Always Endeavor to Create Choices, Never Let Yourself be Trapped

To not have choices is to be trapped. A very real form of wealth, one very real fountain of happiness, is having myriad choices. Always work to create and maintain meaningful options in your life.

In the first volume of her autobiography, “Under My Skin,” Doris Lessing, winner of the 2007 Nobel Prize for Literature described herself as a young girl, watching her parents sitting side by side in front of their house in the Rhodesian countryside, their faces tense and full of anxiety. “There they are, together, stuck together, held there by poverty and — much worse — secret and inadmissible needs that come from deep in their two so different histories. They seem to me intolerable, pathetic, unbearable, it is their helplessness that I can’t bear.” She vows never to forget this scene, never to be like her parents: “Meaning,” she wrote, “never let yourself be trapped. In other words, I was rejecting the human condition, which is to be trapped by circumstances.” (The New York Times; October 12, 2007.)

When I was in my very early 20s, my goal was to save enough money to create some measure of independence, no matter how small. Having experienced poverty in my childhood, I resolved to do all I could to never again allow those deprivations to be part of my life. To me, a savings account was a security blanket, a barrier against hunger and cold, a very real form of independence. Like the squirrel caching nuts for the winter, savings represented protection against a future rainy day.

As a young teen, I had the proverbial paper route, rising in the pre-dawn darkness to fold my papers and make my deliveries, first on a bicycle and then on a Honda 50cc scooter. I spent one Saturday a month going door to door collecting what was owed, following up one evening the next week to catch those not a home on the first round. I used to dread rainy mornings or those rare close-to-freezing mornings, and most of all, I dreaded the combination.

In college I worked full-time in the summers, diligently saving my money. My most vivid memories are slinging hamburgers at What-a-Burger on 13th Street and being a gas jockey at a Gulf station on 6th Avenue. This was back in the days when someone actually pumped gas for you, checked your oil and tires, and washed your windshield. When classes were in session, I worked two part-time jobs, juggling classes in between. I managed rental property, which meant showing units, cleaning, painting, mowing lawns, and doing minor maintenance. I was a fair plumber and good enough electrician to re-wire an outlet. I was no finish carpenter but I could install a pre-hung door or replace a window. I carried a mass of tools and parts in the trunk of my car: toilet augur, water valve key, wax toilet rings, replacement light bulbs, switch plates, outlet covers, doorknobs, to name but a few.

I also worked 5 years (2 years undergrad, 3 years grad, if my memory serves) as a nurse’s aid on the graveyard shift at the U.F. student infirmary, 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. I used to go to bed around 7 o’clock on the nights I had to work in order to catch a few hours sleep. If I didn’t, I couldn’t make it through my shift. I used to HATE the sound of that alarm clock pulling me up out of a deep sleep after only 2 or 3 hours. But it is what I thought was necessary to reach my goals, to graduate, to have financial independence, to create meaningful options in my life.

When I graduated from college and got my first professional job I resolved not to change from my student lifestyle, not start to “live it up.” By keeping my lifestyle minimal, I was able to save enough to continue investing, creating options, creating choices, creating independence.