I have been thinking a lot lately about choices.
Often we avoid taking personal responsibility for circumstantial events in our lives because we see events as rooted in chance or entirely due to external influence. I am always late for everything and I regularly find myself blaming the slow-moving old-lady driver in front of me, the slightly delayed train, the guy taking FOREVER to order his coffee. In those moments, if I allow myself some grace, perspective presides. Perspective that reminds me that regardless of the current situation, everything has been in motion by my own choices.
In an article by JD Samson on Huffington post, “I love my Job, But It Made Me Poorer,” this dilemma is discussed with regard to her current state of employment and the choices (or circumstances) in her life that have gotten her there. She opens the article by taking full ownership for her predicament,
I am so lucky that I have been able to create art and music and fulfill my passions through my job for the past 11 years. But I’m stupid enough to have put all my eggs in one basket. It is now the only thing I can do to make money. I’m 33 years old and I can’t make coffee. I don’t know how to use Excel, or bartend, or wait tables, and I’m officially too old to join the police force. I’ve lost the confidence to go back to school and feel stressed out about impending debt when I think about further education for even one second.
Unfortunately, Samson goes on to identify three external factors which prevent her from moving past this plight, three factors which she seems to blame, rather than sticking to the original assertion that her problems stem from “having put all [her] eggs in one basket.”
- My family will never be rich; in fact, as they get older, they will use up their supply, perhaps even leaving me with their debts…
- I will always be a queer woman, a woman who makes 77 cents to the man’s dollar, and a queer who makes 23 percent less than the heterosexual. Does that mean that I make 54 cents to the straight male dollar? Wow.
- OK, so here’s the emotional part: I’m trying to keep up with artists who have had a similar amount of success as I have had, buying expensive meals, expensive jeans, expensive drinks, and trying my hardest to appear to be making the same amount of money as they are…
While initially, it seemed like Samson indeed took full responsibility for the elements in the equation of her dissatisfaction, as she writes, she becomes steadily more “poor-me” and steadily less “I did this to myself.” In the comments section below the article, most people responded with a resounding “Yes!” but a few commenters left quite wise responses, this being my favorite:
Great article, and I was right there with you until you stopped taking personal responsibility for your life and started blaming it on outside things (I’m a lesbian, my family isn’t rich). It sounds like the 3rd reason you listed, living outside your means, has far more to do with your financial struggles than the rest. Quoting wage statistics is all well and good but someone who makes her living as an artist doesn’t fall into the same wage scales as the people those numbers are aimed at (hourly wage earners) and it is basically comparing apples and oranges. Your family not being rich was a barrier to entry for you, but once you make it out of the social strata that you were born into there’s not really a huge influence on one from the other.
Anyway, thank you for sharing, it was a wonderful article and your closing points certainly resonate; everyone is suffering
in this economy and something must be done about the nonfunctional system that is currently driving all of us into this national funk.
Now, I don’t want to seem insensitive, I understand the plight of the starving artist probably more than the average person, but what Samson appears to be communicating is a defeatist submission to the external: the things I cannot change outweigh the things I can.
I do not believe this is true.
Every pattern in one’s life is alterable. Unless you are stuck in a rut that is not of your own immediate design (disability, caring for a parent, contractual obligations, mortgage, debt, etc.), nothing is prohibitive. Of course there are exceptions to the rule, and of course these changes can’t happen overnight, but change is possible, and probable, if only with the slightest effort.
Stuck in a loveless relationship? Hate your job? Hate your living arrangement? Hate your city? Well fuck, get on craigslist, look for a place, a job, a missed connection. Go sit on a busy city street and watch people walk by and imagine what is not prohibitive in their lives. Too broke for the jeans/dinner/apartment/whatever it is you want? Save a dollar every time you empty your pockets at night in a jar. A dime. A cent. Change jars are scoffable, I know, but it adds up fast. Need Health Insurance? Apply for Government assistance (I get Heath Insurance for free in the great state of Massachusetts because I’m poor). Learn a new skill. Always wanted to learn to bartend? Get a Bartending Bible from the library and start reading. Always late for everything (and this is the constant thorn on my side)? Plan things earlier than you have to. Schedule fun or rewarding things earlier in your day to get you started right. Get a morning coffee buddy or pick a coffee shop filled with attractive patrons and baristas, so you WANT to go in (ahem.. Dripolator Asheville).
It’s not about blame or judgement or feeling down when your goals aren’t met or the changes in your life you would like to make seem impossible. It’s not about pinning these road bumps on other people, situations “beyond your control,” or wishing your life were better, that you could make positive changes, that you can transcend your current state.
It’s about choices. Choosing the path that’s right for you, the one that will make you happy and satisfied with your life. Choosing to shed old habits, which yes, die hard, and replacing them with new habits, positive changes.
This will not happen overnight, so you (and I) might as well start now.