Little big problems

.. or why I’m broke but not poor.

               There are big problems, there are small problems and then there are small, annoying problems that come in packs – all important and urgent and life-threatening and… you know what? Ninety percent of all those problems are imaginary. We are all mushrooms, kept in the dark and fed bullshit. What do you want from life? Money? Why? Are money a tool of fighting worry? Of being free of things like rent, bills, mortgage, loans? How would you describe yourself if you had money and lost all those worries? If you think of yourself in that situation as famous, flashy or better than others, stop right there – there’s a site called google you can use to find stuff on the internet, use it to find 9gag and leave this blog. You’re identifying yourself with your wealth, in which case you’ll have a wee bit of a problem when you read your bank statement. I sincerely doubt Bill Gates and the like are reading my acidic shit, so you must be broke but still believing in luck. If I’m wrong, boy have I got a bridge to sell you…

               Average folks think money equates happiness because having money is a mark of status. They don’t see beyond that and believe everybody else thinks the same. Fortune is not about happiness, it’s about safety, security. It’s about how long you’re keeping your life style after losing your job. If you think of anything as a mark of status, it will be ego-boosting only to have somebody poorer as a comparison. Rich idiots will spend to differentiate themselves – ever watch “The Joneses” (2009)? Pop quiz time – if money equals status, how does one know who’s the richest? Duh, dummy, the one showing off more, the one with the bigger house, boat or plane, who buys 10k bottles of champagne when partying. Like Paris Hilton, if you’re into that. It’s a never-ending race to have more, to show more. That’s why you have “rich neighborhoods” and all that shit. I’d rather stay somewhere surrounded by people like factory workers, they won’t try and out-spend you because that’ll mean not eating. Have your priorities straight, dude.

               After decades of thinking I was my job title or my income I found the hard way none of that matters. After I lost them both and scrounged to live off unemployment benefits. Money is there for a reason – it’s something some people made up so that others can work for and crave while only having the value their creators give it. You aren’t poor – poor is a judgment, a self-identification, a state of mind. You are broke, instead, it’s an event and a temporary one too. If you’re broke now, you can be rich later. If you’re poor, you’ll be poor with millions in your bank accounts, there’s always going to be somebody richer than you. Learn to identify which is which.

               Money should be your safety net, something that allows you to see what makes you happy without worrying what you put on the dinner table for the kids. You won’t be taught that in school. You won’t see it on the telly, mainly because nobody wants you to succeed. If by any chance you do succeed, you’ll be a product. They’ll bombard others with your story, with emphasis on how this or that helped you achieve success – without actually telling what you did right. Ever read Buffett’s biography? His main way of investing was to throw away the analysis – he never invests in a business he doesn’t understand or he thinks won’t last. He doesn’t go for easy money. Beware of geeks bearing formulas, he did say. There isn’t a fool-proof way of achieving success, if there were everybody would be doing it.

               I have been wrong before and I’ll be wrong again, I know. I just won’t give up. You think a specialist in something, say an elite engineer, a good programmer, a top notch surgeon or somebody like that will care what others think of them? That their shirt doesn’t match the shoes? They know their worth and will think either that whoever wants quality work won’t care how they dress or that if you do care how they dress you can go spinning, they have enough work offers to choose from. If you’re good at something, others will beg for the privilege of being around you, as if compentence is achieved through osmosis. So don’t worry about showing off or of what others may think of you. Worry instead of your competence, of how good you are at what you do. You may get screwed once or twice or more in your life, but work ethics combined with quality and persistence will get you up eventually. Always. Bullshit may get you to the top but won’t keep you there.

               We have many stupid things clogging our neural pathways, like the need to please, the need to always be right. Our parents spent 15-20 years of our lives teaching us to be silent, shut up and do what we’re told because others (them, teachers, and so on) know what’s best for us better than we do, after which they’re nagging us for the rest of our lives to be more assertive, driven and to have more ambition – which usually means “Why aren’t you a brain/heart surgeon?”. Our school systems value the accumulation of knowledge instead of the understanding of knowledge. They’re teaching us what to learn instead of how to learn. There are exceptions, sure, but very very few. Our media teaches us success can be transmitted like a venereal disease, by rubbing off the right people and just by doing what somebody else does you’ll get the same results they got. We get rejected in love because we’re idiots – they say we’re not to blame, we ought to be waiting for our prince charming (or princess, depends on orientation), and the worst part is we’re being told our loved ones, our so-called soul mates, should love us for who we are, truly and completely. That’s narcissism. Like my wife ought to love and celebrate my farts and dirty nickers. Media, celebrities, all teach us to fear work and embrace cloning as a way of life. Like me dressing from Hugo Boss or Nike will somehow add 1% success rate on my algebra solving skills. Bullshit. They teach fear and the antidote for it, shopping. They make you fear you’ll be less if you don’t obey what they say is socially accepted, if you don’t look like what they say you should look like. Self-esteem isn’t (or shouldn’t be) about fitting in. Success isn’t equal to happiness. Happiness isn’t equal to social status. You don’t have to compare yourself to others to feel happy. You’re doing it wrong then, innit?

               No, having a 10 year old car that’s running fine isn’t a reason to buy a new car. Using a bicycle to go to work isn’t a reason to buy a Harley Davidson. No, there’s no such thing as a mid-life crisis being a normal event, that’s a normal response to being unhappy for some time and it doesn’t mean you’re defective for not having one. No, having more money isn’t a reason to spend more. No, just no. Guilt of how you look or what you own is for the weak minded. It’s all bullshit and it’s bad for you. Thank you, George Carlin. It’s something designed to keep the stupid ones competitive, they can’t out-think you so they’re out-dressing you. Does that make them role models? Is that a real problem? Bullshit.

               One way of getting yourself up by the bootstraps is what I’ve already detailed in other texts. Learn, plan, work, repeat. That, however, won’t work if you’re shy. Trust me on that. You need to learn something else, something far more valuable than the first 10(!) years of university – you have to start using your voice. You want a raise? You won’t get it unless you ask for it. You want respect? Man up, stop taking shit from people, give them hell instead. You want that job? Show them you have the skills for it, tell them that. I don’t mean just listing what your skills are, they can read that off your C.V., there are plenty of people with the same amount of experience who ticked the “Apply now!” box. I mean, really tell them you’re the one they need. Stand up for yourself. Nobody else will stand up for you, I guarantee it.

               If you are good at what you do, don’t allow people to make you feel bad. There are only two kinds of working people – sheep and wolves – and that class act doesn’t care about how well you do your job. It cares about how vocal you are, about who gets the blame and the short stick. It’s designed to keep good people down so they can’t ask for more money. Aggressive idiots get more money, but they’re also limited by their expertise. Only those both aggressive and good at their jobs win in the long run, and there’s so few of them. I know, I’ve used to hire people for a few years. Why? Because people are insecure and we’re still believing supermodel/football player = fame = success = desirability. If I’m good at what I do, I tend to compare my other qualities to those around me, I mean I know I’m good at work so there’s something else I can improve (baaaad choice!). I’m comparing my looks, my assertiveness, my clothes, to those I think are better because they look like they’re better than me. But what I think isn’t really real. Why are they getting more money or more appreciation? Well, for one thing, fantasizing about how we’re saving the world before breakfast is just that, a fantasy. They’re not quietly wishing for money and respect, fuming on insults and thinking for days of good comebacks while slowly getting ulcers, they’re actually asking for it. They’re demanding and let’s face it, nobody else is. On the other had, I’m hiding and finding excuses for my fear of failure – what will the boss think, what will he say, will he refuse, will he be angry, would I look like somebody who is in it just for the money and doesn’t care about his work? Well dude, that last one just about describes why you’re an idiot. Of course you work to get paid. Why on earth would you work with/for people you hate for more than half your day until the day you die? Most underpaid overworked talented people lack confidence – they fear rejection so they won’t ask for anything. If their employer throws them a crumb or two, they’ll be happy. All for fear of rejection, of failure of public shaming – they’re worried that’s not an acceptable social behavior. Sorry to say, but you’ve been brainwashed, man. You work for money. They pay you to work and higher quality/quantity work demands higher pay. Everything else is just bullshit.

               Warren Buffett has a saying – price is what you pay, value is what you get. Same thing goes for people. Say it with me. I want to be happy. I’ll find out what I want and pay the price of reworking myself until I get it. Happiness takes time and effort. If you think dressing up in Prada wear will make you happy, you’ve got problems and I can’t help you.

               The story of me – I’m happy if I work hard. I’m happy if I’m needed. I’m happy when I’m challenged. I’m happy when I can sit down and relax, have a pint with me friends and we all say – Oy, that one was hard, but we’ve done it, all emissions and transmissions are within parameters and the day is over. I’m happy joking with my wife, hugging and making plans for the future. I’m happy laughing with my kid at russian cartoons I can’t bloody understand (Masha and the Bear, now those are cracking me up). I’m happy singing “Baa baa black sheep” in duet with my kid, even though the windows might need replacing. My happiness is made up from many smaller happy things. At work, at home, at the pub. All those little things make one big thing. That’s another thing they don’t teach you. You can be happy at home and miserable at work. You can be happy at work while your marriage slowly falls apart. You can be happy at home and at work while being a clumsy asocial putz full of shame in public. You’ll never be happy overall unless you master the little things.

               Never let your self-esteem depend on others. Never let them dictate the terms of your emotions. Never ever let them feed you crap. You might have problems on the short run, but on the long run you’ll be happier and get more respect than you’d think. Identify ideas others put into your head, question their validity and reframe them. Be around people who’ll help you be better, who believe you can and should be better. Lose the so called friends that won’t understand guilt and shame have no place in our society.

               I got no advice for parents, though, I have my own trouble there. Some parents will continue blaming you and making you feel small, they’ve almost got it to an art form. They’ll blame, they’ll shame and they’ll coerce with the best con artists there are. I’ve heard it before – “I asked if we should move to London when your dad got a once-in-a-lifetime job offer and you said no and now I’m miserable and you’re to blame.” Really? This was from my mother, London being fictional, of course. I was in high school. Fuck’s sake, I didn’t really start thinking for myself until well after getting my master’s degree, how the hell would you put your life-altering decisions into the hands of a teenager? Especially one that’s not even legally old enough to drink a pint of Guiness. This was more than twenty years ago. The argument was from just two years ago. Learn to identify bullshit. You’re not responsible for the decisions of anybody else but yourself. Cut the crap right away. Yes, I told you I was against it. However, it was your decision and you asked for my opinion. Based on my opinion, you chose whether or not to go with it. What was your opinion then? Was my opinion more important than your wish? Why? You’re the only one to blame, I only did what you asked of me – I gave you my opinion. It was your choice. If you’d have asked me if I wanted a prostitute for a few hours, or a beer, I’d have said yes to that, too.

               Learn to stand up for yourself. Think of life as a massive feedback loop – you act, you see what happens, you learn (or not) and go at it again. That’s life. You makes your choices. Stop others from taking that away from you. You will be miserable, you will be hurt, you will fail, that’s certain. You’ll succeed at times, too. If you succeed after being told how to act, you’ll learn only to depend on the will and advice of others. You’ll learn not to think. However, if you make your own decisions, if you take charge of making a decision, even if that decision is to do it the way others show you, if you make it your choice to listen or not to others, you’ll build confidence. If you start early, you’ll figure out your step soon and you’ll know the value of money and hard work. And you won’t have that stress ulcers from stopping banks from closing on your mortgage when your wife’s in the hospital giving birth to your kid. Or maybe you will. Who knows? Not me, I’ve surely made worse mistakes than that. Way worse. But I’m still standing, still married to the same woman and quite happy. So there. Take your life back. Eyes forward, back straight, chest forward, legs planted a bit apart, smile knowingly without showing teeth. That shit there kills bad luck and drives your enemies insane – the best revenge you can have is to ignore them, to make them insignificant and show them how little you care of what they think or say.

Post scriptum:

               I have to elaborate on this, on making your own choices. If somebody shows you a way of thinking that works (or not), make it your own. Instead of saying “John’s right about that”, say “I choose to do it the way John advised me”. If you succeed, it was your choice to use what John showed you and you learn that controling your decisions is good. If you fail, it was your choice that failed and you’re free to learn from it. It means you and only you have control over your life, not John, not your parents, not god. The advice you get is never wrong, it’s advice, opinion, it’s already biased. There’s my truth, his truth and there is THE whole truth. We choose based on information we have – most of the time incomplete and/or incorrect. John truth might be different from your truth. So no, John’s neither right nor wrong. Only your choice is right or wrong. So if your choice is wrong, then learn from it, don’t make the same mistake again. If you say “John’s right”, you’ll label yourself as not as good as John. Don’t do that. Don’t blame or praise others for what you do. Choose your life. Make it your own.

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