So, concerning the things we pursue, and for which we vigorously exert ourselves, we owe this consideration – either there is nothing useful in them, or most aren’t useful. Some of them are superfluous, while others aren’t worth that much. But we don’t discern this and see them as free, when they cost us dearly.
Seneca, Moral Letters, 42.6
Today’s question was do I really need these things I work so hard for?
This is a challenging question for me personally, because it brings up some realizations in me, specifically:
- Why I strive so hard to be successful
- Why I am constantly pursuing material goods
- Why I never seem to be happy with what I have
Growing up, we did not have much money at all and I recall at times feeling socially insecure because of it.
Later in our adolescence, my parents settled down and became more stable in their careers and I’d say we moved up from lower middle class to true middle class, but I don’t think I ever erased that feeling of inferiority.
Once I started working myself and having disposable income I started to buy things because they helped to ease that feeling of inferiority. They made me feel as if I belonged, as if I fit in with the people around me. Nice clothes, a nice(r) car, electronic gadgets, new technology, whatever it was, I tended to always want it, which often angered my wife, who grew up much differently.
Her parents immigrated to Canada from Hong Kong and opened a restaurant in our small city. They worked, for the first five years, seven days a week for most of the day and evening, so she learned to raise herself from five years onward. Once her and siblings were a bit older, her parents went down to working six days per week – let’s just say they weren’t there often. The restaurant was successful, her parents could afford to buy her things, she was the cool girl in school. What she missed was her mother, her father, love.
She was always clear that when we had children, she would put them ahead of her career, but she would support me in my career, which she has. Periodically, she has discouraged me from working the hours I work because of the impact on her and our family, but she understands what I am driving at. Where she was always frustrated was working so hard to buy things that she didn’t believe we needed. She would have been happy staying in our townhouse until we retired and me pressing the FIRE button to pursue something I love. I was never able to see things as she did. Always craving something I did not have. The next thing. Never satisfying my inner demons.
As I begin studying Stoicism, I am realizing that it is very supportive of financial independence and frugal living. In training my mind, I am learning to ignore wants and desires, instead to focus on the present moment. I control my mind, my mind does not control me. In this, I have less craving of material items and the test will be if we are able to materially cut our annual expenses, as I am generally the one that drives up our spending.
Quite simply, the answer ought to have always been I do not need the things that I work so hard for! How did I not see this? How did I not understand what my wife was telling me? Regardless, that was then, this is now [digression, I have loved that statement since I read the book of that title by S.E. Hinton as a child].
This week, I am testing my ability to control my mind and overcome what it is trying to say to me. Specifically, I ate dinner on Sunday evening and I will fast for at least 48 hours, working my way to a three day fast I discussed in intermittent fasting for physical and financial health. I’ve fasted for 24 hours and I have done juice cleanses for 5+ days, but I have not yet fasted for > 36 hours with zero calories. Before stoicism, I would have had an upper limit on the distance I was willing to go, because my mind would have overcome my intentions and I would have eaten. While I am hungry, and my mind has tried to say I want some food, I am standing strong. I do not need food. Do I want it? Yes. Do I need it? Not that I am aware of.
Until next time,