In February of 2000, the small wooden house I shared with 2 college friends burnt to the ground. Went up like a matchbook. My clothes, my furniture, my bitchin’ CD collection full of Toad the Wet Sprocket, Nirvana, and Juliana Hatfield – gone. A pile of guitars, some sweet amps – gone. Hell, I think there might have been a full PA system tucked away in there somewhere.
When I got dragged out of my bed at 4 in the morning by my more temperature astute roommate, I didn’t really have time to process what was happening. I was confused and tired and probably a little drunk. There were firefighters, I had to call my parents. It was a whole thing.
But once the smoke died, and the sun rose, I felt something different. I woke up on a couch in my friend’s apartment. A borrowed pair of sweatpants and t-shirt was all I had left. No wallet, no clothes, no glasses.
But outside of not being able to see, I felt great.
I felt light.
There was a lot in that house I was done with, but I couldn’t let go of. It was the collection of shit that I had accumulated over the 18 or 19 years I had been alive. And somehow tied up in that shit wasn’t just the commitments to hobbies and fashion sense, but relationships and commitments.
And in a poof, it was gone.
Now, just to cut off the objections before they start. Sure, I had insurance. I had family and friends. I don’t want to make light of people who wind up in the unfortunate situations of losing everything with no possibility of coming out of it in a good place. For me, I resurfaced relatively unscathed, financially speaking.
But that doesn’t undermine the takeaway.
Most of that shit I had in that house, I didn’t need (I mean, who the fuck needs their own PA system?). And all that stuff, it corrupted my thinking. It created as many, if not more, obstacles and impediments to growth as it did possibilities.
You Don’t Need Something to Do Something
Here’s the point of this post: values and stuff aren’t the same things.
There are two traps you can find yourself in when you go down the path of creating something new, and they’re both linked to stuff.
The first goes something like this: “I’ll start doing X as soon as I get Y”. This might be, “I’ll start writing music as soon as I get my new guitar.” Or, “I’ll start writing that book as soon as I get that new writing software.” It’s a constant and pernicious thought. And it happens to me ALL THE TIME.
You don’t need anything to get started.
Say it often and loudly. Call these things what they are. They’re excuses with the purpose of veiling your own fear of your power to create. What you’re saying is that it’s the “stuff” that will make you successful, which implies that the core nugget of creation coming from you isn’t enough.
Look, there’s nothing wrong with buying some nice guitars or writing software. There’s nothing really even wrong with money. They can augment where you want to go. There is, however, something very wrong with making your passions contingent on these things. It outsources your happiness, your passion, and your being to stuff. And that’s neither right nor true.
Record your song on your cell phone. Write your poem on google docs. Make your movie on your cell phone. (Man, phones are kind of awesome now.)
Stop delaying. It’s just making you unhappy.
What You Have Isn’t What You’ll Do
The second trick is the converse of the first.
In this one, you have a ton of stuff, and you allow it to dictate what you do next.
This one can be tricky because in its purest form it could very well be how you define who you are.
You’ve got that nice job, big house, fancy car. And now that you’ve got it, you’ve got to keep it, right? You’ve got to keep crawling up that corporate ladder, devote more time to a single type of work…you know how it goes. I mean, you ARE a doctor, a lawyer, a housewife, a corporate executive, etc. Right?
All you are is a person doing stuff. Not as romantic, but far truer. And as a person doing stuff, you can change, adapt, sacrifice at any moment. Will there be repercussions and consequences? Yes, of course there will be. There are consequences to anything you do — some good and some bad. That’s the nature of our casual universe.
The point of being an intentional person doing stuff is to manipulate these things to a way favorable to your values at a given time.
Which gets us to…
The trick here isn’t throwing away all your things and moving to Tibet to meditate. The point here is to align your values with your actions, as well as recognizing that values constantly shift and morph into new things. Being able to stay agile. Allowing your values to drive your actions, not the other way around. This might mean jumping into something you don’t know if you’re ready for or something that scares you.
If you keep a mind to what you value, I think you’ll probably find that the primary drivers don’t change, and it’s not necessarily the value changes, but the way it manifests itself in your life.
The point is to keep an eye to this, and not allowing the things you have or want to dictate where they take you.