A Guide to Personal Choice
One of the greatest, yet most underrated parts of being alive is the free and continuous ability to choose. Our society claims to promote the freedom of choice by emphasizing individuality. Yet the more time I spend paying attention to what goes on, the more it seems to me that most people are bounded by various sets of unwritten and unspoken rules. Many people seem to think that they can "choose" to do anything so long as they go to a four year college and major in a high-paying field, get a high-paying job where they must work grueling hours, marry and have children by age 30, live in the best school district, pay for their children's college and have a 3,000 square foot house. None of this matters.
It's true. We don't really have to do anything. Nobody is compelled to do any of the things on that tedious list. And sad as it is, I know so many people who define themselves simply by how many things they can check off the list. Personally, I strive everyday to examine my own choices and determine if I'm doing what I want and what makes me happy, or if I'm doing what I'm "supposed" to do. I have more ideas than should probably be fit into one blog post, but I'll share some fundamental ones here.
#1: Money Does Not Disappear
I have heard media outlets, friends, colleagues and random people on the street all claim that their hard earned paychecks are vanishing before their eyes. Just for fun, I just Googled the very dramatic phrase "middle class under siege" to see what would come up. There were lots of hits, including this video from USA Today. My point is, if we were to take the media at it's word, we would believe that we are all doomed to destitute futures unless you happen to be the heir to a great trust fund. This argument is foolish at best.
Back to reality. As I said earlier, we all have a say in our own lives and we all get to make choices when it comes to deciding what to buy. Some of us, myself included, don't always make the best choices. For example, according to my awesome financial tracker, Mint.com, less than half of the money that I spent on food last year came from groceries! The rest I spent at restaurants, coffee shops and fast food restaurants! Embarrassingly, I spent $4,000 between those three categories alone.
This is just one simple example of wasteful spending, but $4,000 on anything in a year is a lot of money! Clearly this money did not just float away; I spent it! I could go into further details about my wasteful spending, but I don't really think that it's necessary to prove my point. If I were to simply sacrifice Starbucks, Subway and weekly trips to my favorite restaurants, I would be $4,000 richer by the end of this year!
#2: It Is Okay to Leave the Car at Home
One of my biggest pet peeves is hearing people say "uhh parking is just terrible there, I'm not going" or anything that suggests cars and parking lots enable the collective survival of our species. Until around 1900, cars didn't even exist! If you wanted to get anywhere, you had to walk, bike or maybe take public transportation of some kind. But today, we seem to think that it is necessary to live in car dominated suburbs where sprawl is king. Many people express sheer outrage at being asked to walk a distance of a quarter mile!
For the most part, we are as a species blessed with the gift of mobility. Most of us have legs that we can use to walk down the street or to pedal a bicycle. Yet we choose instead to sit inside of large metal boxes with rubber wheels that pollute the air, make us fat and occasionally kill us or others in their paths. There is really nothing wrong with leaving the car in the McMansion garage and going for a walk instead. End rant.
#3: It Is Okay to Unplug
This is another huge point of contention between the rest of the world and me, particularly amongst us Millennials. Many of us think it is critical to be constantly connected to our iPhones, tablets, laptops and smart watches. Many of our parents check emails incessantly throughout the night, long after they have left the office. Many of us become so absorbed in our digital lives that we miss out on what is happening all around us.
News Flash: screens are not alive. No matter how much you love and cherish your iPhone, it will never love you back. Your email doesn't know when you are reading it, but your spouse and children do. Many of us are willing to sacrifice the beautiful moments of our lives in order to appease and placate our digital alter egos. But none of that really matters. What is the purpose of your life if you are willing to let it be directed by your technology rather than your experiences?
I challenge you to shut off your phone, close your computer and ignore your emails for an hour or two every day. I bet you will find that they are the same as they were when you left them. And maybe you'll even have the chance to connect with a real and meaningful person in your life.
These are just some of my random and somewhat scattered thoughts about life, but they are all tied together by a common purpose. It is okay to challenge the majority and it is okay to try something different. If we all focused on what made us happy rather than what we believed we should do, the world that we live in might be a much better place.