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.
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 things that are 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?
Maybe if we show them low interest rates they won’t think twice about borrowing tens of thousands of dollars for school/cars/homes?
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 skill. 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 care 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. If 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 to 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.