Henry Q Vines suggested I start a gratitude journal. So I did. Feeling gratitude is great but when I ended my first entry, I realized that the part about “brightening others lives” is really important to me. Much of my gratitude is for the actions of others. I think it’s important that they know I’m grateful. I’ve been going through hell this year. I’m sure I’m not alone. I hope this effort can help others and help the people to/for whom I’m grateful. Thank you for reading it.
I’m grateful that my parents taught me to be responsible. When I say they taught me, I mean that they not only gave me verbal guidance and encouragement but also gave me opportunities to BE responsible. They always let me make my own decisions and accept the consequences – good or bad. This meant giving me opportunities to mess up- especially when I was young.
Sometimes I felt like a baby bird learning to fly by simply being pushed over the edge of the nest. “Flap hard! Good luck!” But those early lessons were extremely effective. When I had a check bounce at the age of 17, the experience of being charged a fee by both the bank and the payee and STILL having actually pay for whatever it was I (thought I had) bought was visceral. I saw quickly the wormhole of fees that society has laid out for us. It’s actually frightful. It’s one reason that the poor stay poor – they find themselves in a cycle of compounding fees often turning to even-worse payday loans and other forms of usury.
But I also saw the other side of the coin. Money and time can compound IN YOUR FAVOR that same Wormhole. The best example I can think of is home-ownership. In a mortgage, your early payments are almost nothing but interest. In a breakdown of my first year of payments on my first home, my $1100/month was only paying about $100 of principle. By the end of the year, we owned $1200 of a $138K home. Not inspiring.
However, when we sold the house and I got $17K five years later I realized that if I’d been renting, that number would’ve been $0. You have to live somewhere so why not buy into your own life by building equity for yourself instead renting someone else’s?
I’ve had relatively very little debt in my life thanks to my parents’ early teachings. Other than homes, education, cars and the occasional business investment, I’ve hardly ever carried a credit card balance from month to month. I have the best credit score of just about anyone I know (who’s shared). I learned this from my parents.
This carried over into personal matters. I learned early on that my actions and decisions affected those around me. Sometimes the hard way. Our family had/has its fair share of turmoil and dysfunction but we have learned to power through and stick together even when we’re not getting along because we see that each of us contributes to the problems we face and the solutions to those problems.
In my young adult years, this translated into the idea that saying yes to something often meant saying no to something else. I knew that finishing a degree and getting a “real job” was counter-intuitive to my goals of being a touring musician. The cost and responsibility of doing that wouldn’t allow me much freedom to be broke and fulfilled. (On the other hand, being a musician hasn’t allowed me much of the freedom/convenience money can buy. I think I chose best, though.) It took a long time for my parents to buy into my dream but after 20+ years, I think they’ve figured out it’s not just a phase.
Saying yes/no came to head for me as musician when I moved to Austin in 1999. It’s easy to over-commit. Every year or so, I’d find myself saying “no” to things I cared about in order to please others who wanted my time – often for activities and projects that I knew would never go anywhere. Opportunities turned to obligations quickly. I can remember spending a Sunday afternoon going between three rehearsals — after having a show the night before! It took a long time to get past that but these days I’ve been focusing on the things I care about most – especially my relationships with family and friends. I’ve tried to brighten others’ lives even when I’ve not felt particularly bright. Maybe even when they’re actively trying to darken mine.
And that’s ultimately the best lesson I’ve ever learned. We are responsible for our own happiness – only you can make you happy and you can always choose your response. You can choose to be happy. It’s not always easy. In fact it almost never is.
My parents are not perfect but they rolled snowball down the mountain of my life when they put my name on their credit card account in my high school years. It just gets bigger as it slowly works its way down. Thank you, Mom and Dad!