When I moved to a brand new city six years ago, a city to which I had absolutely no ties, no history, and no connection, I saw the opportunity as a perfect time to fix the parts of my life that were broken. The first thing I did was to cut ties with the people in my life who were weighing me down. Keeping company with the wrong people only serves as a feeder of toxins in your own personal ecosystem. These are the people who are stuck in the past, doomed to repeat the same mistakes. Those people who do the same things and expect different results and wallow in sorrow and self-pity when life hasn’t turned out right are the first people with whom I cut ties. I didn’t need that energy around me anymore.
I also stopped putting other people’s needs before my own. My partner helped me to see just how much I allowed myself to get taken advantage of in other relationships. I needed to stop needing to be needed! It turns out that my need to constantly “do” for people was less about my own pious, good nature and more about fulfilling voids in my own broken character. I stopped.
Another thing I learned to do is to stop holding on to the past. The past has passed. To sit at your Thanksgiving table or wake up on Christmas morning and expect that it will be exactly as it was in your childhood is to live in an out of touch reality. High school is over and you won’t relive it. College is over and it isn’t happening again. Your Christmas morning as a seven year old child happens just once. That epic Spring Break where you were invincible isn’t going to happen again, at least not with the same vigor. I refuse to be one of those people who hang on with their most mighty grip to what can no longer be. I accept and embrace that change is the only constant and “new” is not inherently good or bad, just different. And different is reality. There will be a day when we all longingly look back on today – so enjoy today and accept that tomorrow will be different. I stopped longing for yesterday.
My next lesson was something that I had to really get a grip on since I’ve moved to Dallas. You’d think living in New York one would be surrounded by and accustomed to boundless materialism but it wasn’t until I got to Dallas that I really started getting ensnared by the magnetism of materialism and social status. I started thinking of the car I drive as a reflection of where I stand in this micro-society. And this phenomenon began to extend to the gym I hold membership in and the zip code I live in and the restaurants I dine at and the social events I attend and the boards that I have membership on and the magazines I sought to get a photograph in. This list can literally begin extending to the brands of food that sit in your refrigerator. I literally started to take inventory of my behaviors and their attached motivations. Why I am really driving this car? Why I am really eating at this restaurant? Why am I really attending this event? I decided a little over a year ago that I would stop trying to search for happiness through material acquisitions because these just lead to more emptiness. I found that I am happier at home spending time with my partner and our three pets than I am going out four nights a week at this event or the other. The one-on-one conversation we have is far more meaningful than the 30-second sound bites and air kissing I was engaging in at these weeknight galas. I found that going to a gym that was less of a social scene had me focused more on what I was actually there to do – improve my health. My partner and I found, together, that eliminating our focus on the next, bigger house in the more exclusive neighborhood, has us really appreciating the beautiful home that we live in now.
Don’t get me wrong – a bit of materialism can produce a great byproduct, and that is motivation to work hard. I am proud of the “things” I own because they are the fruit of mine and Luke’s labor. We have all that we have not because any of this was handed to us but because we work hard everyday for it. But learning to appreciate what you have and why you have it does not come easily to me. Perhaps this is what drives me to want to achieve more.
The other related problem that I see so many paralyzed by is the constant temptation of comparing oneself to and competing with others. This is tempting to do when you drive through Highland Park, one of the wealthiest communities in America, everyday. Unlike Westchester and Long Island where homes and cars and boats and toys are tucked away, usually down a long, wooded driveway, here in Dallas our mega-mansions are right on the street for all to see! At night, the homes are lit up bright, inviting you to peer right into the grand foyer, or the piano room, or library. It’s an exhibitionist’s dream. And it’s enticing and alluring and rather easy to start comparing what you don’t have to what others do have. The kicker in life, however, is that everything is relative. I now and again get someone who will say to me “I wish I had your life!” Someone wishes they had my life? I sometimes wish I had Oprah Winfrey’s life or Barbara Walter’s life, but MY life? And it dawned on me that I needed to take stock in everything that was wonderful and amazing about my life. We all do. Appreciation is a practice, like yoga, that takes presence of mind. I can stop the emotion of jealousy when I remind myself that behind any mansion’s wall and in any Maserati driver’s seat may exist loneliness and despair. I have neither.
And with this appreciation comes, to me, the single most important thing one can do in life. We have to stop failing to appreciate the small things, which are really the big things. My dogs are getting old and I am being reminded regularly that they are not going to be around forever. Every time I get a kiss from Victoria or Albert jumps up on top of me, I try to stop and relish in the moment. One day all the chaos we’re used to in the house simply isn’t going to be there, not from Victoria and Albert, anyway. And how about that feeling of “butterflies” in my stomach that I get right before my partner Luke comes home from work at night? I still get excited, after thirteen years, to see him after a long day at work. These moments are each a brushstroke in a masterpiece painting depicting the story of life. Sometimes we look for bigger, louder, bolder, wilder, more excessive experiences in life. You’d miss what is really important if it takes this kind of volume to ignite your senses. Those little moments with your spouse or your kids or your pets or your friends are the most significant. Stop letting those important instances go unappreciated.
And that’s that, a total reconciliation of priorities for me, not in an overnight epiphany but a long journey of self-discovery about what is important and what behavior needed to stop!