When you’re wrong, you’re wrong

If you’ve read this blog for a while, then you may be familiar with my posts on the subject of materialism. Unfortunately, it seems that I wasn’t completely sorted on my definition of materialism nor my use of terminology.

I’m not taking back anything that I’ve previously said on the burden of materialism, the fallacy of happiness being defined by material goods or the healthy practice of cutting down on materialism. All of that? I still stand by it. I still believe in it.

But I certainly put my foot in it when I accused my sister of being materialistic. I was being casual about it but she didn’t take it well and, initially, I couldn’t see what I’d said wrong. As it turned out, I’d got my terminology completely wrong. Y’see, she is easily advertised and sold to (by her own admission!) and can’t help spending, spending, spending on stuff that she really doesn’t need. Really, this is better described as consumerism.

From Collins:
“Consumerism is the belief that it is good to buy and use a lot of goods. “

Of course, you might still describe my sister’s actions as “materialism”…

From Collins:
Materialism is the attitude of someone who attaches a lot of importance to money and wants to possess a lot of material things.”

BUT, I specifically used the word “materialistTIC” and it slowly dawned on me that there might be some differences between “materialistic” and “materialism”…after being (angrily) informed by my sister of what it means to be materialistic. A great many of us are guilty of materialism after all, but a materialistic attitude is a bit different and not necessarily something that comes hand-in-hand with materialism itself.

She was upset by me describing her as materialistic because being materialistic is to put material items and possessions above people and experiences. By her own admissions, she can’t help spending money and buying excessive amounts of clothes and other stuff BUT she doesn’t put her stuff above the people in her life.

And I – of all people – should have known that.

But instead, I was an asshole, trying to throw about my “wisdom”.

So I was wrong, and that’s the big takeaway from this post. It’s important to be able to listen to the criticism of others and review your own actions/words. It’s okay to say, “you know what? I was wrong there.” But, unfortunately, it’s often much easier (and satisfying) to forge onwards and refuse to admit that you made a mistake; refuse to acknowledge that there is even the slightest outfield chance that you weren’t right.

Because we’re all wrong a LOT of the time. We just need to be open to this fact and be willing to take it on the chin.

 

Little notebook of wisdom

Sometime back, I made a post about an entirely self-inflicted (and pretty dumb) problem. I had amassed too many empty notebooks, none of which I had any concrete uses planned out for. Since then, I’ve put some of this unnecessary stash to use and in this post, I’m going to tell you about this little red notebook and what I’ve been using it for.

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I decided that I would use this pocket-sized book to record any useful quotes or scraps of wisdom that I come across. Good stuff to refer back to when the going gets tough or I need reminding of a harsh truth or two. The aim is to fill it up to the point where there is a handy nugget of advice for most situations.

So far, I’ve gathered together stuff from all over the place: books, films, even videogames. If something seems useful and relevant to self-development and the direction I want to take, then I’ve jotted it down. I’ve even taken bits of general advice and condensed it down into small, focused passages that are straight to the point.

I will share some of the contents here, in this post, then periodically return to my red notebook in future posts where I will divulge some more…

“It isn’t about whether you can or can’t; it’s whether you do or don’t.”

This one was me, in full-on nerd mode, taking a quote from a videogame and running with it. I feel that this is one of most profound quotes in my notebook. It’s applicable to a great many situations and reminds me of the importance of at least attempting something – no matter the odds – instead of avoiding it because you feel that you aren’t capable. After all, it’s better to regret something you have done over something you haven’t. And you never know; perhaps you will surprise yourself and actually succeed.

“Instead of complaining about bad experiences or mistakes, look to see what lessons can be learned.”

I think this is one that a lot of us can benefit from digesting. It’s very easy to just bitch and moan about negative experiences, but the truth is that these things have already happened and can’t be reversed. It’s much more constructive to analyse what happened and see whether you can learn something from it. The most powerful lessons usually come about as a result of the biggest balls-ups, for example. You’d be a fool not to identify said lesson and take it onboard.

“Take control of a situation. Don’t let it control you.”

A very important one, this. Sometimes shit happens that we have no control over and, in these cases, we are legitimate passengers. However, we often use this as an excuse to avoid having to act when we are perfectly capable of influencing a situation or straight-up taking the controls. If we can’t gain complete control, we are still responsible for our emotions and responses to a negative event in our lives. Things may happen to us that are 100% not our fault but there comes a transitional point where we are, in fact, responsible for how we react and proceed.

“A winning attitude is one that asks itself every day, how it can get better.”

Here on this blog, I will never equate “winning” with a load of macho BS or extravagant materialism. A “winning” attitude to me is simply a positive, constructive mindset. This quote from four-time Formula 1 champion, Alain Prost, is relevant to us all because, however good we think we are, we can always improve ourselves. Asking ourselves critical questions is also an important way of getting to the truth about ourselves and thus identifying our shortcomings.

And that’s all for now. I have plenty more scrawls on plenty more pages though so I’ll be returning to the red notebook in due course.

 

Life = Prison?

Well, that got dark pretty quickly, huh?

Unfortunately, this is just how I have been feeling over the past week-and-a-bit. A small disclaimer first though. I am fully aware that living in the West is a charmed existence and just another day in paradise compared to the suffering endured by those in other parts of the world who have infinitely worse circumstances than my own. I can, for example, type this post without fear of having a bomb dropped on my head or wondering when I will have my next meal.

I feel that it’s important to make that clear before I carry on. I even have some posts on the horizon that go into the subject of remembering what we have and how good we have it instead of constantly moaning about insignificant first-world problems. So look forward to those.

Unfortunately, it’s this very same “free” (the quotation marks are imperative to note) society that can inspire the horrible feeling of being imprisoned in your own country; your own home; your own head. It isn’t the obvious kind of suppression however and it might be all the worse for it in some ways. I’ve referenced Mark Manson’s fantastic book, The Subtle Art of Not Giving A Fuck, many times already on this blog and I’m certain that I have even repeated the following quoted passage before but this section of the book simply struck a real chord with me. Mark talks about visiting Russia and having to get used to the blunt honesty of the people there.

This is why it became the norm in Western cultures to smile and say polite things even when you don’t feel like it, to tell little white lies and agree with someone whom you don’t actually agree with. This is why people learn to pretend to be friends with people they don’t actually like, to buy things they don’t actually want. The economic system promotes such deception.

True, there’s nobody here holding a gun to my head and saying that I must do X or else I will be shot. Similarly, I’m not exactly in a do-or-die situation. What happens here in Western countries is that we get manipulated and herded into pens like sheep. Our society is full of liars and false imagery. Even more dangerous still, the media and those in power play us off against one another, creating a highly toxic us-versus-them environment where we are too busy despising people for their political views or lifestyle preferences to unite against the real threats. We are kept sedated by mindless consumerism, placated by that new TV or showing off our wonderful lives on social media. This is how our system wants us to be because we are easier to herd in this state.

We are forcibly pushed into this system – this established order of things – by our education systems that prepare us for lives as just another cog in the machine. We are needed, after all, to keep the big machine running and the profits coming in for those in the control room.

There is a downside to “waking up” and really questioning everything arout you though. You begin to feel trapped – trapped by having to go to work at a job that has no meaning for you because you need the money to keep the bill collectors at bay. Trapped by a judgmental society that you feel the need to please by conforming to the image of a “normal” man/woman. Trapped by this awful consumerism that makes you feel left behind if you don’t have the newest shit – the same consumerism that brainwashes you to want more, more, more of the ultimately meaningless material products.

You might come to believe that you are living in the world’s largest open prison. No, you aren’t technically incarcerated but do you actually feel free?

 

Bars-1
[Source]

So you start to question rather than accept and it can result in some extremely horrible realisations. After all, it is said that if you stare into the abyss long enough, the abyss will stare back. What I mean by all this is that you might just see the futility in it all and it will bum you out. It’s much easier to STOP questioning and carry on being “normal”. It’s more comfortable; it’s what you know.

But once you’ve started asking questions and silently challenging the credibility of the status quo, it’s difficult to ever stop asking those questions. Especially if you hate your job. I personally don’t hate my job (that would be too strong of a description) but I don’t particularly enjoy it either. Going through the motions, the daily 7am-5pm grind, the lacklustre wages that don’t get you anywhere in life…none of it is inviting. “But work isn’t supposed to be fun!” I hear you cry and you’re right. Likewise, it’s perfectly reasonable to suggest that I get a different job. That could be a whole topic in itself but in general, it’s being part of a huge machine and working for thankless corporations – that really don’t care about you as an individual component in their organisation – that is beginning to bug me.

The obvious solution, then, is to become self-employed; to find something that I enjoy doing and can make a living from so that I can be my own boss. That takes energy and quality time to figure out though, let alone put into action. Not easy when the job you have to keep going to in order to collect pennies drains all of your physical AND mental reserves and leaves you feeling like an empty shell that cannot be arsed once the day is done. I’m typing this post in the evening for example and I’m just barely maintaining the motivation to keep hitting those keys.

On the subject of employment and freedom, there is a quote from Rage Against the Machine’s Tom Morello that has resonated with me ever since I first came across it.

“America touts itself as the land of the free, but the number one freedom that you and I have is the freedom to enter into a subservient role in the workplace. Once you exercise this freedom you’ve lost all control over what you do, what is produced, and how it is produced. And in the end, the product doesn’t belong to you. The only way you can avoid bosses and jobs is if you don’t care about making a living. Which leads to the second freedom: the freedom to starve.”

Now I’m not saying that we should become lazy bums and sponge off the state while everybody else works to pay their way. I’m not even saying that I have the answers because I don’t.

The good news – the light at the end of this dark, depressing post – is that there is hope. Life can feel like a prison but the truth of it is, we willingly entered our cells. A lot of it is in our heads and the way we perceive the world around us. True, we have been groomed to be good little members of society and to go to work and to accept the way things are but we also – unwittingly of course – allowed people to do this to us. The cell door is closed but it isn’t locked.

Happiness, peace and liberation can only be achieved by asking those questions and understanding that just because something has “always been this way”, doesn’t mean that it is right or that it is the ONLY way.

Breaking out of my cage and living life on my own terms is now one of my top goals. Accordingly, I have been reading and listening to various related things and so I will have some more posts coming up where I look at some ideas and pointers designed to help one wake up and start living a better life.

 

Materialism Update: too many trainers and killer Converse?!?

It’s been some time since I made my post on the affliction of materialism and my desire to move away from it; to cut down on what I own and buy. If you’re expecting some sort of big results on my part then you might be disappointed however. On a positive note, I don’t feel as if I have accrued any more stuff. I’ve sold a hell of a lot of things since that post and managed to offset any new purchases by getting rid of other things. The “one in, one out” philosophy at work.

To give myself a bit more credit, I do feel that I own a little less stuff but because of the way my things are stored, the situation doesn’t look any different visually. I’m going to keep chipping away at this but for today, I’m going to be talking about one specific area of senseless materialism: trainers. Or sneakers if you are reading this in the US of A.

A needlessly excessive collection of footwear is a criticism usually levelled at women but men aren’t immune to this form of fashion consumerism. I have six pairs of trainers which might not seem like a huge deal to some of you but, as far as I am concerned, it’s five pairs too many.

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(excuse the stains on the fronts of the grey Crosshatches – I’d just been scrubbing some brake dust stains from the material and they were still damp)

I didn’t use to be this way at all. One pair of trainers was enough for me. But then I discovered that I enjoyed collecting trainers that caught my eye, specifically bright blue ones as you can see. I didn’t pay full price for any of these, mind. We have a clothes outlet here in the UK called TK Maxx which sells designer brands at a large discount on account of the items being last season’s trends or discontinued lines that other retailers have gotten shot of. There are usually only one or two examples of most things and the stock is often completely different each time you visit which is both an upside and a downside.

I bought most of the trainers in the above picture from TK Maxx at 50% or higher discount versus the RRP which felt like a steal. Of course, I soon realised that it wasn’t really a saving when I didn’t need to spend any money on trainers in the first place. It was reality check time. I asked myself, “what the fuck are you doing?” and placed a ban on buying any new trainers – a ban I have happily stuck to.

Worse still, I was terrified to wear any of these trainers in case they got dirty or damaged – completely contradicting their purpose. I would wear them carefully then feverishly clean them up as soon as I was home, trying to preserve their new-ness. The exception are the battered grey Crosshatches in the bottom-right of the picture. I have replaced the insoles numerous times and even superglued them back together in order to get them to last as long as possible. I didn’t intend for them to ever reach this state but I have to wear something when I leave the house!

I decided that I was set for many years with this stock of trainers. As well as banning myself from buying any more, I have vowed to run them ALL in and make them go the distance, just like the grey Crosshatches (which I’m sure are on death’s door at this point). Time to kill off the obsessive perfectionism while I’m at it! Footwear is meant to be worn, not stored carefully and treated like antique collectables.

The next pair in line to become my “daily” trainers and get properly used will be the Converse All-Stars but I’ve always been wary of wearing these bastards because of the absolutely deadly lack of grip provided by the soles. These have been worn considerably more than any of my flashy blue kicks but even so, they never seem to wear in properly. I frequently find myself sliding on smooth surfaces or slipping on shiny store floors.

all-star-soles
Beware the soles of doooooooom

And as if to prove their vindictive intentions, I’ve slipped over in public for real while wearing these fucking things. It was only a slightly damp, tarmac path on a gentle slope but walking down said path felt like walking on ice. Needless to say, I stacked it and was lucky not to damage my back. Also lucky that not many people saw it!

So it was that I spent my precious time wisely and sat in front of the computer, asking Google, “why do I have no grip when wearing Converse?”. I didn’t expect a proper answer but the internet came up trumps and revealed the reason that Converse All-Stars are a one-way ticket to public humiliation and potential injury. Apparently, the soles are not 100% rubber – they come with a felt coating that doesn’t ever completely disappear and it’s this coating that causes a lack of grip. By reducing the rubber content in the soles, Converse can be imported as “slippers” and avoid a good chunk of import tax! So, to sum up: big name fashion item (that isn’t exactly cheap to buy anyway) is sold by a big name company that exploits a loophole in order to save a few pennies. I’ll put that one under the ‘Why am I not surprised?’ category in my mental filing system.

Destination Unknown

I often like to write about self-development here on this blog and discuss social issues that I think are major problems (such as people failing to take any responsibility for their own actions, for example). I suppose that doing so is one small way in which I attempt to grapple with my own development and problems. Because as much as I can sit here, typing out large posts that foolishly attempt to put the world to rights, I’m still a deeply flawed human being with a stack of my own shit to deal with.

The battle is eternal and it’s certainly true that the greatest opponent a man will ever slug it out with in his lifetime is himself.

So, for this post, I’m going to briefly talk about what I consider to be my greatest personal problem – my ultimate nemesis: direction.

I believe that most of us haven’t got a clue where we’re going in life. Of course, there are exceptions to everything, and I am well aware that there are those who have their shit well and truly together and a cast-iron will to keep forging on towards their goals. These are the individuals that people such as myself look at it in admiration. Not because of their material gain or social status (fuck that) but for their drive and dogged persistance on their quest to get to where they want (or need) to be.

The majority of us live through the same stories however:

  • We knew what we wanted but were denied by circumstance
  • We were forced from our path for financial reasons or inescapable commitments
  • Other people e.g. a new partner changed our life and our priorities
  • We became parents and had to put our dreams on hold
  • We’ve NEVER known what we wanted

I certainly slot into the last scenario. As a child, I never knew what I wanted but that was understandable considering my age. However, I didn’t develop any sort of direction as a teenager or a college student. I took a couple of A-Level courses in college then lost interest mid-way through the second year, probably because I subconsciously realised that I didn’t know WHY I was taking the courses or where I wanted them to get me.

Then I left education and ended up in the retail sector which is where I remain today. In short, I’ve never known what I wanted to do or which direction I should be heading in.

I know I’m not a special case at all. Also, I’m well aware that the majority of us will live average, non-extraordinary lives and that there’s nothing wrong with that.

As long as you are happy of course and feel as if you have a purpose. Can I honestly say that either apply to me? No; I wouldn’t be typing out this blog post otherwise.

Right now, I honestly don’t know where to begin with it all. Asking yourself the big questions and supplying honest answers is one recommended avenue. Here’s one that I concocted which I hoped might trigger some ideas, no matter how faint they might be.

If there were no obstacles – money, self-confidence, personal circumstance etc. – where would you like to be and what would you like to be doing?

My answer?
“I don’t know”

I feel that this has always been my problem. I can’t claim to have a dream that I’ve been denied or a course that I’ve been blown from. I’m just a drifter, living from one day to the next and not in any kind of romantic sense. Obviously, I feel that there are reasons in my past that have compounded this situation and made it worse but I’m not here to tell sob stories or make excuses.

Working on a dream – something to get me motivated and fired up – has become a priority in my mind. By my understanding however, you can’t simply decide on a dream so where one must begin is a bit of a mystery to me.

If anybody has any killer tips or can point me in the direction of some good resources then please, feel free to comment below.