The other day, I was at Bob Evans with my wife and kids when my son unexpectedly taught me a really awesome life lesson.
You never really know how kids will be at a restaurant, but fortunately Bob Evans had finally exchanged their old winter kids’ menus for the spring edition, so Austin was engrossed in doctoring the pictures inside: drawing giant robot legs and clamp arms on the sun so that it could menace the kid playing on the swingset below, drawing horns on other children, and attempting to turn the dog into a Yoshi from the Mario Bros. video games.
When he got bored with artistry, he moved on to the puzzles: A matching game that was too easy. A word scramble he wasn’t interested in. And a maze with a rabbit in the center, where the objective was to take the rabbit through the maze and to its carrot.
“What do you have to do here?” he asked.
“Take the rabbit to the carrot,” I told him.
So he drew a line directly from the rabbit to the carrot, neglecting the walls of the maze entirely.
I looked at him.
“He’s a rabbit,” he said. “He can jump.”
You are in a maze
Seems like a lot of people don’t like their jobs nowadays. So you ask the question: “Why not quit?”
And the answer is always some form of, “I can’t. I have [X obligation].”
I’m not saying that anyone should ignore their obligations and quit their jobs without thinking, but it’s always interesting how nobody even considers the outside-the-box alternatives.
You could get another job. Most people think the job market is so terrible that they could never get another job, but usually it’s more accurate to say that they couldn’t get the exact same job that has the same salary and the same benefits (financial and otherwise), but that has flexibility and none of the negatives of your current job.
So, really, you could probably get a different job and adjust to differences in pay, or whatever other differences — savory and unsavory alike.
Or you could try the whole self-employed thing, and just accept that you may have a lot less money for a while.
(As I mentioned in another post recently, Pace and Kyeli trimmed their expenses by half when they decided to start their own business. That’s not easy to do, but it can be done.)
If you have a house, you could quit your job, lose half of your family income for a while, sell or forfeit the house, and move into a cheap apartment. I know you’re already shouting reasons why this is a bad idea, but the truth is you could do it if you wanted to.
Hell, you could move back in with your parents.
So it’s not true that there’s no way to do it, just like it wouldn’t be true to say that the rabbit can’t get out of the maze if the only path through it is blocked. You’re just not considering all of the options open to you — the jumping straight up out of the maze options.
And if you know those options but don’t like them, then that thing you claim to want so much isn’t something you want all that badly.
The Badass strikes again
I was thinking about this recently when Jon Morrow, who I think of as “Chief Badass,” wrote another epic post — this time for Problogger. Jon tells the story about living with a chronic disease that ate up all but $700 of the money he ever made in any given month.
And so Jon found himself in a trap… or a maze.
As long as he allotted only $700 to personal expenses — rent, food, personal items, and anything at all that wasn’t medical — Medicaid would give him what he needed to stay alive. If he dropped Medicaid, he couldn’t pay the bills. If he kept it, he’d never have more than $700 to spend.
No matter how he massaged the numbers, it could never work. Living in America, under the American system, had him caught in the corner of a maze.
So he asked, “What if I didn’t live in America?”
And with that thought, he dropped Medicaid and moved to Mexico, where he could earn American dollars and spend pesos, and where medical care was a tiny fraction of what he used to pay. Now he hires full-time help, does his work in a posh resort from a balcony overlooking the ocean, and keeps the money he earns.
Was (and is) Jon’s plan risky? Sure. Anything could happen. The border crossing alone, for a guy in a wheelchair and his grandmother, was dangerous. Outside of Jon’s beautiful-but-self-contained resort area is a bit sketchy. There are some supplies that are hard to find, and the Mexican version of “wheelchair accessible” usually means having someone lift your chair up the steps. But what’s the alternative? The no-way-out, $700-for-everything life?
In Jon’s situation, do you take on a possible risk… or do you choose a life of definite shittiness?
I know what I’d do.
We live in fear, most of us. Our society is safe from crime as long as we’re terrified — as long as we lock our doors, carry our guns, and suspect everyone. We’re safe from terrorism as long as we fear and oppose suspicious cultures. We’re safe from financial ruin as long as we have a deadly aversion to losing our credit ratings, to defaulting on a loan, or to losing a house.
Jon was safe in having the medical care he needed as long as he was afraid enough of losing it. He was safe as long as that fear was intense enough to accept a raw deal like: “Keep $700 every month, and give us the rest.”
Jon told me once that things changed when he decided that if he died, that would be okay. He’d rather take that risk than have total certainty that he’d never have a future or that he’d end up in a state-supported nursing home, watching daytime TV and waiting for his turn to die.
Do you want to waste away and languish? Or do you want to take a chance at life… even if it entails the risk of death?
My Jon moment
I recently dropped my health insurance. It took me a year after I first asked if I should to take the leap, but I did it.
I’m diabetic, so every year for the past few years, my insurance has gone up by 30 to 50%. The final straw came in February and March of this year, when my monthly premium went up by over $200… two months in a row. The first time, it went up because my policy was up for annual renewal. The second time, it went up because I had just turned 35, and was therefore considered a higher risk.
And, for the record, my policy was already the highest-deductible policy offered. I didn’t see a penny’s worth of benefit from my insurance until I spent $5000 per year, which has only happened once — the year I broke my arm.
I thought to myself, “Even if I feel like paying $1200 per month for just me... what happens when I turn 40? 50? 60?”
I didn’t like that the insurance company was so sure that I was a bad case that they were betting so heavily against me. And what’s more, it made me MAD. I’m a type-1 diabetic. I can’t change that, and I didn’t ask for it. Everyone knows it’s wrong to discriminate against a person if he’s black (and, therefore medically more likely to have sickle cell anemia, just to put it in actuarial terms), but it’s okay to discriminate against diabetics who are, on average, more likely to incur higher medical bills.
Never mind that I’ve been diabetic for 22 years and don’t have even the smallest hint of any kind of complications. Never mind that I eat well, exercise often, and would confidently put my health up against that of most nondiabetics.
It made me furious. I was trapped. No matter what I did, the company would never listen. The wouldn’t consider me — only my “condition” and what the actuarial statistics said about it. No matter how well I played by the rules, they’d never back off, never treat me as an individual, never charge me less.
So I decided to charge myself less.
I quit their bullshit system, with a tip of my hat to Jon.
I said, “Fuck this. I’m jumping over the walls to get that carrot.”
There was no way to win if I didn’t change the rules. The rules said that as long as I was insured, premiums would continue to go up. Even if premiums eventually froze, I’d still be paying way more than anyone else.
So instead of paying for insurance, I’m putting the amount of my old premium into a savings account. I’m paying for supplies and doctor visits directly. If I have an accident, there’ll be more than enough in my account to cover it, cash, within a few months — and until and unless that happens, I’m saving around $800 each and every month.
For a long time, I thought, “What if I get cancer? What if I get hit by a bus?” And those thoughts stopped me, because they came from fear.
But then I decided I’d rather not mortgage my life every day due to fear of something that may happen someday… or may not. I decided I’d make what I knew was a good choice today, and deal with the unlikely worst-case scenario if it ever happened.
If I suffered a debilitating illness that totally bankrupted me, I’d apply for financial aid. Make payments.
Or move to Mexico.
But I wasn’t going to deal with a sure raw deal just because of a boogeyman that probably wasn’t even there.
You’re a rabbit. And rabbits can jump.
Right now, in some area of your life, you may feel like a rabbit in a maze. Someone or some thing is controlling you, telling you where to go, making you exhaust yourself for no logical reason. And maybe you’re okay with that maze, when you think about it. But don’t get fooled into thinking there’s no other way.
Jon was trapped by his medical expenses in America. So… what if he didn’t live in America?
I was being crippled by my insurance payments. So… what if I didn’t have insurance?
And you? If you’re a rabbit in a maze, at least ask the question: What if I wasn’t in the maze?
We’re trained to stay within the nine dots, to color inside the lines, to think inside the box. Usually what keeps us there is fear — fear imposed by others, and fear imposed by ourselves. And so ultimately, you need to ask yourself some questions: Is my fear legitimate? What would happen if I did the thing I fear? What would really happen if the object of my fear actually came to be? And honestly, how likely IS it that the thing I fear will actually happen?
And most importantly: Am I willing to live every day under oppression because of fear? Or am I willing to risk the thing I fear if it means the surety of leaving my oppression?
It’s like Robert Stack said in the movie Airplane!: “You take a risk every time you leave your house, cross the street, or stick your face in a fan.”
Life is full of risks. And the real question is: Which risks are you willing to accept, and which risks are the true demons worth enduring some degree of oppression to keep at bay?
For me, I’m going to keep locking my doors at night and plan to stay out of bad areas after dark if I can avoid them. But I’m willing to bet on my ability to take care of my own health using my own money, and to deal with problems in due time… if they ever occur at all.
Fear can be useful. But don’t let it rule you.