Tag Archives: life

Wealth (n.)

I need to make more money.

You’re a liar if you say you’ve never thought it. Money is important to us. What does money bring? Wealth, of course. If you’ve got money, you’re wealthy. It’s what we’ve been told for ages.

So I set out to make some money. I was poor in New York. I hated it. I couldn’t go out. I couldn’t eat at restaurants. I couldn’t see a movie in theaters. I needed to make money. I needed to be wealthy.

I packed up and moved across the country. I took a job in San Francisco. I’m gonna make more here than I have anywhere else. I’ll be wealthy, finally. I’ll be able to do stuff. Fun stuff. 

I worked hard from day one and it paid off. Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a ton of money. But it was the first time I was about to live comfortably. The first time I wasn’t barely scraping by. I could go to the bar and buy a round. I could grab take out on my way home for myself and my roommates. It was wonderful. I felt happy. I felt wealthy.

I put my cash into savings. Towards my loans. Towards bar tabs and trips and concerts and clothing. I made a bunch of friends. Friends who also made money. It was life changing.

Two months later I got laid off.

Wealth (n.): abundance of valuable material possessions or resources.

Synonyms: affluence, prosperity, riches, means, substance, fortune.

Can you use it in a sentence please? 

“Some people buy boats and cars to display their wealth.”

Do you have a alternate sentence?

“He used his wealth to bribe officials.”

So what is wealth? Wealth is money. Wealth is power. Wealth is material.

Holy shit. I’m unemployed. I’m embarrassed. What will my family think? Friends? What will new people I meet think? Holy shit.

I started questioning myself. Am I not valuable? I’ve had three jobs within two years of graduating college. Will I ever get where I want to be? Am I a freeloader? Lazy? Worthless? Will I ever achieve what I’m looking for? Why can’t I figure out my career?

What am I supposed to do? I have no money coming in. The happiness and joy I felt – will that be gone?

I disagree with Merriam and Webster’s definition. How can something that leaves you unfulfilled and wanting more ever make you feel wealthy? Ask someone with money if they want more money, they’ll say yes. More power? Yes. More things? Yes.

“Hey dude. I don’t know what to say 🙁 I’m sorry”
“I miss you”
“Wow. You ok?”
“How you doing buddy? I’m so sorry.”
“Miss you, dude. Not the same without you here.”
“Sigh. So so so freakin’ sad that you are gone from this office.”
“You are amazing. I’m not being sarcastic.”
“I miss you! Can we please stay best friends?”
I responded to the texts and emails that rolled in as the news spread across the company.

“Thanks. I’m ok.”
“I already miss you too.”
“I’ll be fine.”
“I’d love if you could help me find something new.”
“It’s fine, really. I’ll miss you guys the more than anything.”
“Really, don’t worry about me. I’ll be ok.”

I started getting a good feeling again. The feeling I had before, when I still had my job. That happiness, joy. These people truly care about me.

The idea of wealth is skewed. Wealth is not money. Wealth is not power. Wealth is not status or title or whose name you can drop.

Wealth is loving and being loved in return. Wealth is having deep and meaningful relationships. Wealth is surrounding yourself with the people that are important to you and never taking it for granted.

“If you add a little lemon juice to the Brussels sprouts it’ll bring out their flavor more,” my roommate told us.

“I’ll start the spaghetti,” another mentioned.

“Don’t strain yourself boiling that water,” I harassed while I mixed together the ingredients for the meatballs.

“I’m out of wine!” a third roommate yelled from the living room. We opened a second bottle and poured ourselves new glasses.

Thirty minutes later we filled our plates and the seven of us crammed into the living room to eat and watch How To Train Your Dragon. I took a spot on the floor and put my plate of spaghetti and meatballs on top of a Rubbermaid container. We turned off the lights and let the show begin.

When I finished eating, I leaned my back against the arm of the couch. I thought back to the texts I’d received the day before from the heavy hearts of my former coworkers. I thought about my family’s support when I told them I might take a little time to myself to figure out what to do next. I thought about my friends’ well wishes and genuine interest in helping me find a new job. I thought about the last thirty minutes I spent cooking and joking with buddies I made just a month earlier.

I closed my eyes, laid my head back against the couch, and smiled. No amount of money could make me feel as wealthy as I felt in that moment.

In the end, it all evens out.

Few things give me more anxiety than trying to hold on to the empty seat beside me during the 20 minutes it takes the rest of the passengers to board a Greyhound. A half second of eye contact with a passerby can easily be mistaken for an invitation to take the aisle seat, turning my La-Z-Boy into a church pew.

Luckily on this particular trip my anxiety was curbed by that fact that I would be seeing nearly all of my best friends when the bus stopped seven hours later and I stepped out into the familiar streets of downtown Pittsburgh.

We planned weeks ahead to have a reunion, and it was all I could think about since. I’d been counting down to this moment – waiting in line for the overnight bus from New York to Pittsburgh. I chose the overnight bus because tickets were only $10 and I love waking up with back problems from using a metal bar as a mattress and a vibrating window as a pillow.

As the first person to board the bus, I enacted my five-step strategy to get both seats to myself:

  1. Pick a seat in the first four rows.
  2. Pile luggage haphazardly on the empty seat beside me.
  3. Put headphones in ears (music optional).
  4. Open a magazine (reading optional).
  5. Look as pissed off as possible (emotions optional).

The bus was fuller than I expected it to be. With each new passenger my nerves escalated. I looked out the window. Three people left. Although I was curious, I didn’t dare compromise my operation by sitting up and looking back to see how many seats were still open.

One person passed. Then the second. I felt the bus move as the third and final person walked up the steps. I faced away from the aisle and looked as angry as possible. He stopped by my seat. My stomach dropped. I felt him looking at me, contemplating his next move. I didn’t budge. Five seconds of stillness. Then I heard his footsteps shuffling down the aisle.

When we started moving, I looked back. Just one other person had both seats to herself.

I nodded a “job well done” to my silent companion and settled in for the night.

There are certain people who are extremely important in your life. People who have shaped your views and personality nearly as much as your family has. People who you can go months without seeing only to pick up exactly where you left off when you’re back together.

These people remember everything – good and bad. That time you pooped your pants in the car? They’ll remind you about it. Or when you barfed on Forbes Avenue like nobody’s business. They remember that awful haircut you had in 9th grade and that one night at the casino where you became a chain-smoking Blackjack fiend. They remember the water bottle of theirs that you lost 4 years ago and didn’t replace. And that dreadfully ugly person you hooked up with on more than one occasion.

They also stick with you when things are crazy. And when you are crazy. They’re the people who know when you’re happy, when you’re sad, and how to deal with it. They disagree with you, but support you anyway. They’re the people whom you never owe money, because “in the long run, it all evens out.” They carry you through break ups, hangovers, and lost basketball games.

Few things in life feel better than sitting around and collectively doing nothing with them, because even though you’re doing nothing, you’re doing it together.

Friends. Amigos. Assholes. Whatever you call them, they’re irreplaceable.

I settled into my seat for the long trip. Ten hours this time – via Philly – until I’d be back in New York. I used my five-step strategy as the bus filled. The familiar anxiety returned. Passengers scuttled by, taking seats alone, then with the people who took seats by themselves. The last person to enter the bus – a huge, 6’6” man – did not look the ideal bus buddy. I concentrated as hard as I could on the magazine I was pretending to read.

“Can I – “ he points to the seat beside me.

“Oh. Yea sure.” I fumbled my things, placing my enormous book bag at my feet and my pillow and jacket on my lap. He took the aisle seat and made himself comfortable.

His left leg protruded into my space, giving me approximately two thirds of a bus seat to call home. Once situated, he immediately fell asleep. Two minutes later, I had to pee.

In this situation, I’d normally get angrier than a Texan outside an abortion clinic. Today, though, it didn’t bother me. Instead, I got lost in thought looking out the window as we cruised through the rolling hills of Central Pennsylvania.

I reflected on the weekend and felt a pinch of sadness that it was over. The time, although only a short three days, was exactly what I needed. I began thinking about my friends – not just the ones I’d seen this weekend, but all of them. The ones I don’t live near or see as often as I’d like. College friends. High school friends. And the ones I see everyday. New friends. I felt a ball of emotion well up inside me that I hadn’t felt in a long time.

It was there, squished against the window, that I realized the emotion I was feeling was blessed. Blessed to have some of the best friends I could have ever asked for.

——

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Everything’s going to be all right.

I knew it was coming for weeks. I was nervous. And anxious. And scared and excited and every other emotion one goes through when a life changing event approaches. But this last day – the day before I left Pittsburgh, my home for the past five years – this day was the most emotional of them all.

I’d been getting my things packed up for weeks. Silverware one day, TV stand the next. I took my desk apart, then my shelves, then my bed. I took my wall hangings down and folded them up. Slowly my apartment was becoming empty.

My parents came a week earlier and took everything that I wouldn’t need for my last few days. That’s when the goodbyes started. “You’ll have to come visit!” I’d say to my friends. “I’ll see you soon, I’m sure.” “Not goodbye, just until next time.” “I’ll be back soon.” I didn’t want to be sad because I didn’t want my friends to be sad. Happy goodbyes are much easier than tearful ones.

On the morning of the day before the day I left, I was strangely proud of how well I was handling this enormously bittersweet situation. I’d had fleeting moments of sadness throughout the week, but kept it together even when saying goodbye to my best friends. Alone in my apartment, I turned on some music and started packing my clothing – all that was left in my now empty room. I started thinking about all the things I’d done over the past five years. The friends I made, the girlfriend I fell in love with, the laughs, the fights, the memories, and everything in between. The emotions that I’d been trying to hide for weeks welled up inside my chest.

Then I sat down on the floor cried like a baby.

Change is hard. It’s an inevitable part of life. It takes us out of our comfort zone and throws us into something new. We’re forced to thrive. Sometimes change is welcome, but that doesn’t make it any less hard. We try to be strong, to power through it like it’s no big deal. But the next thing you know you’re alone and sobbing on the floor of your empty bedroom.

For me, change took the form of moving from the city that’s become my second home. Change was moving from my friends, girlfriend, and the comforts of the place that helped shape me into who I am. But change can take any form. From the death of a loved one to the birth of a child, from a wedding to a divorce, change comes in many shapes and sizes. It evokes emotions we never knew we had. It makes us feel confused, lost, anxious, or lonely. Most of all, it can feel impossible to get through.

Sometimes change is so hard that fate steps in to help you get through it.

I woke up in the morning with a feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. Thirty minutes left before departure. I had to say my final, and hardest, goodbye. My girlfriend of two and a half years. Tears were shed. Neither wanted to be the one to turn and leave first. Heart-wrenchingly, we parted ways. I watched her drive down the street, out of sight. There was nothing left to do now except get into my car and drive away.

With tears drying on my face I pulled into a gas station. I stepped out of my car and instinctively hit the lock button on my door as I closed it. Then, through the window, I saw my keys sitting on the seat. Great, of all days.

I asked the gas station attendant to use his phone as mine was locked in my car. I managed to call AAA. “It’ll be about an hour until someone can get there.” Wonderful. With nothing on me but my wallet, I headed to my car to wait. It only took a few minutes for the attendant to come out of the concrete box that he works in to talk to me. He was short, mid to late 30s, and had a thick foreign accent that I couldn’t place.

After some small talk, I asked him where he’s from.

“Bhutan.”

“Where?”

“Bhutan. It’s a country in Asia, near Nepal.”

I pictured the map and placed Nepal. I then pretended I know where Bhutan is in relation to that. “Oh, I’ve heard of that. What brought you to the US?”

“Well, it’s a long story.”

I had nothing else to do, so I asked him to explain. Fifteen minutes later, the nameless Exxon attendant told me a story I couldn’t make up if I tried.

He was born in Bhutan, but his family is originally from Nepal. As he was growing up, he was learning Dzongkha (the official language of Bhutan) as well as Nepali and English. The Bhutanese government, however, looked down upon Bhutanese citizens of Nepali descent and refused to allow them to learn any languages except Dzongkha. They forced the teachings of other languages to stop and burned all of my new friend’s English and Nepali books.

As time went on, the Bhutanese government’s conflict with those of Nepali descent escalated. The military began harassing and arresting it’s citizens, eventually forcing them out of the country. When the attendant was 7 years old, he and his family took refuge in Nepal.

They lived in a refugee camp with tens of thousands of other refugees. He, his mother, father, twin brother and older brother lived in a hut made of bamboo siding and plastic roofing no bigger than the cement building where he worked now. The next hut was just several feet away. He only had access to what was available in the refugee camp, which wasn’t much.

And he lived there for 17 years.

In 2008, he and his family came to America. After living in Florida for two years, they moved to Pittsburgh. He works at the gas station where I was stranded as well as the Omni downtown. Some days he’ll work both jobs for 14 hours or more. In time, he plans to move back to Nepal so he can buy land and live out his days.

The AAA truck came, unlocked my car, and drove off. I shook my new friend’s hand and said goodbye. This goodbye, however, wasn’t a sad one.

Now, as I sit on the roof of my apartment in Brooklyn, watching the sunset across the river over Lower Manhattan, I realize that the nameless Bhutanese man’s story was exactly what I needed to hear. The struggles he went through and the strength he had in order to keep himself together gave me perspective on my situation. The change that I was going through was hard, but it could be worse.

The man’s story made me realize that I was going to be OK. The change I was going through paled in comparison to the changes he had to deal with throughout his life. If he’s made it through his struggles, I could easily make it through mine.

No matter the changes you’re facing, you’re going to be fine, too. Life throws us challenges all the time, and change can be one of the hardest. It’s easy to stay comfortable, but without change, we don’t grow. It’s hard to decide to make a change, and even harder to accept it. But when change comes your way, no matter how tough it seems, keep your head up. Everything’s going to be all right.

If you’re ever in Pittsburgh, stop at the Exxon at the intersection of Penn and Braddock and give my nameless friend the message that I never got to give him myself:

Tell him I say thank you.

9 Things I’ve Learned Since College

One year and one month ago I graduated college. Here is the wisdom I’ve gained:

  1. We are not more sophisticated than our undergraduate selves. We visit our college friends on a weekend and witness a drunk kid stumbling out of McDonald’s with six Big Macs and a milkshake in his hand. He’s yelling onto his phone about a chick he just made out with at the bar. “I can’t believe people act like that,” we say judgmentally as we head to get a Stella Artois at the newest, trendiest bar in town. Exactly 1 Stella and 9 Miller Lites later (because who knew Stella is so expensive?!), we’re walking home eating tater tots covered in pulled pork and BBQ sauce with our bare hands because we can’t wait the 7 minute walk to use a fork. They say old habits die hard, but we say “WHO CARES I’M HUNGRY.”
  2. Whoever coined the phrase “poor college kid” is full of it. More like “poor student-debt-laden-rent-paying-food-buying-gym-membership-bills-piling-no-longer-able-to-get-a-pitcher-for-$5-now-what? kid”. We may have been poor in college, but when a CASH-4-GOLD commercial sends us digging through our things so we can get takeout tonight, we’ve hit rock bottom.
  3. Sundays are the best days. For the last four years (or five, if you’re one of those people), we’ve started our Sundays with a hangover, dragged through the afternoon feebly attempting to eat crackers and drink Gatorade, and entered the evening with the crushing realization that all the work we put off over the weekend didn’t do itself. But with the onset of the real world, that has changed. Sundays often still start with a hangover (with pulled pork, BBQ sauce, and tater tot crumbs in our beds), but now we have all day to do with what we please. Need Wendy’s? Go get it. Still tired? Take one – no – take three naps. And when the familiar time comes when the work we have to do starts lingering over us like the Eye of Sauron, we can instead watch the newest episode of Game of Thrones, guilt-free.
  4. Laundry days are (still) the worst days. Self-explanatory. Laundry is, always has been, and always will be, the worst. Why are we paying to do laundry in our own apartment? Is this some type of cruel joke? Don’t they know how much a Stella costs?
  5. It is NOT ok to wear sweatpants in public. As it turns out, people in the real world do not wear sweatpants unless they’re working out or shopping at WalMart. This came as a shock to me and should to you too. Why restrict such a comfortable piece of clothing to the cramped confines of our apartments? College led us to falsely believe that sweats are acceptable mid-Tuesday attire. They are not. Looks like we’ll all be “working out” much more often.
  6. Happy Hour is a Godsend. A Blue Moon with our coworkers on the porch of our favorite bar after suffering through a painstaking 40+ hour workweek? Make it three. Get home by 8 and fall asleep by 10? Wake up before noon on Saturday and get a ton of crap done? Sign me up. This concept is foreign to the able-bodied college drinker. However, it is truly one of the best motivators to get through a last minute status meeting with that lady who doesn’t like fun or smiling on Friday afternoon.
  7. It is impossible to sleep past 9:30. There needs to be a class in college that teaches us how early life in the real world starts. There are days when we leave for work and the sun still hasn’t come up. If we wake up at 9:30 we’re already at least 30 minutes late. Turn that into a habit and we can kiss our low salaried, highly demanding, rent-paying jobs goodbye.
  8. Reading can be fun. For four years we’re forced to purchase the overpriced, stale ramblings of our professors and read them cover-to-cover. Without freedom of choice in our readings, we lose the ability to enjoy literature. Apparently, though, there’s nonfiction out there that isn’t painful to read. This new world of prose excites our senses like a pierogi excites a Pittsburgher. And if nonfiction doesn’t tickle your inner brainiac, at least you now have time to plow through the Hunger Games novels.
  9. Hobbies exist. In school we didn’t have hobbies – we had school, sleeping, eating greasy food, and drinking shitty beer. Now, when we get home from work, we’ve still got two thirds of a day left to do with what we please. In school we call this free time “bored”. Now, a whole new world awaits in a cookbook, comedy club, or cornhole league with your new, sophisticated, Sunday loving, laundry hating, equally as poor post college friends.

Strategic Snacking

My painful walk into the office was soothed by the fact that it was Friday, which meant one thing – free food. Every Friday since I’d been working in this office – which at this point is four total Fridays – there was a delectable spread of breakfast food in the kitchen. Strawberries, bananas, yogurt, those mini boxes of cereal that have seven Cheerios in them, bagels, and more cream cheese spreads than your taste buds can fathom greeted me every morning on the last day of the week.

The company I’m working for at this point doesn’t own the office – it simply rents cubicles from another company that has a few to spare. You could call it a shared office, but really it was 42 of them and four of us. We barely interacted with the employees of the other company.

After walking in and setting my things down, I gleefully stride to the kitchen to check out my choices this morning. “I could get a bagel with hazelnut cream cheese, but a banana might be a little healthier,” I think to myself. “Or 17 mini boxes of Cheerios.”

I arrive at the spread and step back to check out my options. Bagel it is. I scan the cream cheeses when suddenly from behind me I hear a woman’s voice.

“Honey!”

“Not honey. That wouldn’t go well with my bagel,” I think. I focus again on the topping options.

“Hey! Excuse me!”

I turn around to realize that the woman – no, the girl – is speaking to me.

“That’s not for you.”

I blankly stare at her.

“This food isn’t for you guys. It’s ok to have the coffee and tea, but you can’t have the food.”

Amidst my despair, shock, and rejection, I mutter a quick-witted in-your-face-rebuttal.

“Oh. Ok.”

I walk back to my cubicle dejected and fuming.

“Did she just call me honey? We have never spoken, not once, ever, so her salutation of choice was honey?”

Little did I know the severity of my actions on this fateful Friday morning. Office snacks are sacred. Catholics have the Pope, Panem has Katniss Everdeen, and office employees have their snacks. If a granola bar is so much as stared at for too long by an outsider, even the most docile paper pusher turns into a crazy one-eyed hyenas who will claw at your face to protect their Nature Valley Crunchy Oats ‘N Honey.

Food at corporate lunches, office parties, and company outings is OK – it’s for everyone. But snacks are a different breed. They’re special and not to be taken lightly. Eat a yogurt that isn’t for you and you can be sure to hear about it. “That’s the yogurt guy,” they’ll whisper as you walk to the bathroom. Suddenly you can’t be trusted. Not just with food, but other things too. Cubicle neighbors are locking their drawers when they leave. Women are clutching onto their purses when you pass them in the hall. You find that you haven’t been alone in a room with just one other person since the incident. Your car gets egged in the parking lot and next you thing you know you’re getting demoted to the night shift janitor so that the only snacks you can steal are the gross leftover rice cakes that no one wanted during the day.

All because of an Oikos you mistook to be yours.

Well friends, I don’t want any of you to become a night shift janitor (unless, of course, that’s what you’re aspiring to do, in which case there are easier ways to get the job than being demoted). So I’m providing you with some snack time strategies that, if followed, will allow you to optimize your snack intake and minimize your snack stealing reputation.

1. Only eat a snack if you’re 100% sure you’re allowed to eat it. Trust me on this one. Never assume you’re allowed to eat that red velvet Magnolia cupcake that’s lying out unless you want a stranger to call you “honey”.

2. One serving, no matter how hungry you are. I get it, you’re poor. I am too. College has taught us that free food quickly becomes a no food. If you get there too late you’re stuck with the organic gluten-free pita chips. As much as you want to devour everything in sight, don’t. Fill a plate and go back to your desk. If you’re still hungry, wait until the first crowd clears and go back. The new crowd will think this is your first serving. Plus you can skip the gross stuff.

  • Exception: If no one is in sight, devour said food. When someone shows up and mentions how quickly the food went, politely agree. “I know, this place is full of vultures.” Then take a plate with you and act like it’s your first.

3. Food jars are OK if you’re careful. There’s always someone in the office that has a jar of M&Ms on his or her desk. If the food is there, you can eat it. But heed caution – no one likes the guy who comes in and empties the jar. One handful, fatty, that’s it.

  • Exception: The perfect storm. If said person has left for the day, didn’t lock his or her office, and no one can see inside, go crazy. It’s their fault for leaving delicious treats out in the open (sort of). Just be sure not to leave any trace of yourself, you stealthy bastard.

4. Keep your prized snacks hidden and your bad snacks out. If there’s a snack you really love and don’t want anyone else to have, hide it immediately. Put it in your drawers so others don’t know it’s even an option. However, if you have a snack you’re trying to get rid of – say, Charleston Chews – publicize it like crazy. Put a big open bowl full of it on your desk. Offer it to those passing by. If you’re really looking to spice things up, put it on someone else’s desk when they’re not around.

  • Note: Remember where you put these. You don’t want to sit at a desk you sabotaged and then have to gag down a stale Charleston Chew.

If you follow these four simple guidelines, you’ll be snacking like a pro in no time. There will be days when you won’t even have to bring in lunch because you’ve been snacking strategically since 10am.

Those are the best days.

At the end of the day, my boss pulls the four of us into a conference room for a quick meeting.

“There’s been a few complaints about us lately,” he begins. “First and foremost, someone’s been eating their food. I don’t want to know who–“

“It was me,” I interrupt, annoyed. “I ate their food. I’ve been eating their food. I’m sorry. I didn’t realize it was such a big deal.”

“It turns out they buy the food on their own dime. The company doesn’t pay for it.”

“I didn’t know that. If I had known that I wouldn’t have done it. Or I at least would have said ‘thank you’ or something.”

When the meeting ends it’s time for me to leave for the day. Still frustrated, I pack up my things and head for the door.

On my way out, I pass the kitchen. I glance in and see that there’s some food left. Without a moment’s hesitation, I slip in and snag a leftover bagel.

“Thanks, honey.”