Looking for role models?!
September 28, 2019 4:55 AM   Subscribe

Lately I feel like my peer group are all going off doing ridiculous things - buying expensive houses, other spending decisions and just generally doing stuff in a way that diverges from my own perspective on how I want to live my life. I would say that I'm fairly accepting of these differences but I still feel like I'm putting a lot of mental energy into contrasting these different ways. Discussing and justifying our path with my partner (who's on the same page as I). Lately we felt that it would be good to have some positive role models of people who did things in a slightly different way. Head inside for a request for personal input and biography recommendations - so if you liked Murakami's "running" or Chris Hadfields "life on earth" please add your 2c.

So I'd like to get some input in how you managed to solve these feelings and perceived differences between how you live your life and how you perceive your friends prioritising...

Examples: friends buying an expensive flat in a shitty part of town because they need space to have kids though they live in a perfectly fine apartment with tons of space.

I know everybody can do what they want and I'm not debating the merits of what they're doing with them (unless they ask me) - but I'm still stuck thinking about their decision.

Practically we are getting along perfectly with many of these couples and it works out pretty well - it's mostly the contrasting that's become a bit grating - it's fun but also recursive in a way. I'd like for some of that energy to be put into more forward looking endeavours.

On a related note: I thought I'd look to literature to solve these feelings - so in addition to your personal input I'd like to find examples of autobiographies or other books where one gets an insight into the writers personal life outlook and thought patterns.

I really enjoyed "what I think about when I think about running" by Haruki Murakami for example - same for Chris Hadfield's "an astronauts guide to life on earth".
posted by mathiu to Writing & Language (13 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
I’m not clear what kind of role models, or outlooks on life, you’re after. I haven’t read either of these books so all I have to go on is that you don’t think people should buy expensive houses. It’s hard for me to extrapolate what kind of life and views you do think are right and good, based on this one thing that you think is “ridiculous”.

Or is it that you want books that get “an insight into the writers personal life outlook and thought patterns” and don’t care what that person does, or believes? That you’re just interested in reading about how different people think about things? In which case I’m not sure what the expensive houses have to do with things.

Sorry, not trying to be dismissive or argumentative, it’s just hard for me to tell exactly what you’re looking for.
posted by fabius at 5:42 AM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I like Etgar Kerets books (Particularly "The Seven Good Years") for being lighthearted and having an interesting take on the world.
He lives in Israel, and the conflict there and its ramifications feature in the writing, but I feel like it's not about that, and I always feel lighter at the end of reading the stories. His values on how to look at the world (Which is definitely not about money or status) shines through brightly.

Listen to the ThIs American Life prologue here to get an idea.
posted by Thisandthat at 6:50 AM on September 28, 2019

It's not my friends, but, due to the inheritance of a condominium in an upscale part of town, I a lower-middle class person, am sometimes slack-jawed by the conspicuous displays of wealth I see around me. I haven't lived in this neighborhood long and am still grappling with my thoughts as you seem to be with yours. Basically I chalk it up to the fact that people can do what they want with their money. I just happen to now live among a lot of people with a lot of it, so I see more displays of it. Let me just add that I get what you are feeling, I think.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 7:12 AM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I would add that I have a few friends who probably have a lot more money than I, but don't display it so easily. I admire them, if that is similar to a role model that you ask about.
posted by KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat at 7:17 AM on September 28, 2019

Are you familiar with Mr. Money Moustache and the Financial Independence / Retire Early (FIRE) community? It sounds like you might find some kindred souls there. According to the FIRE subreddit, "At its core, FI/RE is about maximizing your savings rate (through less spending and/or higher income) to achieve FI and have the freedom to RE as fast as possible."
posted by ourobouros at 8:25 AM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

I have a difficult time with this sort of thing. I'm an analytical and also somewhat anxious person who spends a lot of time thinking about ways to "optimize" whatever is going on in my life and am often confounded by the choices other people make. But this is, to my mind, more about me and how I like to "work a problem" than about other people and their choices. My partner and I will sometimes talk about other people's choices in a "Gee I wonder what they were thinking" way, but it's also important to learn to leave it alone after a while because either they're your friends and you like them enough to make it work, or you can't abide by their decisions and you should probably not be as good friends with them.

So! To read. I am not a religious person but I found Dorothy Day's book The Long Lonliness a useful read. She's a Catholic but also a serious activist (in some directions and not in others, it's not for everyone) and talks about how sometimes taking a strong stance in a direction can necessarily put you at odds with people who make different choices. I don''t agree with all her positions but the idea that taking a position means you are making a choice not just about that issue but also about your social life is an interesting one.

I've also found Buddhist practice to be helpful. The idea that desire is the root of all suffering and so when I am grumpy about a feeling I am having, try to unknot it and think "Well, what is that feeling about? What do I desire that is causing unease?" This Zen story is a little pat, but the idea that letting go of those feelings, however you usefully can, is a way to achieve more peace in your own life.

I totally get that "But it doesn't MAKE SENSE" feel, those are two ways that have helped me achieve more ease with it.
posted by jessamyn at 8:43 AM on September 28, 2019 [6 favorites]

Even though my friends and I have lots in common (hence why we're friends), how we got there and why we're here are very, very different. So the various inputs and their effects on our lives mean that we have to optimize for our lives in different ways. That doesn't make a particular life choice right or wrong; it makes it more or less right or wrong *for that specific individual*, given all of the things that have made their lives different from mine.

I don't always agree with their decisions, even taking those different starting points into account, but as long as they aren't hurting anyone else, it's easy enough for me to trust that, generally, they know their needs better than I do, just as I know mine better than they do.
posted by pykrete jungle at 8:58 AM on September 28, 2019

Jessamyn and KleenexMakesaVeryGoodHat hit the feeling pretty well.

"But it doesn't MAKE SENSE" and on repeated exposure some introspection on why my way of doing things still seems sensible or if I should change something about it.. and "people can do what they want with their money." of course they can. It's just a little sad to watch some people not follow certain dreams in their life - for example "having children" because they are so fixated on the size of their apartment w/rt kids..

I guess the solution is the buddhist way of letting go of these feelings.

I thought/still think there is very likely some really good literature on that feeling of being different from a group/society/class and how to deal with that feeling of "walking your own path" while staying connected to the social fabric (the average of expectations/feelings/spending decisions/etc. of the rest of the group) so I'll keep an eye out for that..
posted by mathiu at 11:20 AM on September 28, 2019

For a role model, consider Warren Buffet, who has never lived in the opulence he could easily afford.
posted by SemiSalt at 12:11 PM on September 28, 2019

+1 for the FIRE, Mr. Money Mustache thing.

It's very much a community of privileged people intelligently (though not always consciously) leveraging their privilege, but if you're looking for role models that aren't moving into apartments they can't quite afford, they are a very good place to look.
posted by meaty shoe puppet at 12:36 PM on September 28, 2019 [1 favorite]

Agree with the recommendations for Mr Money Moustache and Warren Buffett. I also see this type of behavior daily and built up my own philosophy that put me at peace with how I choose to spend my time and money. If you haven't already, I'd suggest reading the Millionaire Next Door and check out articles about the frugal rich.

It sounds like you're trying to separate your feelings about your friends' spending from their other values/virtues, which is a good thing. I discovered that the comparison game is always lose-lose, and it's better to change my mental model to finding contentment with myself and practice wishing the best for others. This meditation video was mentioned on MeFi not long ago, and I found it to be a healthy practice.
posted by hampanda at 12:53 PM on September 28, 2019

In my experience, people are not usually giving you the 100% unvarnished truth, especially when there are complex emotional factors at play. That’s not to say that your friends are lying, just that you almost certainly don’t have all of the data that went into these decisions. Your friends may be looking for a socially acceptable way to say that they are scared or ambivalent about having kids. Or maybe one of them had to share a bedroom with a sibling and hated it and now feel that each kid should have their own room but they don’t want to bring that up for fear that they will be judged for being too indulgent. Or moving to the new flat holds some kind of meaning for them. Or maybe this is the first time they’ve had money available to them and they’re tired of making careful, prudent decisions. You just can’t know. Financial decisions for many people are not based on pure logic because we are all human. We’re all products of pasts that include unfulfilled needs and much of the world tells us that spending money a certain way will fulfill those needs and Make Everything Better.

I had a really difficult time with my parents’ decision to move to an enormous, conspicuously expensive house after all the kids had left home and it was just the two of them and a cat. There was no point! They had a lovely house in a great neighborhood! With plenty of room for both of them! But the enormous house meant something to them that they were never going to discuss with the rest of the family, and there I had to leave it. I suspect that the house was a tangible symbol of success that they needed for their own reasons and I just had to accept that I don’t get to decide what they do or don’t need. (Even if the situation drove me crazy, which it did, completely, for years.) In the end, they got a lot of enjoyment out of the house and became lifelong friends with several of the neighbors, so what seemed like a ridiculous decision to me turned out to be a very positive one for them.

I like Don Miguel Ruiz Jr.’s books for a good perspective on how other people’s realities are their own work and how you don’t have to attach yourself to other people’s choices.
posted by corey flood at 4:19 PM on September 28, 2019 [4 favorites]

I'm possibly being overliteral re. your like of Murakami, but to support jessamyn's thought that Buddhism-related reading might be a good fit for you, you might like Running With the Mind of Meditation by Sakyong Mipham (especially if you're actually a runner).

You might also really enjoy the genre of nature writing, if that's something you haven't explored yet - full of people who don't particularly criticise conspicuous spending, but whose attention is so thoroughly turned elsewhere when thinking about how to achieve happiness and fulfillment, that it doesn't even enter the picture. So Roger Deakin or Al Alvarez, for example - they're both writing about wild swimming, but there are similar books on all sorts of things - being in the woods, immersing yourself in the landscape etc. Nan Shepherd's The Living Mountain is still on my 'must read one day' list so I can't recommend it directly but I think is in a similar vein.

These are maybe not so much about addressing the "it doesn't make sense" feeling, and more about following, and loving, your own path to fulfillment, even if the wider world thinks it eccentric.
posted by penguin pie at 4:48 AM on September 29, 2019

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