By patti dawn swansson
Many of us get caught up in what I call The Chase, because we are a needy bunch.
We need a new car. We need a larger house. We need a better paying job. We need a vacation. We need a hobby. We need a partner. We need a new bedroom suite. We need the latest flatscreen, hi-def TV and 500 channels from which to choose. We need a new wardrobe. Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.
But what do we really require in terms of material possessions? Food, shelter and clothing. That’s it.
Unfortunately, we too easily become the puppets of capitalism. Many of us are not minimalists. We want to dine on filet mignon when a serving of beans and wieners (on toast, of course) or a bowl of rice will sustain us. We want a mansion on a hill when a modest bungalow on a quiet cul-de-sac will shelter us from the storm. We want designer clothing when there are wonderful treasures to be discovered in thrift stores and consignment shops.
We pursue the finer things in life because we believe they grant us status and make us think we are happy. The more toys we collect, the happier we think we are. The more money in our bank account, the happier we think we are. The more prestigious our job, the more important we think we are.
I point out these realities not as a means to discredit those who are engaged in The Chase. They are not evil-doers. It is not unlawful to seek a better lifestyle. To get ahead in the world, as they say. And, indeed, many of the planet’s wealthiest people (see Warren Buffett, Mark Zuckerberg/Priscilla Chan, Paul Allen, Michael R. Bloomberg et al) follow the path laid down by the noted philanthropist, Andrew Carnegie, who famously stated, “He who dies with wealth, dies with shame.” They share the wealth. That is to be admired.
Alas, very, very few of us can relate to a world that includes a bulging bank account of billions of dollars. But being a billionaire isn’t a prerequisite to joining The Chase.
Once upon a time, I was a willing participant in The Chase. I was chasing a career, chasing fortune, chasing pies in the sky. I got there, too. Oh, yes, I managed to fool enough people into thinking I would make a dandy sports editor and/or sports columnist for a variety of newspapers in Canada. I climbed the corporate ladder from the lowest rung, starting as a go-fer in the business department, moving upstairs to the newsroom as a copy person, being hired as a sports writer, then a major beat writer, then a columnist and, finally, a sports editor. Made good money, too.
At one point, I owned a 15-acre hobby farm. I had four horses and boarded one for a relative. I had a convertible, a pickup truck, a riding mower…all the trinkets.
Then I had an interesting exchange with a friend while shooting a game of pool at my favorite watering hole in Winnipeg. The moment he walked into the room, he wanted to talk about hockey. That’s when it dawned that no one wished to discuss anything with me other than sports. Robert wanted to talk about hockey. Des wanted to talk about curling, soccer or baseball. Lloyd wanted to talk about football. It was always sports.
When people looked at me, they saw a sports writer, not a person with something to offer other than an analysis of the previous night’s hockey game.
Initially, I was quite offended. How dare they think me to be a one-trick pony. I soon realized, however, that, much to my horror, I had become my job and that was no one’s fault but my own. If that was how others perceived me, the seed of that recognition had been planted in the things I had said or done while chasing all those pies in the sky and gathering glittery gewgaw. I had lost the plot in life. Everything I had achieved was just window dressing. The reflection looking back at me from the stream was a stranger.
What a depressingly blunt reality.
That was in 1999, the year I embarked on another chase. This one isn’t about collecting toys or vast fortunes or climbing a virtual ladder to nowhere. This one is about becoming a better person than my former self and finding my true self and presenting my true self to the world. Our job, after all, is not who we are. Our job is to be who we are.
We are much like a Christmas tree. When we take our children to choose a Christmas tree, it is naked. It is a trunk with branches that are often bound by twine and laid against a wooden fence. Yet, the child already recognizes it as a Christmas tree. So do we adults, for that matter. The Christmas tree does not need shiny tinsel to be the Christmas tree. It already is a Christmas tree. We do not need shiny tinsel to be our true selves.
Today, I live well below the poverty line, I live in subsidized housing and I’ve gone from that 15-acre hobby farm to a 345-square-foot apartment. Mine is a tinsel-free life. But ask me if I want for anything. The answer is no.
If we are to chase anything in life, it must be to become a better person than our former self. That is something all of us should seek. To become a better person than your former self is a noble quest because, if we can say that, the entire community benefits in unlimited ways. That should be The Chase.