Christmas lunch with my friend Alison is an institution – we have done this for so many years now that missing it would be rather exceptional. Today we met again at our favourite restaurant, a small family place near my house that offers exquisite food. Now, Alison is one of these people who are very rare but we all want to have in our lives: the true friends our relationship with whom doesn’t need proof, declarations and grand gestures; we don’t even need to see them that often. But when we do, it is like no time has passed at all and they know us with a depth that is extremely rare. You want an example?
Several years back I was driving a bright yellow Smart Fortwo with grey sidebars. It looked exactly like this:
Sweet! All my friends were rather surprised: this was not a car that suited a mature (well, ok, ‘a maturing’) person and it was certainly not appropriate for my organisational position; I still called it the dean-mobile – after all there is no point taking positions of hierarchy very seriously. The one friend who just looked at the car, smiled and said ‘It is so you!’ was Alison.
Why am I telling you this? Because today talking over lunch, she suddenly looked at me and said:
‘Do you know, getting in all this debt is may be the best thing that could have happened in your life!’
Really! I know that I am feeling very Zen and positive about the whole ‘negative wealth’ situation now that we can see the finish line, but when I found we are in debt I thought my life has ended. This made me think, could it be that it was really good for me?
When I looked back on the last three years I realised how much I’ve changed; because I had to and the pain of staying the same was so much greater than the fear of the transformation. Do you remember the movie Forest Gump? I mean the scene where the legless captain was on the boat in a storm, shouting and making peace with his life? I suppose this is what happened to me during the first several weeks of realising that we have gaffed with our finances; big time!
Here are the four main ways in which I’ve changed.
Turning predicaments into problems
Before, most of life happened to me and whenever there was trouble there was no obvious way out of it; I lived my life as a long string of predicaments. Predicaments cannot be solved; the best one can do about them is to just ‘drop it’. Compared to predicaments, problems are a true blessing because, as the old Maori saying goes, ‘if there is no solution, there is no problem’.
What I learned to do during the last three years is to differentiate between predicaments and problems, minimise the predicaments by abandoning some and finding solutions to others, and dealing promptly with my problems.
Try this one! Mastering it takes practice, mindfulness and control but it is very much worth it!
Became more accepting of life
I am a great believer in Marx’s eleventh thesis on Feuerbach. It reads: ‘Philosophers have hitherto only interpreted the world in various ways; the point is to change it’. So, I suppose you have already got the idea – I became more accepting of my life because I was ready to change it. With this lust for change, for turning things around, came a flood of positivity and calmness. Want an example?
One of the most stressful things to happen is to be going back home after a hard week’s work away and be told that the incoming plane is broken and it is not clear when you are flying. Now, usually this would make me fly up the wall and spend my time pacing nervously around, swearing under my breath and hearing the galloping horde of Genghis Chan in my head. When it happened couple of years ago, I just exhaled, turned to my fellow passengers and said: ‘Who is up for a beer?’
We didn’t take off till the early hours of the morning, it was tiring but I met some wonderful people and had some very expensive beer; and the Airline paid for the beer :).
This is the kind of acceptance I am talking about!
Started seeing opportunities for what they are
Most of the time, most of us think that opportunities are scarce in our lives. This is BS: opportunities are plentiful and it is just that we either don’t see them, are not ready for them or mix opportunities with success.
For my part, I was raised to see opportunities where others see obstacles; I live my life so that opportunities are not missed and I still blew it with most of them. Why? Because I made the mistake of seeing the opportunities as success rather than grabbing them with both hands and running with them. Then again, taking up opportunities is scary, isn’t it?
During the last couple of years a lot of my effort went on developing the habit of taking opportunities and my life doesn’t consist of ‘selected intentions’ any longer. Now I do!
I learned to play!
One thing I realised is that taking life very seriously impedes experimentation, limits creativity and, ultimately, restricts our growth and achievement. When I read the 4-hour week by Tim Ferriss my mind was not simply open to his ideas; I was more than halfway there already. So I started to play; or put differently, I started pushing myself beyond my comfort zone. Of course for this, I had to learn my limits!
One of these limits was about thinking, talking and negotiating money. In fact, today John mentioned that ‘before’ he didn’t even know how to broach any subject related to our finances to me. Now I write The Money Principle (yes, sometimes my blog is about money), talk to my friends about ‘side hustle’ and investments, and negotiate like a market vendor from the East. It all started with me standing at the bottom of a ski slope and asking people whether they will re-sell me their pass. Did I feel uncomfortable? You bet! Could I talk about money after that? Could I heck!
Gradually ‘play’ has become exactly ‘what it says on the tin’. After all, three weeks ago I did a Zumba class in Santiago, on Providencia Street. How great is that!
Is getting in debt the best thing that could have happened to me?
Yes, it is! As a result of it I’ve learned to live my life and make it as fun as it could be; which makes me so much more fun to be around.