Well, I survived my first Thanksgiving in the US. Although it’s not over yet – I have one more lunch tomorrow so perhaps I shouldn’t speak so soon.
It reminds me a lot of Christmas Day meets Australia Day. Except there’s less bogans (Australian Rednecks) and no ‘oi oi oi’ being crassly shouted from cars. I don’t miss that. I do miss beach barbecues however.
Despite that Thanksgiving is only celebrated officially in just a few countries other than the USA, the concept isn’t unique. In most cultures in the world, there is time and energy given to stopping one’s busy life and taking the time to appreciate what they have.
Some do it daily without fanfare; others do it formally once a year with lavish display and excessive food. It makes you think.
“Isn’t it ironic that Americans spend most of their money on new things for themselves the day AFTER they say they are grateful for what they already have?”
I used to own a lot of stuff and spent my days doing what I could to feed the proverbial meter. Yet despite making money, buying things and then falling out of love with those things, I woke up one day to realise that I had lost my way.
And I think after watching the Walmart Black Friday video, it’s clear that the larger populace of the first world has also lost its way. We’re so in love with our own projected image (and maintaining it) that we don’t, can’t and won’t see the reality at our feet.
Thanksgiving in the US (as described by many sources) was first celebrated in the Pilgrim era to give thanks to God for a bumper harvest. It was a time to humbly celebrate a communal effort; not to pepper spray your peers for a cheap Xbox. The last time I checked, the US isn’t having a bumper harvest right now. In fact, it needs to be sowing more seeds and not celebrating the few small shoots and leaves.
Sadly it seems that to greater America, Thanksgiving is just like many other commercialised celebrations from Valentine’s Day, Easter, Christmas and so on. Public holidays to go through the motions, buy some stuff, pretend to care and give little critical thought to better our lives and relationships. Australia is just as guilty.
I remember working hard one weekend, trying to meet a deadline. I didn’t actually need to work that weekend but I was in love with the idea of sounding busy. Somehow I felt ‘productive’ and that being busy meant I was more likely to be successful.
My friend called me asking me to go to the beach because it was going to be a beautiful day. I told her how much I’d love to come but unfortunately I had to work but maybe another time. As this was the fourth or fifth time I had declined an invitation, she quipped back, “what are you working on that’s so important that you can’t spend the day with your friends? You could die tomorrow…”
At the time this was interpreted as an attack and an insult to me. After all, here I was working on my mega-billion dollar company for world domination and she clearly ‘didn’t get it’. I shunted her along the conversation and replied with some piss-weak comment such as “I’ll relax when I’m done” and “don’t you know I run a company?”. She sighed and didn’t fight me.
I didn’t get invited the next time they went because she figured that my big company was more important. When we caught up for dinner one night, she told me admirably that running a company must be such an hard thing to do and that she really respected me. In hindsight, I truly wish she was being sarcastic, but alas she wasn’t and my ego was only validated again.
At the time, I believed I was doing important work; I believed it to my core. But looking back I’ve realised that I wasn’t curing Cancer for millions or even helping a little old lady across the road. Instead I was just feeding my own ego. As I shoved another Big Mac into my mouth, I defended my actions believing and quoting ‘no pain; no gain’, ‘diamonds are made under pressure’, and that ‘sacrifice sells’.
And it did sell. I made money, I bought nice things and it all just validated my efforts. The problem was, I didn’t read the fine print. In the ‘deal’, I also sold my health, my relationships, my outlets and most of all, my humanity.
I was riding along like king ding-a-ling until I woke up one day and realised I didn’t have any real friends. Sure I had my business friends but gone were the days of kicking a football and talking about life, love, hopes, dreams and fears. I didn’t have people in my life anymore who really knew me. Instead, my brunches were all about strategy, synergy, logic and business plans. I just figured all this serious talk meant I must be moving up in the world.
Whilst I wanted commercial success, I also wanted my life back.
I learned the hard way that life isn’t a dichotomy of success and failure. Instead, it’s a subjective pile of colourful Lego and we all make the personal decision of what’s worth fighting for, what’s worth dying for and what’s worth walking away from. My views certainly aren’t a criticism on those who toil over their work nor is it supportive of those who I feel could contribute more.
Instead, it’s a sharp comment to have you question the real importance of your work and the impact it’s having on your life. Don’t pretend that you’re responsible, caring and thankful then slice deep cuts into your fundamentals.
If working that extra day to afford that $2 waffle maker is your idea of success, I wouldn’t be questioning whether you deserve it or not. Instead I’d be asking why you need waffles so badly that you’ll sacrifice your life.