Why Scraping By is the Best Lesson
Hello and happy Tuesday!
I hope you’re well and ready for this week’s stuff!
ONE FROM THE AGES
“A man is rich in proportion to the things he can afford to let alone.”
- Henry David Thoreau
ONE FROM TODAY
In light of graduation season, here is a beautiful nugget from David McCullough’s 2012 commencement speech, popularly referred to as the “You Are Not Special” speech:
“We have come to love accolades more than genuine achievement. We’ve come to see them as the point and we’re happy to compromise standards or ignore reality if we suspect that’s the quickest way or only way to have something to put on the mantlepiece—something to pose with, to crow about—something with which to leverage ourselves into a better spot on the social totem pole. No longer is it how you play the game, no longer is it even whether you win or lose or learn or grow or enjoy yourself doing it. Now it’s, “so what does this get me.” As a consequence, we cheapen worthy endeavors, and building a Guatemalan medical clinic becomes more about the application to Bodin than the well-being of Guatemalans. It’s an epidemic…
...the fulfilled life is a consequence- a gratifying by-product. It’s what happens when you’re thinking about more important things…. Climb the mountain not to plant your flag, but to embrace the challenge, enjoy the air, and behold the view… climb it so you can see the world, not so the world can see you.”
Source: You Are Not Special, David McCullough Commencement Address
ONE FROM US
In the spring of 2005, my parents purchased a 1992 Mazda Navajo for me to drive. There was no AC or heat and it smelled of tar, but I was driving. I was free.
A few months later, the battery died. I paid to have it replaced, but it died again shortly after. A mechanic explained that I had a “dead draw” sapping my battery even after I turned off the car. I could either pay hundreds to have this fixed, or I could pop the hood every time I finished a trip and take out the second fuse from the bottom. For the next few years, I never drove without popping the hood a few times. I joked that my car was so valuable it required two keys.
One cold winter night, I dropped the fuse while trying to put it back in. 20-minutes later the fuse was found and I could finally start my car and drive home. The next day I went to the auto shop and spent five dollars on a pack of fuses that I’d keep in the glove compartment for situations such as these.
By the next winter, I found that the car would turn itself off at stops if it was not warmed up. Thus, I learned to start my car 15-minutes before leaving each morning. On another occasion, the rearview mirror fell down while I was driving on a date. These were the joys of driving an old car. I didn’t celebrate each inconvenience, but I was aware of how fortunate I was to have a car provided for me.
Whenever I tell these stories, I’m amazed to see how many other adults fondly recount similar stories. My favorite is a colleague who shared a car with her twin sister. Each day on the drive to school they’d take a sharp turn that would kill the engine unless they manually held the key in place throughout the turn.
Experiences such as these were once baked into the typical upbringing. Part of becoming an adult is learning to make do with less than ideal circumstances. This prompts valuable problem-solving skills and makes all those future accomplishments far sweeter. Unless you’re a prodigious 16-year-old entrepreneur who pulls in thousands each month, I maintain that your first car should be a clunker. Likewise, your dorm or housing arrangement at age 18 should be meager.
Another colleague of mine has two kids who are currently both attending good universities. One day we were chatting about the expenses and sacrifices inherent to parenting—daycare, diapers, clothes, medical, travel, and the like. “Just imagine two of them getting cars and then going to college at the same time,” he interjected. “It is good though. My wife and I may be eating spaghetti leftovers two nights in a row, but at least they are eating great and having an awesome experience.” I was floored. By eating great, he didn’t mean balanced, nutritious meals. He meant that after over 30 years of hard work in well-respected careers, he and his wife were scraping by on cheap noodles while paying tuition and providing their kids the means to enjoy all the best restaurants and nightlife their city had to offer. How insanely backward.
Over the past few decades, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend where people seem to believe that every aspect of a kid’s life has to be wrapped in pageantry. Adults today spend so much time worrying about trophies, uniforms, and awards ceremonies, but often overlook the lessons and values that really matter. None of this is our kids’ fault, but it will be them who have to overcome it.
It may seem kind to lavish our children in luxuries, but the more they expect from others, the more likely they are to be let down and the more likely they are to be disappointed even when other people are giving them something. Likewise, the more things they think they need, the more stuff they think they need to be happy. They have to work longer hours to afford those needs, or go into debt, or they just feel offended that they can’t get them.
Thanks for reading! In the spirit of freeing ourselves from the tyranny of our needs, here are some of my favorite minimalist messages:
Podcast: Tim Ferriss #161 with Sebastian Junger
Song: Gone, by Jack Johnson
Article: Getting Rich From Zero to Hero in One Blog Post, by Mr. Money Mustache
Life is too short to be normal,