In general, I don’t really think of myself as a product of my culture. I think of myself as “different” and “thoughtful”, which is probably giving myself too much credit. Because truth be told, I don’t challenge my ways of thinking very often, and I often surround myself with people who think similarly. And I realized the other day that I don’t want to be one of those bonkers conservative people who only listen to Ann Coulter and Fox News. But I also don’t want to be their liberal counterpart. I want to be thoughtful. I want to be challenged. I want to consider new ideas and reject some while adopting others. I want to change and grow, not go deeper and deeper down a rabbit hole I started when I was in my early 20’s.
I’m reading this book by Laura Vanderkam called All the Money in the World: What the Happiest People Know about Getting and Spending. It has affirmed some of what I already believe, but it’s also pushed me to think about things very differently than I have in the past. Primarily, Vanderkam introduced me to the idea of choices. She says, quite simply, that every decision you make about your money, whether it’s how you get your money or how you spend your money, is just that… a decision. A choice. And while many other people would have made similar choices, that doesn’t make it any less of a choice.
And while I understand this intellectually, I often act as though my choices were inevitable. I make the salary I do because I’m a teacher. Gosh darn state legislature, why don’t you give us a raise?! My husband makes what he does because although he works in IT, he does so at an education non-profit. Yes, it would be nice to have more money. But at the end of the day, we make what we do because we chose to. Others are not as fortunate as us in that they did not receive an essentially free education at one of the best universities in the state and even the country. They don’t have the choices we do. Regardless, these are still choices. Other states pay their teachers better, and moving is an option. But then we wouldn’t live here, less than 4 hours away from either set of parents, seeing my little sister on a regular basis, and in a community I absolutely love. I choose to stay. That means the income I have, unfortunately. And I can whine and cry about it, or I can accept responsibility for the fact that I get what I get because of choices I have made.
I get to drive less than 5 minutes to a farmer’s market that is open two days each week. It’s a huge farmer’s market with gluten free baguettes, tons of fresh veg, gorgeous flowers, and fresh eggs and meat that make me feel good about what I’m putting in my body. It’s right down the street from the best gluten free bakery where I picked up a couple scones for breakfast this morning.
I’m pretty happy with this choice. I spend more on groceries than I’d like, but I also recognize that I could spend less. Less money on groceries could mean more in savings or more on clothes or more… whatever. But I choose groceries, because I really like food, and I like food that I can feel good about. I like fresh fruits and veg, I like supporting sustainable farming. I’m making choices.
I don’t want to be a product of my culture, but in order to avoid this, I must acknowledge my own agency in creating my life. I’m making choices. And because I get to make choices, I have the power to change things in my life that I don’t like.
So I’m doing a lot of pondering these days. I’m trying to imagine the life I want to have, and then I’m figuring out how to get it. I’m making choices. Today, I’m just thankful for all the choices I have before me. And most of us do have a lot of choice, when it comes down to it, perhaps not the choices that we want, but still more than so many other people in the world. I’m trying to do things because I’ve weighed the pros and cons, and I’m generally pleased with the outcome. I’m trying to ignore social and cultural pressures so that I can live a life I’m proud of and that I enjoy. I’m trying to challenge myself.
This morning, I made some pretty simple, but also meaningful choices. I chose water instead of juice. I chose cleaning instead of tv. And then I chose a scone instead of cereal. And you know, I’m pretty happy with these choices.