Monday, January 30, 2017

Can you be successful and virtuous?


I've grown to become a little scared of success.

Now "success" is subjective.  Many have their own definitions, and I'd argue that I'm already successful in that I know who I am, I've worked through any past hurt I've had, I have a solid marriage, wonderful friends, and 2 kids who laugh everyday.  To me, that's a definition of success.

Here I'm talking about "success" as it's related to finances, paying down debt, and getting out of the renting market and into the market of owning.

And I'm scared of this sort of success for a few reasons, I suppose -- one being the perception of successful people.  Even if someone worked from nothing and eventually one day becomes successful, we seem to see them through a bitter-shaded lens.  Mostly, though, I'm scared of success, because of the convenience success brings.

My last few years have been painfully inconvenient, but I've learned that it's only through inconvenience that I've grown in patience, discipline, and, dare I say it, humility.  I've developed a level of comfortability when it comes to inconvenience. 

Tim and I don't plan to live a lifestyle dictated by student loans forever.  We do plan on one day being relatively comfortable, so-to-speak.  Will I lose all that I've gained?  Will I become so comfortable that I'll whine and complain at the slightest discomfort?

It was only when my comforts, my conveniences were stripped away that I realized the great opportunity inconvenience presents for growth.  I went from buying all my salad pre-washed, pre-chopped and in a nicely sealed container to buying it in bulk, having to wash, chop, and store on my own.  I went from warming up all my leftovers in a microwave to warming them up in the oven - did you know it takes about 5x as long?  I went from air conditioning to no air conditioning, having a washer and dryer easily accessible to lugging loads down to the outdoor, community, coin-op laundry, having to remember to get coins for laundry, carrying a stroller up and down apartment stairs, buying whatever at the grocery store to meal-planning on a budget.  And all these little things were of course side effects from the larger inconvenience of living paycheck to paycheck.

Sometimes, I think it's nearly impossible for anyone - and I mean anyone - in our day to be virtuous, because we have too much...stuff...that caters to our comfort, to our convenience -- heated seats (as amazing as they are), microwaves, air conditioning, driveways (if you park on the street in snow with children, you'll grow to see even driveways as a convenience), faucets you can turn off with your arms if your hands are dirty, heated bathroom floors, containers of pre-chopped vegetables not to mention ApplePay, Google Maps, Siri, and the handy, dandy Echo (as creepy as that thing is).

People often think it's the huge life-altering, all-at-once experiences that help us, change us.  The moving out at a young age, or getting kicked out of school, or not getting accepted to college, or a years-long relationship falling apart are the things that make us into better people, 'cause what doesn't kill us makes us stronger, right?

Wrong.  Just like the unhealthy person doesn't turn into a healthy, mean machine of muscle with one crunch, we don't turn transform upon reading, "we regret to inform you..."  It's true these sorts of big, life-altering experiences help us to grow in some way. They give us wisdom and equip us with life experience that help us to relate to and empathize with others.  They don't, however, transform.

Transformation is a slow, arduous, often painful process.  It's about developing good habits and purifying ourselves of the bad ones.  We'll only be transformed through a lifetime of little discomforts and big inconveniences, because it's in facing those annoyances that we get most irritated. 

Getting cut off, someone taking your parking spot, running out of hot water in the shower, getting a parking ticket, being overcharged on your credit card, someone trying to "one-up you" in a conversation.  You know you're transforming into a one-of-a-kind person when you face any of these scenarios with a calm "c'est la vie."  And I'd argue it's living a life without ApplePay and heated seats that help you to that place faster.

So one day when we're looking for our dream house with an attached garage, and heated bathroom floors, and technologically-advanced faucets, and a laundry room and a mud room and all the things in the world that will make us comfortable, I hope to take pause, to think what is the best space for our family to feel safe and at home, but what will help us to grow?  Maybe we give up one or two little comforts in the name of keeping us humble.

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