How many times have you heard the story about the couple that moves to the San Fransisco Bay Area (Or the DC Metro, or any other area with an exploded housing market) because they “liked the weather” or “enjoyed the people” or “really wanted to live the city life”? A few short months later, crushed by the cost of living, life outside of work turns out to be a steady diet of Eggo waffles and strawberry Poptarts with Friday night dates to Chipotle budgeted in.
Or how about the one about the girl who takes the salary job she thought was a perfect fit. Great benefits. Coworkers seemed nice enough. At least not openly hostile… But after working 70 hours a week for six months, her life on the outside has become a starving corpse, unaccustomed to sunlight, and replete with anti-social tendencies.
Or the one about the guy who finances $200,000 for law school with federal loans, even though he will most likely make somewhere around 50-60k a year in the very likely case he doesn’t get picked up by a large firm?
These stories may be caricatures of reality, but they represent a very real problem: People being a willing accomplice to their own suffocation.
I get it. Sometimes you gotta make ends meet. Sometimes you have to do what has to be done to put the Taco Bell Doritos Locos Tacos on the table. But maybe, just maybe, you’ve woken up from what felt like a living nightmare with a cold sweat like blood and asked yourself “How did I get here?” Maybe you had a realization, that the life you were living was suffocating you.
The Only Thing You Can Control is Yourself
Someone once told me that chances are, no amount of protesting, Facebook posting, wailing in the streets, or tearing of cloth will ever change as much as the color of the tie the President chooses to wear tomorrow. This may sound like the slogan of the defeatist, but it’s actually the exact opposite. Once you quit expending time and energy trying to move gargantuan mechanisms in your favor, you can focus on finding mechanisms that will work for you.
Consider the options of the couple who lives in the Bay Area from the example above: Let’s say they are paying $2,450 for a one bedroom apartment, with 100 dollars of wiggle room after bills and expenses every month. What do they do? They could post on Facebook about how high the cost of living is. They could advocate for rent control. They could argue with their more affluent friends about how they’re privileged.
(And I don’t say this lightly…)
They could leave.
They could refuse to participate in a system that is suffocating them. They could find somewhere where they can keep more of their own money and enjoy a more balanced lifestyle. It is by no means an easy thing to do, it would be a lot of hard work, and it would undoubtedly require good, detailed planning. But in the end, they would change the situation for the better.
The similarity to a toxic relationship is so stark I would be remiss not to address it… I mean, what is the most common advice for the girl who is with a suffocating partner?
“You need to get out. Now.” or something to that effect, right?
There never is any “Did you try your best to change him?” or “Maybe if you stick it out for awhile it will get better.” If there is, needless to say, they’re probably a horrible friend and should rethink their values.
The point is, it isn’t just relationships that we knowingly suffocate ourselves in. We willingly allow large mechanisms to crush us, and then complain about the circumstances as if that might change the situation. It’s only after we realize that the singular thing we can change is ourselves, can we rearrange our situation.
Dominoes, Chess, and Finding Games That Work in Your Favor
I’m pretty atrocious at Dominoes and I don’t enjoy playing it. I find that it lacks imagination. I would rather stack rocks in a pile for all of my daylight hours than play Dominoes. I don’t know how many people actually do enjoy the game, but I’d venture to guess it’s pretty low. Something about constantly having to be aware of what pieces aren’t on the table, and then adding up all the ends etc. just doesn’t excite me the way it does others. And don’t get me wrong, I appreciate those out there who can play it, excel at it, and enjoy it… It just isn’t for me.
Chess is a different story. Chess is a game of strategy. It’s a game that appeals to my way of thinking. All the pieces are on the table and it’s your job to utilize those pieces more efficiently and with more cunning than your opponent… I enjoy Chess. And I’m better at Chess. So why, for my own sanity and gratification, would I ever opt for a game of Dominoes?
That’s the point, isn’t it?
Too many of us are sitting for hours on end at our losing Dominoes game, complaining about the rules, complaining about our luck, as if we’re stuck in Plato’s Cave with no other option but to serve as a prisoner. We take our 70 hour work week that we hate and remind ourselves that those are the cards (or tiles) we were dealt. We maintain our toxic friendships or abusive relationships for longer than we should because we are afraid of the change, or of being alone, or of what others will think.
Change the game.
Change the rules. Take inventory of who you are, and play the games that work to your strengths and goals. You can’t change others. You can’t change large businesses. You can’t change the housing market. You can only change the games you choose to participate in. Quit justifying your own slow and painful suffocation as “just the way it is”.
I can’t tell you what in your life is suffocating you. You gotta figure that out on your own. It could be a friend who is constantly undercutting you as less than you are. It could be the job that demands more from you than you were ever willing to let go. It could be a propensity towards taking out large amounts of debt. Whatever it is, you’ve gotta use your own judgment and quit doing things that will eventually suffocate you.