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collect experiences not things

In the summer of 2007 I reached a pivotal point in my young adult life.

I had everything I thought I could ever want: a large and expensive apartment, a nice big television with a zillion channels, (relatively) nice furniture, artwork on the walls, a closet full of clothes, a kitchen filled with far too many dishes, a brand new car, an albeit crappy but well paying job earning over $25,000 per year. I was on top of the world - at least according to MTV Cribs standards..

But one day I took a look around at all the "things" that I had accumulated over the years and I felt this sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach; it was like waking up from a horrible nightmare. It was at that moment I realized, I didn't want this to be my life anymore.

The jig was up, I was living a lie.

As I gazed about my living room I began really assessing how all this had happened. And then it dawned on me - I had completely given up any hope of living my life for me. Instead I was living trying to please everyone around me.

This had to stop. I could not afford - nor did I even want - to be living in such a large apartment. What did I care if my friends and family came over and I didn't have enough space for them to sit down? There's always coffee shops right? Moreover, I was sick and tired of working so many hours and having nothing to show for it at the end of the month.

I spent hours that afternoon going over in my mind how I could possibly have let this happen to me. Tossing and turning in bed that night, I kept trying to figure out just what exactly happened that made my life turn out this way. The answer was staring me square in the face - I was letting life happen to me. I was playing the victim.

Overweight? "Don't blame me, that's just my genetics." In too much debt? "Nonsense! This is the way people my age are supposed to live - buy now and pay later right?" Can't afford to pay the rent but I am up to date on my brand new car payments? "...Well; I mean c'mon, a Man has to get from A to B right?"

This was a big problem, and not one that was going to just go away on it's own. I knew that it was going to require a lot of hard work and some deliberate action on my part. So I drew up a game plan, rolled up my sleeves and went to work.

lesson one: the things you own - end up owning you

The first step was by far the hardest. After spending a few hours with a pen and paper, I had finally put together a list of all the things I owned. Then I split everything up into two categories:
  1. Things I Wanted
  2. Things I Needed
I decided then that if I was ever going to have a chance at living the life I wanted, I was going to have to sacrifice all the worldly possessions that had enslaved me to this life in the first place and start fresh.

So everything on the list that I considered to be a want, I sold.

And so it began; my furniture, television, dining room table, anything and everything that I knew was holding me back from being the person I wanted to be, I sold it. Once my apartment was almost empty, I decided to take the next big step and move from my apartment into a place that was much more affordable. Now, did I have to spend the $150 to break the lease? Yes. In the end was getting out of that sinkhole and moving in with a friend for a third the price I was paying before worth it? You bet it was.

Although it was hard, this was by far the most rewarding and liberating thing I had ever done for myself in my entire life. It was the first time I took action. I drew a line in the sand and told myself that enough was enough. That I was going to be the one in charge of my life from now on. And the best part of it all was knowing that this was just the beginning!

After about a year or so, things had really started to look up. I was no longer working at a job I disliked and I finally living life on my terms - it felt great!

There is something to be said about the power of freedom; once I had let go of all of my material possessions I was finally able to focus on the things in my life that truly matter to me.

I no longer fretted about the latest this or the hottest that. Television programs were no longer of interest to me. Instead I spent my time drawing, listening to music, eating healthy meals, exercising regularly.and enjoying life. It was phenomenal.

This is not to say that my life was in any way perfect - because it wasn't. I still had my fair share of problems I had yet to deal with.

lesson two: my total money makeover

So without delving too far into my financial past, I am going to let you in on a little secret: for the majority of my life, I was a complete financial wreck. I would snub news reports talking about the number of young adults who were living paycheck-to-paycheck. I recall thinking to myself, "Those people are obviously dumb and horrible with money. They just need to get their act together."

The truth, was that I was one of those people - I just didn't want to admit it.

Are you beginning to see a pattern here? Denial is a tough habit to break.

Even after all the progress I had made giving up everything I owned and living a lifestyle that was well within my means, I was still completely clueless about what I was supposed to do with my money. It seemed as soon as I got my paycheck, it was already spent. I had no idea where it was all going, or how to get it under control.

Then one day I happened upon a book that would change my life forever. The book was titled, The Total Money Makeover. The Author, Dave Ramsey.

After I picked it up, I flipped to a random page and began reading. I happened to land on a page that discussed how to go about building a budget. As I read it, I kept having these moments where I literally found myself saying out loud in the bookstore - "Aha!!" 

"A miracle!" I thought. Finally a book that spelled out in plain English how I can take control of my money.

My wife can attest, I read that thing - from cover to cover - twice in less than one day. I was so impressed with his concepts and theories regarding money and how we ought to be handling it. It made so much sense to me. I remember thinking, "Why the heck didn't they teach me this stuff in High School?!"

After I was through with reading it, I couldn't wait to begin applying what I had learned to my own life.  Right away, my wife and I sat down and started building our first budget together. Just like Dave said, it was really hard that first time around. It amazed me how difficult it was at first to be open and honest about our money. And more importantly our money problems.

Once we had everything out in the open, there was nothing left to hide. When we finished, we breathed in a huge sigh of relief. We made it through - and we did it without killing each other.

Once we combined living below our means with a zero based budget, the future seemed so much brighter and more clear to us. No longer did we have to worry about where our money was going. We never again would have to wonder whether or not we would ever get out of debt; we already had a plan written out that told us how.

We got rid of our credit cards right away and began setting aside cash (in our budget) months ahead of time if we knew there was something special we wanted to purchase. The power we had walking into a store with hundreds/thousands of dollars in cold hard cash was unbelievable! The sales people would look at us like we were from some strange alien planet or something. No longer were we bothered with having to be uncomfortably up sold by a clerk telling us we would "only have to pay an extra $10 a month on their store credit card if we went with the bigger one." No no - we were the ones making the rules now. And as you might expect - it felt AMAZING!

third and final lesson: life is short

A good friend of mine and race director of the GR Marathon, Don Kern, let me in on this precious bit of wisdom about a year ago. And although I did spruce it up a little, I absolutely believe it rings true for each and every one of us.

"Life is short. Don't waste your time collecting things, for they will fade. Instead, invest your time collecting extraordinary experiences, for those you may cherish and pass on for many lifetimes to come."

When Don first told me this I was blown away. Everything seemed to have come full circle for me at that moment. Here I went from being a boy who had once measured his life's worth by the number of things he possessed, to being a man who no longer felt he had to measure his worth. I finally recognized the beauty and potential that had been inside of me all along to live a tremendous and happy life.

After he said that, he basically summed up in a few short words what had taken me a lifetime to learn and understand. As you can see, I had to learn this lesson the hard way.

In the end I think most of us have to learn in our own way. It's how we grow as individuals.

So if you are having similar problems, my hope is that you can learn from my mistakes and recognize the beauty and potential that lies inside of you right now to live a happier life, filled with incredible experiences.

Life is short. Don't wait.

Link to Don's Blog:

Dave Ramsey's Website 

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