The soundtrack to our lives

Do you ever get the feeling, when you listen to a song you really liked in the past, that its momentum has expired?

You used to listen to it so often, that at some point (probably listen number 36) the music blended in with your life inconspicuously; it became synonym with whatever you were living at that moment.

Life is a continuum you can’t really split into chapters, but there are certainly some events that mark the end of an era, a turning of the wheel in a different direction, and those are the moments when music gets old.

It’s a process that happens so naturally, that you don’t even notice it until it’s over. And once it’s over, each note of that old song becomes an intruder in a moment that now belongs to a new song: the one you should be listening to.

That is unless you’re feeling nostalgic, of course. Then it’s okay to let the soundtrack to your life carry you through that bittersweet ride down memory lane.

Freedom, here, now

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One thing is to learn a new lesson, and another completely to grasp it.

Last year, when I made the last payment to a credit card debt that had been taking my sleep, I could only feel joy and relief. But it wasn’t until the following day that the true underlying lesson finally dawned on me: financial freedom has little to do with money, and everything to do with me.

It’s been over a year now, and even though I don’t necessarily have more money than I did back then, I certainly feel less restricted. On my journey to attain freedom, there were three things that I realized I had to leave behind. I have succeeded in some aspects, but it’s a work in process. I am referring specifically to financial freedom, but this could apply to anything, really.

Let’s start with the first:

1. Let go of your needs

Financial autonomy does not derive from your purchasing power, but rather in the absence of needs that restrain you. A “need” is something that must be satisfied, while a “want” is a rational choice. In order to be free, you must be able to distinguish the two and realize that, in fact, you need very little.

Let me tell you, it’s hard. We’ve been engineered to confuse our desires with necessities from the very beginning. Technically, you need water and sleep, but you don’t need that new pair of shoes.

That can be a very tough philosophy to live by, parting from the premise that you don’t need anything, and then work your way up from there.

But what if, we replaced the material things we so furtively long for with actions towards our desires on a deeper level? Instead of buying the latest smartphone, why not writing that short story you’ve had on your mind for months? Remember the time when there were no cell phones?

2. Less is more (unclutter your life)

As da Vinci said, and Steve Jobs made sure to repeat many times, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”. Just think of the iPhone (ironic to mention that after I just told you to ditch your phone, but bear with me), so much functionality in a device with a single button, or Apple’s bold decision to ditch the floppy drive when releasing the iMac. These are the kind of decisions towards integration and simplicity that have helped their products perform better by getting rid of the nonessential.

On a more personal note, I will tell you about my most recent trip to New York City. Usually I travel with a large suitcase, so I can have the “freedom” to dress from a wider variety of clothes during my trip and have room to buy more things. That is in theory, since what actually happens is that I bring a bunch of clothes I never wear and don’t even have room for anything new. I’m sure many will relate to this. But this time around, thanks to the good influence of my husband, I did things differently. I traveled only with a small backpack, where I brought a few changes of clothes, some underwear and personal items. I was a bit afraid when I first got on the plane, thinking I would miss stuff, but at the end of our trip I thought I still could have brought less with me. I should probably mention that we were Couch Surfing, so it’s not like I was at a relative’s house where I could borrow an extra towel.

Think about it. A two weeks trip. One small backpack.

3. Forget your social status

Friendship is a great thing. Friends are always there to support you through hardship and failure, and to celebrate with you on those special joyous occasions.

But, friends are often the reason why you run out of cash. Quickly. Picture this: you just got paid. Three birthday parties and one wedding later, you find yourself completely out of money. Or, let’s say, your friend invites you to dinner and you feel the need to return the gesture. All that is nice, when you can afford it. But we live in a society where it’s very hard to say no, and most friends, as understanding as they can be, sometimes do not grasp the concept of being broke, especially when they are in a better situation.

Another common habit is to attend events simply because people expect you to be there. Living up to social standards is incompatible with financial freedom.

By forgetting your social status, you are able to make rational assessments, even a cost-benefit analysis if you will, but most importantly, you can be honest to yourself and your acquaintances, and as we say in the Dominican Republic “tuck insofar the blanket covers”.

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These three things have made a huge difference in my life. If I could add a fourth item to that list, though, it would be to live in the present. But I’m putting it aside on its own, because it drifts away a bit from the main topic.

Sometimes I wonder if I really like what I’m doing, and then I get the craziest ideas: “go to hairdressing school, study linguistics, maybe even a major in some foreign language, no, study Latin! That’s what you have to do”. In the end we all want to be a big shot in some way, but the most important lesson I’ve learned this year is that all I need is to love what I’m doing right now, and that’s enough.

Identity crises come from not loving what you do, either because you have been constantly choosing something other than what you’re passionate about, or because you are desperate to attain success without doing what it takes or enjoying the path to get there.

To tie up the last part with the main idea of this article, if you love what you’re doing, all the sacrifices you need to make in order to get there will be easier to endure.

I must say my life has completely turned around in the last year, in a good way. I’m in a good place now. Hope this helps you get a bit closer to that good place of yours.

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