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
Do we really need these things we work so hard for?
This is a challenging question.
It brings up realizations in me, specifically, why:
- Do I strive so hard to be successful
- Am constantly pursuing material goods
- I never seem to be happy with what I have
Growing up, we did not have much money. I recall, at times, feeling socially insecure because of it.
Later in our adolescence, my parents leveled up and were more stable in their careers. I would say we moved up from lower middle class to true middle class. I do not 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. she learned to largely raise herself from the age of five . Once her and siblings were a bit older and the restaurant was established, her parents went down to working six days per week. 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.
First, I want to emphasize where my wife and I picked up our work ethic.
My wife’s parents demonstrated a work ethic that is extraordinary. They worked 12+ hours per day for 6 days per week for most of their adult life. That is next level. It is admirable, knowing they were sacrificing to provide their children a life. I admire what they sought to do and, ultimately what they achieved. When I say my parents leveled up their earnings, it was not necessarily through a higher rate per hour. It was through a similar brute force effort. My father started working in the film industry in transportation and would often work 16+ hour days. My mother migrated to the same industry in accounting and would also work 12+ hour days. They sacrificed for their children. For their future. It laid a foundation.
The second digression is with respect to our shadows. Regardless of how well we parent, every child has shadows. How they develop and what is in them is unique to every person. For example, I clearly developed some inferiority issues in my shadow and my wife may have developed issues around love, abandonment. This does not mean that our parents did a bad job; rather, I believe we both truly love and appreciate all our parents did for us.
Because of this, my wife was clear that when we had children, she would put them ahead of her career. She would support me and my career, which she has. To say that I could have achieved what I did without her would be hard. She is my rock. She sets me up for success.
Where my wife has always been frustrated was me working so hard to buy things. Being frivolous with money. In her mind, we did not need these things. She would have been happy staying in our townhouse until we retired, as an example. I was never able to see things as she did. Always craving something more. Something I did not have. The next big thing. Never satisfying my inner demons.
As I begin studying Stoicism and Buddhism, I’ve come to realize that they are very supportive of financial independence and frugal living.
By training my mind, I am learning to ignore wants and desires. Instead, I focus on the present moment. I control my mind. My mind does not control me. This results in diminished cravings, which Buddhism notes are a driver of our suffering – craving and attachment.
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.
I have done, and am doing, the work needed to recognize my wants, my desires and my needs.
That work is threefold:
- Continuing to refine my understanding of Stoicism and living it
- Deepening my knowledge of Buddhism & Mindfulness and living it
- Diving into shadow work to understand the base natures driving me
Through this, I will continue refining my ability to control my mind. To overcome what it is trying to say to me.
- What do you need?
- Do you truly need it?
- Is it needs or is it wants?
- What is driving these wants?
- Can you turn these wants off?
- What would you need to do to do so?
Until next time,
Clint Robert Murphy