You guys are gonna be mad at me for this one! There’s something about me that I haven’t shared with y’all. And it has a pretty big influence on my mindset towards lifestyle design and my goal to retire early.
I was born into extreme privilege. I pretty much had my life handed to me on a silver platter. I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. All that silver shit. I had it. It was given to me. I did nothing to earn it or deserve it. Luck of the draw I guess.
Parents. Environment. Health.
My privileged life started where most lives start: at birth. I was born to parents who made my happiness and well-being their absolute highest priority. They provided love and support, shelter and meals. They offered guidance and structure, and demanded respect and humility.
They gave me my head-start in life.
To this day I have no idea what kind of money my parents have. It wasn’t and isn’t a concern of mine. All I knew is that for the years that I depended on them financially, they provided everything I needed and more.
Again, I didn’t do anything to deserve this. I could have just as easily been raised by parents who put their needs ahead of mine. My parents could have battled drug addiction or been abusive. They could have seen me as an inconvenience and let cable TV raise me. They could have earned minimum wage and practiced poor spending habits. They could have been extremely high earners and invested all of their time in their careers instead of my development.
But they weren’t any of those things. They were everything parents ought to be. They shared the understanding that when you become a parent, your life’s mission becomes fostering the highest quality of life possible for your children.
Then there was my environment. I grew up in a suburban town where in eighteen years I never once felt unsafe. I attended the public elementary, middle, and high schools and my only responsibilities were to get an education and develop some semblance of social skills. My schools weren’t just temporary safe havens from the outside world. My teachers weren’t babysitters who considered a good day one in which a girl didn’t get knocked up in the janitor’s closet and the valedictorian didn’t do blow in a bathroom stall. That happens at the rough schools, right? Sex and coke galore?
Speaking of blow…I was able to blow off smoke by playing sports; traditional sports like football, baseball, and basketball. Not those new-age sports I hear about like drive-by shootings, pedaling rock, and running from the fuzz.
At or near the forefront of my privileged life has been my unyielding health. Sure, my overall good health can be partially attributed to dumb luck. But a significant portion of it is due to my stupidly convenient access to nutritious food, vitamins approved by Jesus himself the FDA, and brilliantly complex medicines that are there to fight away bacteria should my immune system feel like bitching out. I’ve also been fortunate enough to regularly sleep well. And avoid stress. And not have mental, emotional, or behavioral disorders.
These are things I took for granted before my world view grew to a less shameful size. Maybe it took me seeing it first-hand, I’m now very aware that there are entire societies of people who don’t have access to the same resources.
My parents. My environment. My health. I didn’t do shit to deserve those things.
I simply got LUCKY. AS. FUCK.
Turning my privileged life into something remarkable
I don’t plan on sitting idly by and wasting the privilege that was bestowed on me. I’m going to use my good fortune to live an extraordinary life. And the best way I can think of to do something extraordinary is by escaping the 9 to 5 and living life on my terms, dammit!
I recognize that a lot of things outside of my control put me at an advantage early and often in life. I recognize that the vast majority of people aren’t as lucky as I’ve been in regards to their upbringing and health and shit. But it’s like I always say, “you’ve got to play the hand that you’re dealt.” I’ve never actually said that. And I wish I never had. The backspace button on my keyboard is broken. So is delete.
I don’t intend to turn this piece into a motivational essay on how all of us, regardless of our backgrounds, have the ability to do great things. I’ll leave that to Bernie Sanders.
What I am intending to do is calling out all the clowns that were born into and continue to experience a privileged existence… and are making a damn mess of it! We First World country inhabitants have a filthy habit of making life unnecessarily complicated.
I’m specifically referring to those individuals who were born to loving parents, were raised in a safe environment, went to a fancy-pants college* – then got themselves into a bunch of debt, tumbled into the obesity epidemic, developed an addiction to nicotine, found themselves in unhealthy relationships, and complain about how hard their life is. All of us can avoid such a lifestyle – especially those of us who aren’t stricken with diseases or disabilities out of our control and live above the poverty line.
There’s no law or government mandate or religious scripture or anarchist papers that says an extraordinary life can’t be simple.
I’ve since learned that anarchist principles are rooted in chaos so maybe scratch that one.
There’s nothing that says we have to go rack up a bunch of debt because we make a decent buck.
There’s nothing that says we have to turn to cigarettes to cope with the “stress” brought onto us by our flashy jobs and credit cards.
There’s nothing that says we have to avoid exercise and opt for fast food because we’re regularly pulling fifteen hour days at work.
There’s nothing that says we have to neglect our significant others and children and friends because we’re trying to “make a living”.
Why do so many of us make life harder than it has to be?
I’ve meditated on this question for what must have been at least four or five minutes, and I’ve got to say, I’m exhausted. And a little hungry. But after letting the words marinate, this is what I’m come up with:
We make our lives difficult because we don’t understand what our most intimate personal values are.
“Hey thanks, asshole, that’s really fucking insightful. What else ya got?”
No, I’m serious, I think this is it!
We’re afraid of looking inward to find what we truly are passionate about and what we truly value because we might find some scary, life-changing shit.
Maybe you’ll find that your husband of thirty years isn’t your soulmate.
Maybe you’ll realize a month before becoming an MD that you’d be happier as an architect. Or a barista.
Maybe on your way to an ultrasound appointment you recognize that you’d be more fulfilled without kids.
So instead of pulling out these demons and facing them head-on, we contort our values until they are aligned with society’s. We conform to social norms. We choose a great story – being in a long marriage, or being a doctor, or having kids – over being genuinely happy.
I’ve got to say that I feel like a monster contrasting marriage, medical professionals, and children with happiness. But these were extreme hypotheticals!
A more realistic scenario would be one of those aforementioned fancy-pants college educated professionals (let’s call this figurative person Buster) who never took the time to identify his values or passions. So Buster just did what everyone else was doing and took a salaried job, which soon turned into a career, which occupied most of his waking hours. He wanted to accelerate his climb up the corporate ladder so he made the decision to balance business school with full-time employment.
Buster graduates business school at the top of his class all while leading successful projects at work, and gets rewarded with a 50% pay raise. He’s now thirty-two years old with an MBA and a six-figure salary. His co-workers, friends, and family – hell even strangers on the street – qualify him as “successful”.
But here’s the thing. Buster still hadn’t paid off his loans from his undergrad when he started his MBA program. He was renting an expensive apartment and working so much that he didn’t have time (LOLOLOL) to prepare his own meals so he found himself eating out daily. The few hours that existed between work and sleep were regularly spent at a bar with his coworkers. So, his income that could have gone towards paying down his debt instead was spent in more socially acceptable areas.
By the time Buster graduated business school he’s got $250K in student loan debt and he hasn’t gone for a jog or done a push-up in nearly a decade. Needless to say, his health is suffering. And get this – after the 50% pay raise, executive management’s expectations of him have increased (the nerve). To cope with the stress of these expectations, Buster did what any reasonable person would do – he took up smoking. First cigarettes, but that soon transitioned into crack. Just kidding – Buster’s not an idiot; he kept his addiction limited to nicotine.
Let’s fast forward a few years to Buster’s 50th birthday. He’s recently paid off his student loan debt but has since added a mortgage and a couple car payments. He’s married now – in the sense that there are legally binding papers that say so. In reality, he met a girl on Tinder; they fell madly in infatuation and had a ridiculously elaborate wedding. Now they have one meal together a week and sleep in separate rooms on account of they hate each other’s guts. They also had a couple kids who are now teenagers. Buster went to one of their little league games a few years ago. You da man, Buster!
I’ll tie up this daydream in a minute here but lets quickly recap. Buster is middle-aged and makes a shit ton of money. He also spends a shit ton of money. He is married with kids, but doesn’t have a much of a relationship with his wife or children. He’s clinically obese and his lungs are full of tar. He’s terribly unhappy and dissatisfied with what has come of his life, but doesn’t know where he went wrong.
Where Buster broke bad. Err, went wrong.
Poor Buster just wanted to make some money. His problem was that he viewed money as an end instead of the means that it is. Going back to my theory on why privileged people bring unnecessary stress to their lives:
“Because we don’t understand what our most intimate personal values are.”
Buster started his career with no intention. He didn’t know what he wanted his life to look like a year from then, five years from then, twenty years from then. He didn’t know what he wanted so he just did what everybody else did. And he was hooked. His future addiction to nicotine was rooted in his addiction to making money.
Buster could have stepped back to appreciate what his life of privilege had already provided him and used that to his advantage. His health, security, and finances were at a point where they just needed to be fostered – they didn’t need a complete overhaul. In identifying what he truly valued and what he was truly passionate about, he could have controlled the amount of time and effort (and money) he allocated into making money.
When I personally start getting overwhelmed with the stress in my life I like to imagine somebody who lives in extreme poverty in a Third World country examining my life and discussing it with others who watch over me (God, Santa, Old Yeller). In Buster’s case, I believe the reactions would be something like this:
“That man has plenty of money, why is he spending all of that time to go to school so that he can make more? When is enough going to be enough?”
“He has a wife and children at home who are sheltered and well-fed – explain to me again why he’s spending so much time at the office. To provide for his wife and children? Seems to me like they’re sufficiently provided for and just need his time and attention.”
“That man is rather plump. The streets and parks around his home are safe enough to go for a run in. And that building (a grocery store is not something he’s familiar with) is packed with healthy foods that are affordable. What gives?”
“You’re telling me that he’s smoking those paper sticks because he’s stressed? He lives in a temperature controlled bubble and has a refrigerator full of food. He doesn’t understand what real stress is.”
Don’t waste your privilege
You don’t just owe it to yourself or your friends or your family to do something extraordinary** with your privileged life – you owe it to all the people in the world who don’t have that privilege. By making a mess of your life, you’re unknowingly insulting those less fortunate. So many of us have it made, plain and simple. Recognize that. Appreciate that. Use it to your advantage.
*Any college in a First World country qualifies as fancy-pants (even Ohio State)
**In the world today, doing something extraordinary includes but is not limited to:
- working less than 50 hours a week
- preparing and eating a couple meals a day with family
- cultivating a passion
- prioritizing health
- traveling for pleasure more than a week out of the year
- choosing a bike over a car
- renting instead of taking thirty years to pay off a mortgage
- not sending children to daycare