When Is “More” Enough?

If I could rid the English language of a single concept, it would probably be to do away with the idea of “More.”

***

I sat in my driveway listening to a story about immigrant slave workers picking tomatoes for Taco Bell and other big box restaurants. That was 2005. Now, at the end of 2014, they still live in the worst conditions I can imagine in the United States.

Up to 12 workers are packed into trailers as small as 10 square feet–essentially, a room with moldy walls and a single toilet. They work in fields 12 hours or more each day in the blistering Florida sun in hopes of earning a couple dollars (literally, a couple dollars). They are shuttled to and from work in rickety old buses and not allowed to travel anywhere outside of home or work. They live in enslavement camps, having come here, ironically, to escape their primary nation’s poor economy and chase the American Dream.

I remember my eyes welling with tears and anger while I listened to the story on the radio. I was sad about the obvious injustice and I was mad at myself. I was sitting in a 2006 Nissan Titan SE–an impressive (and expensive) truck with every luxury I could order it with. I made good money, then, and it was my first (and probably last) luxury car instead of just the best car I could afford.

It struck me that my truck was as big as the entire home of the 12 immigrant workers I was learning about, and many times nicer. The Titan cost more than 4 years of their salary, if they spent their money on absolutely nothing else, not even eating.

I was sitting in my spacious truck, parked outside of my house. Unlike their living quarters, my house had a fireplace, fully finished basement, 2 kitchens, jacuzzi tub, cherry wood flooring, a big backyard, and a large, covered porch complete with a love-seat rocking swing.

The Immokalee tomato pickers, I knew, would do anything to live my life. They could not even imagine having it this good. Clean, running water would have been a huge improvement for them. They would have collectively traded their lives for my truck–a vast improvement over their own mold-infested dwelling, let alone my house.

I was sad for them, but what really made me mad was that I had no idea how good my life was. Before the news story came on, I was feeling depressed and upset that I really wanted to trade in my Nissan Titan for a Tesla Roadster and my house was entirely too small for me, my estranged wife, and my 2 cats.

Worse, I was lamenting that I might never be able to afford the house I was going to visit that night–a mansion belonging to two millionaire acquaintances–a lonely, but friendly couple with a lot of money and time to spend. Their house was the one I imagined owning, with huge artwork murals decorating their living room with 20 foot high ceilings, a second level so large it literally had a bridge to cross from one side of the upper house to the other, and an expensive multi-level hardwood deck. I had two kitchens in my home but this couple had a gorgeous metal, marble, and wood professional grade kitchen with a preparatory island nearly the size of one of my kitchens. Their enormous house was lavish, tactful, and drool-worthy.

I was not prepared for our conversation that night. Much to my surprise they complained about their sprawling home and wished they had a bigger house! They pointed to the even larger mansion next door, which had turrets and was entirely built of stone like a castle, with a large rounded archway that doubled as a entrance-way and driveway. It was truly a stunningly large home. Nonetheless, I was flabbergasted. I glimpsed my future.

I knew, then, that I would never be happy with “more”. There is no end to what I will want. I had a Titan. I wanted a Roadster. If I had a Roadster, I would want a Porsche. Or maybe a boat, and when I had the boat I would want a yacht, and it would never end. Here I was, unaware that a low middle-class American making at least $30,000 per year (much less than I made at the time) fares better and is wealthier than 90% of the rest of the world’s people. I was the person that 90% of the world actually aspired to be… I have the lifestyle 99% of the world wishes they had. And I wanted more. The people who seemingly had everything I wanted… they wanted more, too. I wondered about the residents of the castle home. I wondered if they lamented over only having 3 homes, and a smaller yacht than their friends, and only a Tesla Roadster instead of a Lamborghini and a Roadster.

Well, flash forward about 7 years and I left most of that life behind. I took a job for about 1/5 of the pay I had then. It was definitely a harsh adjustment at first, but I started over and rather than embracing “More”, I actively chose to embrace “Less”. Now, I live a minimalist lifestyle, I make about half of what I used to, I own much less than half of what I used to, I even weigh less than I used to… and I have never been happier.

To be honest, I still struggle with wanting more. It is impossible not to think about all the “more” things you could have in a country that thrives on consumerism and marketing warfare. I am not decrying Capitalism, by the way. I am a staunch advocate for earning and enjoying the pleasures brought by technology and innovation, and I believe you should pay fairly for things that offer greater style, engineering, functionality, or design. No one should work for free or expect anything for free.

However, I find letting go of things that do not serve more than the purpose I need, or serve no purpose at all, frees me to live in less space yet have more freedom. For everything I can live without, I gain freedom over Space (less clutter in my life; more space to think), Time (I do not have to spend part of my life caring for trinkets I rarely look at or use), and personal Happiness (instead of wanting more, I am focused on wanting less and learning to appreciate what I have).

Businesses, of course, fall into the same trap of “More is More!”. The goal of every business I have worked for is a never-ending quest for the elusive “more”. There is never a definition of what is “enough.” No business seems to have an end-goal in mind of when they will be satisfied, of when their workers are generating “enough” revenue, of when their production is “enough” to make the shareholders happy. When your goal is merely to earn more and more money, how will you ever reach your goal? There is always “more” waiting for you.

On a social level, when your goal is only to be more thin, how will you ever lose “enough” weight? The body you see in the mirror will always be able to trim a little here or there.

When our goal is more racial, or gender, or religious equality, then how will we ever become equal? There is always some (person, group, or thing) that seems to have more equal opportunities than someone else.

When your goal is to always be “better” (a variation of “more”), then how will you ever be happy knowing you are “good enough” for yourself? When “more” is the goal, then “good enough” is removed by default. What would “enough” mean to you when it comes to being “good enough”? Do you know where better stops?

I know there are some motivated listeners and motivational speakers who would convince each other that some vague nonsense constitutes an actual destination (“being better is the goal”, “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey”, “just be a little better than you were yesterday”, etc.). The problem here is when you have no definition of when “enough” is enough, then you have removed the possibility of happiness and contentment. There will always be “more” and “better” waiting for you in life. “Infinity” is not a goal.
If I could remove just one concept from our ideology or one word from our language, I think it would be “More”. We do not need more. We simply need enough, and sometimes, sadly, we do not know when we have had it.

Today’s lesson: In a society where “More” is all we want, more or less, then I challenge you to start thinking about what the word “enough” means to you and consider that sometimes “Less is More”.

 

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Today’s Lesson: United We Stand [140922]

It is amazing what two people can accomplish together. I have had many victories this year… both career successes and many personal successes. I was reflecting on the year so far today, and I realized all the biggest wins in my life (this year and throughout my life) have been with the support and partnership of someone else.

 

Some random successes that popped into my head were when I was younger and writing lyrics for local singers. That success came because a coworker read my poetry and demanded I take it to her producer friend. It was a great partnership but I would never have gone down that path without her.

 

Achieving my black belt–especially when it became a personally difficult choice–came because my long-time friend and teacher, Shihan (Master) Peterson, was behind me the whole way, telling me I could do more than I ever thought I could, and then showing me it was true! Moving to Grand Rapids on the tail of a failed career, divorce, and financial ruin could never have happened without the loving support of my brother, Milo. He quite literally dropped everything to make sure I had what I needed to succeed.

 

It is hard to imagine how I would have succeeded in many areas without someone else there to hold me up, hold me accountable, or sometimes just help me hold it together. All my successes happened with partners. On the other hand, all my biggest failures happened alone (divorce, trying to go into business for myself by myself, bankruptcy… all the bad stuff was with the help of me, myself, and I).

 

Looking at whatever you are trying to accomplish right now, pause and make sure you have a partner. In a world as complex and chaotic as ours is, you can probably find a way to go it alone, but I can tell you unequivocally it is easier, and more fun, to have a partner in crime.

 

(But, of course, don’t actually commit crimes. Hopefully both you and your partner are not that dumb…)

 

 

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What Would You Give Up To Have It All? (Part Two)

In Part One of this post, I spoke of sacrifices, but I am not aligned with the concept of “sacrifice”. Giving up cable television and video games, for example, is not a sacrifice if I am trading them for something greater, such as more ownership over time in MY Life to spend on people and things that matter more than channel-flipping and playing Xbox. I am really just editing my world to wean out the unimportant bloat, the parts that do not give meaning to the overall vision I am creating.

As I said in part one, when I give up something, I create   s  p  a c  e   in my life. Space to fill with greater things, greater values, or greater experiences. Giving up alcohol, for example, creates space to exercise control over my judgment and emotions and become better at self-discipline. Giving up my daily latte at Starbucks creates space for me to spend time and money traveling or exercising or  finding and enjoying different types of teas (and still leaving a little money for the other stuff!).

For anything you are willing to give up, you gain freedom.

For anything you are not willing to give up, by default, you accept consequences for your choice. For example, someone who gives up smoking gains freedom over smoking. He or she is no longer a slave to their addiction and they have gained control of their life and future. Someone who chooses NOT to give up smoking, by default accepts the consequences of holding onto it: cancer, loss of hard-earned money, poor health, loss of time with loved ones because of an early death, etc.

This is not to say holding onto something is bad; it is acknowledging that you accept consequences when making a choice. For example, you might cling to being single and unfettered by a monogamous relationship. Perhaps that is a fine option for you. The consequences accepted, though, might be never having the intimacy of spending a life with someone, learning and growing at great lengths together, building trust over many years, and showing how much you value each other by pledging yourselves to one another. By choosing polyamory or promiscuity, you perhaps the consequences you accept are being wary of diseases, dangerous encounters, superficial partnerships, etc.

A monogamous person, by giving up being single, gains freedom over being alone. Someone with many partners must go through the process of finding many partners while the monogamous person continues growing and building a single relationship. The monogamous person accepts consequences, too. By clinging to being in a single intimate relationship, he gives up the experience and potential pleasures of sharing many partners instead of being devoted to one. He also gives up having many experiences and encounters with people who will be transient in his life (if he values a transient life without specific commitments to anyone). Instead, he chooses the stability and predictability of having someone with him to share and remember experiences and people. He chooses a partner over partnership.

Each choice is valid and yours to make (in relationships or otherwise); it is up to you, however, to understand the stakes.

Choose your life. Every second of it. Know your values and whether you are living up to them. What things are bringing little or no value to you right now?

What are you willing to give up so you can clear space in your life for what (or who) you value most?

 

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What Would You Give Up To Have It All? (Part One)

When you have specific goals, you must make specific sacrifices. There is no way around it. Reality dictates that life is not infinite (for now) and there are far more things to learn and do than there is time to learn and do them all.

You must choose your priorities.

I gave up Cable TV and video games more than 10 years ago. I love television shows and video games, but Angela Salamey helped me see these were things designed to rob me of my time in life. Watching TV is what I would find myself doing to turn my brain off instead of helping focus my mind, energy, and time on people and things that are really important.

When I am near the end of my life, I do not want to look back and say, “Boy, I sure did watch a lot of shows and I bought a bunch of stuff!” I want to look back and say, “Wow, I have been to many places, shared great times with amazing people, created some ideas that will live on and transform others, and I’m pretty sure I’ll leave this world a little better than the way it was when I found it.”

I’m giving up Netflix next. I love movies, too, but there is no end to the amount of movies I will want to see. If I REALLY want to see a movie, then I will go to the theater. If I miss it at the theater, then it must not have been important enough for me to make it a priority.

I have other things to fill my time with–passions I wish to pursue: mental and physical health, writing, helping people understand the benefits of being vegan, and the work I am normally paid money for as well as the work I do for other types of payment (experience, gratitude, knowledge, etc.).

I am really just editing my world to wean out the unimportant stuff, the bloat, the parts that do not give meaning to the overall vision I am trying to create.

When I give up something, I create   s  p  a c  e   in my life. Space to fill with greater things, greater values, or greater experiences. Giving up alcohol, for example, creates space to exercise control over my judgment and emotions and become better at self-discipline. Giving up my daily latte at Starbucks creates space for me to spend time and money traveling or exercising or  finding and enjoying different types of teas (and still leaving a little money for the other stuff!).

Consider this:

For anything you are willing to give up, you gain freedom.

For anything you are unwilling to give up, by default, you accept consequences for your choice. Every choice is valid and yours to make; just understand what is at stake.

Choose your life. Every second of it. Know your values and whether you are living up to them. What things are bringing little or no value to you right now?

What are you willing to give up so you can clear space in your life for what (or who) you value most?

 

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Washing Your Hair

 

It’s a silent observation reflected in snake-streams chasing your fingers,
Washing Your Hair

Was I there? On your mind? Or am I dried and dusty already?

Am I mud cakes crumbling under shower heads,

devolving to dirty rivers at your feet, dark rivulets around your toes?

Your dirtiness slides from the skin,

rinses away the places I’ve been.

Now we’ll see

what’s really underneath –

Pure

   Light

      pure skin?     Or…?

We could have been magnificent.
And we could have been

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