Associations

My middle child is (as of this writing) four years old. Her younger brother turned two last year. When he turned two, I proclaimed him “not a baby anymore,” and my middle kid started crying. Why? Because she knows him as her “baby brother,” and she thought that if he wasn’t a baby anymore, then he wouldn’t be her brother, either.

Silly and adorable! Fortunately, it proved easy to explain to her, but it made me think about all the other associations that even adults make. We experience two things together for a long time, maybe even only knowing those two things in association. And we combine them so much in our minds that we can’t separate them.

For a lot of people, two of those things are “income” and “misery.” Most people’s first jobs aren’t exactly great. (Mine was, but that’s a different story.) And a lot of people take the wrong lesson from that first job – that earning money always has to come at the expense of doing something miserable. Something you’d never in a million years do otherwise.

I was chatting with a friend recently, and the subject of winning the lottery came up in idle conversation. You know, the sort of “what would you do if…” kind of talk. It made me give an assessment of my life, which I’m pretty happy with. I said, “I don’t think I would change much – I wouldn’t move out of this area, I might get a newer car, I think mostly I just wouldn’t work.”

He pushed back, and told me he thought I’d go crazy if I didn’t work. He’s right; I might enjoy a week or two off but I need productivity or I start climbing the walls. So I said as much, and described the kind of work I’d do if money wasn’t an object. He laughed, and I asked why.

He said, “you’re just describing your current job. What’s different in those scenarios?”

And I couldn’t think of anything. Which is pretty nice! By and large, I already have the life I’d have if I were independently wealthy. I’m sure I could think of a few things to spend millions of dollars on, but they’d all be additive, not “fixing” anything wrong with my life.

I think the path to that kind of life is just embrace the fact that it’s a process, and love the process for itself. If I have to walk many miles to a place I want to be, I don’t hate the distance – I love each step that brings me closer. It’s more important to make sure you’re not taking steps in the wrong direction than it is to stress over how many correct steps it will take.

(P.S. If my bosses read this: I can’t afford to work for free yet! Please keep paying me!)

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