The Pursuit of Stuff

I saw a book in my counselor’s office last winter that was fairly eye-opening. It was a book published by UCLA researchers who studied 32 homes and families in the L.A. area. The book is titled Life at Home in the 21st Century, and here’s an article about the study.

Flipping through the book actually caused me some anxiety. Seeing photo after photo of rooms jammed full of stuff left me stressed. Good thing I was in my counselor’s waiting room. That’s not the type of thing that usually bothers me. In this case it did.

Part of it was thinking about how it would feel to live a life in pursuit of stuff. Chasing that next object for fulfillment, seeking approval with a gift, needing to finance a house full of items only to run out of room and restart the cycle in a bigger house.

I definitely enjoy buying gifts for my family. I definitely have some things that I treasure. The bass guitar I bought my senior year in high school, that I took to Hollywood with me, is one of my few possessions that I would hate to lose. But even then, it wouldn’t be ruinous to lose it. I will always have those memories.

I also think it is important to have a bookcase full of books. Having something tangible to read is different and I think it matters on some level. My kindle is cool but I regularly read a real book.

One of the factors in the study was dual-income households. Those seem to be fading these days, either by choice or the failing economy. The upside of that may be less of a focus on stuff and more of a focus on things that matter. We’ll see.

On a side note, seeing this book was one of the sources of inspiration that sent me back to school. After seeing the book that showed the study and findings, I felt intrigued and excited. I told my counselor I read it in the waiting room and that I would love to a study like that. He said he could see me doing a project like that as well.

The article mentioned a lack of research on this area, which is a shame in my opinion. With the pace of life, consumerism, and technology in the modern age, studying how these conditions impact our lives is paramount. Even more so with children in the home. Everything we do in front of them we are setting the standards for them; how they will live, think, behave, and view their worlds and the people around them. They will carry those lessons – good and bad – to the next generation.

Hopefully you will read the article and ponder the study. It may even have as much of an impact on you as it did me. Maybe if we’re lucky, there will be more studies on this important subject in the future.

Mid-40s reboot: It’s great (and scary) pursuing my passion

I began taking classes at Portland State University this Spring Term. On my first day of school I walked past the History Department and I was flooded with a memory of walking by that door in 1997, looking at the books written by PSU history profs sitting proudly in the glass case, and thinking:

“It would be awesome to get a degree in history.” And while thinking that I felt a longing in my gut. But then I would walk by to my business classes.

I think that’s what’s called “intuition”. When people say “follow your heart”, that’s what they mean.

But I didn’t. And that was 1997, and now it’s 2016, so here I am, rectifying something that maybe should have been done 20 years ago.

Coulda, woulda, shoulda.

Walking to my first class at PSU in late March 2016 there were so many conflicts in my head and heart.

What the hell am I doing here? I should be at work in some office. But I’m unemployed and those office jobs are like the mythical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Will I be able to get a job after this, or am I only wracking up a shit-ton of student debt?

Sitting in class for the first time was exciting and weird. I had already met the professor, because I’d met with her in her office a few weeks previous to talk about the history program. I’ve already spent more time meeting with the History faculty than I ever did when I was a business major. Back then I was already in my mid-20s and changing gears after deciding being a professional musician wasn’t panning out they way I wanted it to.

Back then I had a lot of ground to make up, or so I told myself. Since I’d been out of high school for 5 years I had to relearn math at Mt. Hood Community College and get myself up to college level. Taking 16-20 credits per term and working didn’t leave a lot of time for soul-searching. I was on a mission. While there was enjoyment during that time, when you’re on a mission like that, it’s often difficult to convince yourself to take a breath and evaluate what’s happening.

In any case, I’ve done well with my business degree, and managed to get a minor in sociology at the same time, and I regard those sociology classes as some of my favorite.

It’s been quite a confluence of events that have led me here. More than I could write here, at least just with one post. And I’m just beginning this journey and who knows how it will evolve. I have research papers to complete that are beyond the level and depth of any I’ve ever written before and I have so much to learn and internalize… holy shit. I took myself out of one world and planted myself in another and it’s completely different. The rules are different, expectations are different, values are different, and more that I haven’t even considered yet.

I’ve already had to remind myself (and speak with my counselor) about balancing how to enjoy this experience, while staying focused and working towards a positive outcome. It’s one thing to “enjoy the ride” but hey, I have a family to provide for and a very loving, supportive wife who is working her ass off! I still have to get a job when I’m done.

And how cool is it that my kids are bragging in school “my dad is learning German!”

Pursuing your passion? Alright. Here I am. Conditions in my life have put me in a position to re-evalute and potentially reboot myself. Folks with spiritual tendencies have said that those conditions were done on purpose to lead me here. More practical folks would say that things happened and I’m just making lemonade out of lemons. One man’s confirmation bias is another’s higher self pointing out the correct path. I choose to think the spiritual path has a bit more credence in this case.

Either way my counselor always says you do not grow as a person unless you go through some shit. Being comfortable and happy and relaxed doesn’t lead you towards growth, unfortunately. It’s the struggle and the challenge that force you to see what you’re made of and get a little closer towards the person you’re meant to be.

No matter what I have an amazing wife and children who love me, and a whole host of family and friends who I am blessed to know and care for.

Adversity forges empowerment & confidence

I wish you could go to a seminar and learn how to be “empowered”.

Empowerment and confidence aren’t things you can be taught. Unfortunately, those only come with experience or wisdom.

Sure – going to a class, a seminar, or hearing a pastor preach – those are all good ways to spend your time. You’ll probably walk out energized and ready to change. Some of it may even last the next day, or the day after.

You can hear lessons about those concepts, watch examples of behavior that demonstrates those ideals, but it won’t be internalized. If it was that easy, we’d just have to watch a movie, read a good book, or watch others struggle, and then we’d learn those lessons ourselves and be able to live them.

Try listening to a woman communicate the pain of childbirth, a combat veteran battling PTSD, or anyone else who has lived through pain or suffering. They can (and will) attempt to impart their experiences to you. The wise and mature people among us will try to listen and glean what they can from those experiences, though, unfortunately, it’s not the same as experiencing them yourself.

You want to be “empowered” or feel “confident”? Take a risk that pushes you into uncomfortable territory (but that maintains your values). When you feel the fear and the doubts and the pain, that’s when you check your values and your intuition. That will be tested, over and over, because real growth isn’t something you just wake up and have. It’s something that is forged from adversity.

Going through the challenges and adversity, facing your fears, experiencing the struggle, those are the ways that you learn those lessons. Picking yourself up, dealing with the emotions and the darkness, seeking help, examining yourself and your weaknesses, those are the ways you earn confidence.

Seeking comfort is probably one of the most basic human conditions. We want safety, protection, love. However, picking the easy path, the comfortable path, often doesn’t challenge us. Over the years you might find yourself bored, getting “soft”, or feeling unfulfilled. You might be thinking “is this it?”

Be careful what you wish for…

If you want these for yourself, your kids, the ones who matter, then let them fall. Be there for support and solace, but they must face their fears. They have to pick themselves up.

And if you pick them up, you are denying them the opportunity to do it themselves, and they’ll never know they can do it. 

Lessons and wisdom come from many places, sources, and struggles. We all have the capacity to face them, endure, and come out better and more complete.

It’s a path we are all on, in some form or another.

Live a fulfilling life by defining your values

I just finished a book called “The Happiness Trap: How to Stop Struggling and Start Living: A Guide to ACT” by Russ Harris. My counselor recommended that I read it about 2 years ago. It’s an extremely helpful book.

We often say “I just want to be happy”, or, “I want my kids to be happy”. Those are true statements, but I think they need to be modified slightly. I think what we really mean, or should be saying, is that we want to live “fulfilling” or “meaningful” lives. And, we want our kids, friends, and families to live “fulfilling” and “meaningful” lives.

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