to fully focus on myself which in turn creates stronger & healthier relationships with my family, friends, and significant other. Thank you, Bridget!

    • Bridget Casey (Author)

      Thanks Alyssa <3 nice to hear something positive came out of a post where I think I probably came across too strong... haha

  8. I agree with most of this – it’s all about striking a balance. We all have to make sacrifices for the life we want. The choices you have made allow you to avoid the stress of a change in gas prices.

    However, it may not be fair to lambaste people for owning a house (a house they can’t afford? Yes.) or for complaining about the price of gas, just because it differs from the life you chose.

    Fuel prices spill over to other aspects of life beyond commuting. As you mention, you drive, but on your own terms. That still requires gas. Higher fuel costs equal higher plane ticket costs, or higher bus ticket costs, or higher cruise ship costs . . . higher transportation costs in general. My personal opinion is it is a valid concern that fuel prices continue to rise while oil prices continue to drop. While it may not affect you individually, it has a major impact on the overall economy, which I think should be a concern to us all. And, it DOES impact everyone in a number of indirect ways. Higher food prices due to higher transportation costs, for example.

    However, I DO agree with the premise of your post. We are so wasteful and material as a culture in general. People pride themselves on what they own instead of what they do with their lives or how they can better the world. Completely backwards. As you say, if people can shift their priorities away from what society expects them to do, we would all be better off!

    -DP

  9. Love this, you are so right about all of it. One of the best decisions we have ever made is choosing to downsize to a smaller home. Absolutely everything costs less for upkeep, and as an added bonus we can now walk to the grocery store, bank, post office, park, dentist office, etc. Thanks to this one decision, we are on our way to being debt free very soon!!

  10. Right on! The modern day consumerist frenzy is a fool’s game. Accumulate, impress others, and repeat. What an effective way to waste one’s life! What do you have to show for it in the end, and I mean THE end? Nada.

  11. “I’m really watching is someone else doing exactly what they’re meant to be doing instead of spending that same hour that way for myself.”

    Yes when you say it this way it sure does hurt. Yet its so hard to convince yourself to be more productive when you feel your already running on nothing but steam. But even a little of ground work will improve the situation so an effort should still be made.

    Also I have to disagree with you on the sleep part not being your time. Or that it’s not for your benefit. Whether your a parent or a night shift worker there are many ways you can suffer from a lack of sleep because you give away that time to others. So prioritizing sleep over another TV show is absolutely making time for yourself. Not a doctor myself but I though it was a consensus that sleep is very important, its the glue that hold it all together. Taking away to much of your sleeping hrs to do other stuff will surely impact your health, learning and life negatively. So just because your not conscious doesn’t mean your mind isn’t working to prep you for the coming day.

    All in all great post

  12. Bridget – I love this article. Yes, slight punch of reality as other people have mentioned, but I love the strong message of the importance of accountability. More than anything, I took from it you highlighting the need to be consciously aware of what you’re choosing for your own life (which, of course, will look different for everyone). We’re huge fans of that in the community I run.
    Brilliant.