Ad Nauseam

When I first read the review of my book on Amazon describing it as “cookie cutter” I took offense. It hurt my feelings.

At the time I was writing to help get myself through a point in life where I felt stuck and was desperate to escape. Those cookie cutter ideas were the words I needed to get through another day. It was what I longed to hear from someone else … only I didn’t have someone else. I had to be that someone.

I was the only person who could help me get through.

On the outside I projected an image of happiness and success, all the while on the inside I never felt happy or successful. I had no emotion. I wasn’t happy or sad. Just bored. Blank. Empty.

I was searching for something to fill the void.

I traveled the world. I jumped out of airplanes. I climbed mountains. But no matter where I went or what I did I could never escape the feeling of complete emptiness and disconnect. Nothing seemed to do anything to alleviate the problem. I felt like I had no purpose in my life. All of these things I had done and was doing felt meaningless.

So I wrote.

I wrote cookie cutter advice to myself and shared it with the world, hoping in my words that maybe I could be the voice someone else needed in their life. Maybe I could inspire other people who felt the same way I did. The lost. The hopeless.

I think most people go through a phase in life when they question their purpose in this world. “What the fuck am I doing here?”

I ran far and wide, doing everything I could to escape from the person I was … trying to be someone else. But everywhere I went, there I was.

So my writing and advice is “cookie cutter.” Maybe it was. Maybe it is. But I wasn’t writing for anyone but myself. It’s what I needed to hear at that time in my life. I needed those words just like some people need a joint after work. I needed to find a way to get through another day of my life. I needed to feel like I had something to work towards and some type of purpose.

I’m still not sure what the point of life actually is. We’re here. We spend all of our life trying to survive, only to die anyway. That brief glimpse of time between two eternities is all we get. No repeats. No second chances.

If we aren’t happy, we need to figure out how to be happy. I’m not saying happiness is the point of life.

But being happy sure as hell makes waiting to die a lot more enjoyable.

Does the World Need Poor People?

Before I get too far into this article, I want to be clear about something. By “poor,” I’m not talking about people who are starving in remote corners of the world (or just around the corner.) I mean the people who exist at the very bottom of our capitalist society. People who earn minimum wage or those who work in the American factories of Asia. The people who earn enough to pay the bills and put food on the table. People who are getting by, but just barely.

Does the world need these people?

I wonder if our lives might actually depend upon the poor remaining poor. It seems to me that poor people are paying the price for (or are absorbing the costs of) our consumer lifestyles and our demand for cheap merchandise. To keep the cost of the products we buy as low as possible, the wages of the people producing them must be equally low, whether it’s an iPad or a Big Mac.

We need poor people to subsidize our lifestyles.

Without them, we wouldn’t be able to afford to have the things we have. We’re able to own the things we do because of cheap labor (and poor people.) If it wasn’t for minimum wage workers, our sandwiches at lunch would cost much more than they do now. Without Asian factory workers earning a couple of dollars a day assembling iPads, most of us wouldn’t be able to afford to own one.

A lot has been made of America’s middle class being the “backbone” of America, but it’s the poor that allow the middle class to exist. Without their sacrifices, our lives wouldn’t be as comfortable as they are. It’s their toil that’s built our lifestyles.

We need poor people.

If you object to corporations exploiting cheap labor, consider that these jobs are providing an income to people who need it…poor people need work too. If you’re opposed to foreign workers earning a couple of dollars a day, consider that, while applying American standards to foreign situations might seem like a noble way of approaching the issue, living standards vary dramatically around the globe and such comparisons may not be valid.

“The wages these jobs provide are not enough to get workers into the middle class. But they are enough to provide for food, shelter and transportation. And they often allow people to pay for schooling for themselves and family members.” ~ Source

If you’re not comfortable supporting these things, you have options.

Become a conscious consumer and spend your money in a way that represents your values.

As a consumer, you have the power to affect change by choosing how and where your money is spent. Ask yourself how your lifestyle might demand cheap labor, outsourced jobs, and Asian sweat shops. When making purchases, consider fair trade products, items that are sustainably and locally sourced, and/or buy secondhand. Check out the FreeCycle Network.

“Each time we buy a product or a service, we place a vote of confidence in that producer or service provider – every source of raw material, every practice of environmental standards, every form of employee relations and every form of communication with the public. Everything that company or group does is something we support. Everything that company or service provider does and believes, we’ve said yes, go ahead and keep doing it.” ~ Source

Or opt out of consumerism entirely.

The money you spend on shit you don’t need doesn’t grow on trees. It has to be earned. The more you spend, the more money you need, and the more you have to work. Alternatively, the less you spend, the less money you need, and the less you have to work. The less you have to work, the more time you have to do things that are meaningful, like spending time with your family.

“To live fully, we must learn to use things and love people, and not love things and use people.”

The bottom line is that your choices have consequences. And things aren’t always as simple as they seem. It’s your responsibility as a consumer to educate yourself about the purchases you make and make decisions you’re comfortable with. If you’re okay with owning products that came from a factory where workers have committed suicide due to poor working conditions, that’s a choice you have to make (and live with.) It’s more than a product you’re buying…your purchase is a statement of your support for the entire process involved in getting that product into your hands (and what happens with it after you’re done.)

Educate yourself.

The Moments that Change Our Life

When was the moment that you realized who you are, what you love or what you’re supposed to do with your life?

In my life, I’ve experienced many of these moments, from being arrested and realizing that getting fucked up everyday wasn’t the life I wanted to the road trip to the Rocky Mountains with my friends where I found my passion for travel.  Both of these moments caused a fundamental shift in my thinking and instantly changed the direction of my life.

When I was arrested, I promised myself that I’d do whatever it took to get myself clean, even if it meant losing every friend I had and starting over from scratch, which is exactly what happened.  The road trip gave me a chance to see the world beyond the limits of my small Midwestern town and after that trip, I saw life from a different perspective and a new way of thinking.

And while I didn’t realize it at the time, my hike to the top of Half Dome in Yosemite National Park also helped define who I am today.  I’ve been reminiscing about that trip in my mind, thinking about the beauty of the park, the challenge of the climb and the triumph of reaching the top.  The sore knees and the other pains have long since faded and now I’m left with only fond memories.

I want to go back.

Thinking about everything I want to accomplish this year and the amount of time I have to do it, it’s time to start prioritizing.  Turkey, Russia, Ethiopia, Japan, New England, Yosemite are all on the radar this year but I only have a few weeks in which I can dedicate myself to travel due to summer classes.

I miss Planet Earth.

When I travel, I’m visiting huge cities like Paris, Rome or Buenos Aires and spend a lot of my time riding subways, taking taxis and breathing exhaust.  I long for the solitude of the forests and the thrill of climbing mountains.  There’s something special about a bear and her cub walking next to you in the wild, about getting your boots dusty and the feeling of a cool mountain river to soothe your body after a long hike.

So, while I might not be wandering around the bazaars of Istanbul or doing hand stands in Red Square this year, maybe I’ll return to my favorite place on the planet instead.