I sold my life for a $2 waffle maker

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.

I was watching the now famous Walmart $2 waffle maker Black Friday Sale and Urban Outfitters opening and an appropriate comment came up.

“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.

5 thoughts on “I sold my life for a $2 waffle maker

  1. Nice article. This is not a case in US, all the cultural holidays in India are going on a commercial way. Here sadly in Hindu tradition, nearly 50% have stopped celebrating the rituals too!

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    1. Thanks for reading and your reply Akshitha! 🙂 I do believe in progress and evolution of society but I guess deep down I’m a bit sentimental about traditional values too. How quickly we forget and discard our foundations… 😦

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  2. I’d like to make one correction, or at least how I think of “Black Friday”. The day after Thanksgiving is for buying Christmas presents for someone else, not for yourself. Thanksgiving time to Christmas time in America is the “Self purchase blackout period”, at least it is in my family.

    That being said, I’ve yet to begin my holiday shopping!

    😉

    R.

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  3. What I love about this article is its genuineness. And how it gets to the core of the problem.

    What’s the problem?

    Kevin Spacey echoed it in American Beauty when he said, “I have lost something. I’m not exactly sure what it is, but I know I didn’t always feel this… sedated.”

    As did Brad Pitt in Fight Club: “The things you own, they end up owning you.”

    Recently, I too had a similar epiphany.

    I was hanging out at the mall about 10 minutes from where we live, looking for something vague and just out of reach, when I realized that this is all I do, this is all we do. We spend our weekends at malls. We don’t as you say “[cure] Cancer for millions or even [help] a little old lady across the road.”

    In my shallow past, I’ve spent weeks tracking down the perfect item whether it be a certain style of alternative running shoe, or the perfect colored cloth belt for my khaki bermuda shorts, or the best all-purpose sandal-casual Friday shoe combo and then after the newness wears off, I toss them away as something stupid and then continue trying to reinvent myself in another meaningful way.

    I attribute this to not really loving what I do (err did).

    I’m much better now after I quit my job to start a business with my mom: but old habits die hard.

    Just last weekend, I spent hours scouring the city for the perfect parka (yup winter’s coming). I was going for a cross between Cayce Pollard’s Buzz Rickson, Southpark Kenny’s coat, and the Woolrich the dude was wearing in Lil Kim’s Jump Off video.

    Yeah I know, pretty pathetic.

    All in all, I think having volleyed from insane periods of all work to wasted times involving doing nothing productive for months and months on end, I agree with Doris Kearns-Goodwin’s TED talk about the need for balance between the three most important areas of life: work, love, and play.

    Thank you for a truly insightful post, made all the more interesting since it was grounded in your personal experiences.

    PS – I never used to kick a football around, but I miss Tuesday nights with my buddies playing euchre (calling a go alone hand with the left, right, and a king anyone?) and ordering pizza. What I wouldn’t give…

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    1. Thank you so much for reading, your compliments and replying with such an equally authentic and open story. I’m really glad that you feel the same way and that you’re taking actions towards being in touch with what you’re about.

      It’s easy to get caught up in whirlwinds and changing countries recently for me has proven that. You experience a new kind of reality and it fleshes out your character some more giving you just more depth and texture. What is important however is that we take the time to stop, reflect and adjust course if necessary so don’t be too hard on yourself for falling into old habits; it’s understandable. The point is you’re aware which means you can adjust.

      The great thing I can tell from your reply is that you openly want to have a life of flow and that is a big part of the challenge – deciding emphatically enough to take action.

      The next step is to just ‘do’ it. Want Tuesday nights with your buddies? Make it a priority and design in your life just as much as eating, sleeping, working and brushing your teeth. It’s not a compromise or sacrifice if you genuinely want it.

      There’s an interesting concept that I will actually write about thanks to your response. It goes like this:

      A man sits on the dock staring into the distance with a fishing rod in his hand. What do you think he’s doing? is it reasonable? do you disturb him?

      A man sits on the dock starting into the distance without a fishing rod in his hand. What do you think he’s doing? is it reasonable? do you disturb him?

      We have these silly views of what’s important work and what isn’t. Once upon a time reading a newspaper was considered an important part of the job. If you did it now at your desk, people would think you were being lazy. But read that news online and now you’re working again…Go figure!

      Just because spending a Tuesday with friends is considered leisurely to some (thus being sacrificial), doesn’t mean it has to be for you. Re-calibrate your mind to see it as imperative work and you’ll be surprised how easy it becomes to manage. It’s effectively just a new habit. 🙂

      From your story, I know in my bones that you’re well and truly on that path so I don’t wish to tell you how to suck eggs. Just keep believing, keep learning and iterating and adjusting along the way. Sometimes it involves heart-in-mouth moments when remaining true to what you believe seems like a ludicrous decision compared to the odds.

      I can promise that it’s what you want anyway deep down so the sooner you’re honest about it, the sooner you’ll get there. I have a story soon to share about some life choices I’ve made recently that left my friends thinking I was mad but it’s already starting to pay off. So please keep reading – they’ll be coming up soon!

      Thanks again and I hope you continue to enjoy my posts. 🙂

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