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India Photo Journal

India photo journal I’ve wanted to go to India for several years. The country’s culture, the large population, the heartbreaking amount of people who live on less than $1 a day. It all interested me.

India is a country about 1/3 the size of the U.S.A. yet it has a population of 1.324 billion people, making it the second most populous country behind China’s 1.379 billion.

Planning a trip to India was always a bit of an undertaking. I never really knew how long to go for. The country packs so much into’s its size. Many travelers say even three months isn’t enough time to see all that there is.

I guess that’s kind of figurative. I spent a year living in Thailand and while there is a lot to see in Thailand, I would still say a 10-14 day trip is fine. Maybe India is different. Many people would agree.

It was always fascinating to hear people talk about their trips to India. Whenever I met backpackers who had done 2 week to one month or longer trips, they would always describe it in the same awe: it’s like no place you’ve traveled before.

I can agree with them. India is a fascinating, but chaotic and hectic place. There’s a lot of beauty and culture in the country but some crimes, particularly the 2012 Delhi case, have scared off tourists from visiting the country.

While India is a wonderful place to travel, it would be ill-advised to not mention the chaotic and aggressive nature it can have at times. I encountered the most aggressive touts while walking down the city streets.

With some safety practices, it starts to feel better. I used a GPS tracking cab app called OLA to have a good cab experience. Every rickshaw was double-checked before getting in. And I read up on the common scams tourists fall to when visiting. Coupled with this knowledge, the experience, while still hectic, was a lot better.

For female India travel tips, Global Gallivanting and Hippie in Heels are good resources.

Originally I wanted to travel and backpack India on my own. The idea of tours and only having a set amount of time for each place and attraction don’t interest me. Eventually, through finding a flexible option, I did choose a group tour.

Traveling with a group was better than I thought. I picked the Northern India Explorer tour with Geckos Adventures. The trip hit the most popular tourist itinerary known as The Golden Triangle (Delhi, Agra Jaipur) while also including additional stops in the holy city of Varanasi as well as the town of Bundi.

The tour group had seven Australian women and then me, the only guy and only American, haha. After doing so much solo travel, it was really nice to get to see and experience a place with others.

I got to experiment with a new wide angle lens I got for my Sony a5100. During the editing of the photos, my head was down and watching new YouTube tutorials to learn Adobe Lightroom some more. Hope you like the pictures! They’re a small fraction of all the ones I took!

Hope you enjoy this India photo journal! You can check out my photo journal of Malaysia from last year as well.

india travel in your 20s bundi
Gazing while in Bundi
jama masjid delhi
Jama Masjid in Delhi
humayun tomb travel
Peek-a-boo of Humanyun Tomb
bundi india travel
Bundi living
bundi travel india
Daily life in Bundi
amber fort in jaipur
Amber Fort in Jaipur
The MVP: Taj Mahal!
varanasi travel
Varanasi Sunset boat trip
india travel in your 20s
Something you see a lot: cows roaming freely around the streets
varanasi travel
man in Varanasi
varanasi travel
family photo in Varanasi
varanasi travel, india travel
Boat ride on the Ganges River in Varanasi
Rooftop outlooks in Delhi
Spices of Jaipur, India travel, Jaipur
Spices of Jaipur
india travel in your 20s sikh temple
With the meal preparers at the Sikh Temple
india travel in your 20s delhi
Walking around in Delhi
india travel in your 20s jama masjid
A mom and her kids at the Jama Masjid in Delhi


Why You Should Speak Up About Your Money Struggles

speak up about your money strugglesLong before I started this blog, I was an avid reader of personal finance blogs. It had started back when I was in university  looking for a way to read about other people’s thoughts on money.

Up until that point, the only time I ever had money conversations was when it was centered on being broke and feeling super stressed about it. When I clicked through to the world of personal finance, new conversations opened up.

There were discussions about financial health, savings strategies, debt, career, and making extra income. It opened up my mind to learn more about navigating my financial life and ways to improve it.

Talking about money in day to day life was hard. Reading blogs and hearing people’s stories made it easier. I revised my budget. I went through different savings strategies after reading several posts. I tried out new tools and my financial life started to improve. It was at a glacier’s pace, but slow and steady progress nonetheless.

Eventually, it led to me creating my own personal finance blog. I was ready to set out on the mission of demystifying personal finance and blogging about paying off my student loan debt.

In a way, it was cathartic. I got to write about my inner motivations, my hatred towards my debt, and finding my way towards financial confidence.

Writing each post was fun, but I did start to get a nagging feeling. Whenever I was going through a period of struggling with money, I would shy away from talking about it. In place of any updates on my own money journey, I would usually just not write, as evident by a blogging hiatus and sometimes in-frequent content.

It’s hard to write about money when you’re broke or struggling

It’s hard because you feel like you’re constantly behind. You’re not putting thousands towards investments like the early retirement crowd. Debt still plagues you. You don’t have some high-paying job that allows you to take the ultra-common advice of “cut expenses and spend less”.

People like to ask the question “what’s next?” a lot. In some ways, growth is seen as trying and doing new things. The routine isn’t very fun.

When you’re just staying afloat with debt behind you and a low savings rate, there isn’t much to say.

Restlessness and stress are common among a lot of millennials. We constantly see others going on vacations and living it up. We have money struggles because we’re making low wages and stuck with $37,000 of student loan debt on our backs. Living like a real, bonafide adult (like our parents were able to do in their time) isn’t possible.

Massive saving rates, fully stocked emergency funds, and having the ability to travel don’t feel applicable to us. For most, we’re just trying to get through the day.

Experiencing money struggles is stressful and awkward, but it’s something you shouldn’t  hide away. Here’s why you should speak up about your money struggles.

Growth Comes From Discomfort

Discomfort can be a terrible thing. It keeps you anxious. You’re always in an “on” mode and never able to rest. Fear lingers as your back aches from carrying your burdens.

Your burdens could be a number of things. Maybe it’s a heaping pile of debt. You could be underemployment and hate it. Whatever it is, come to terms with it.

Don’t bury your head in the sand. Yeah, you may not be maxing out your retirement accounts or jaunting around the world, but when you get clear on your situation, you can start to make progress.

The path of personal growth is rarely a linear and comfortable route.

If you don’t speak up and say something, then nothing will change. Words are powerful. They allow you to get brutally honest about your strengths and weaknesses.

From there, you can start to make a plan to move forward. Maybe it’s throwing an extra $30 a month at your debt, doing a few Craigslist gigs for extra money, or reading up on ways to better yourself and your finances.

You’re reading this blog right now, so I know you’re committed to learning about how to get out of your money struggles.

Everyone Has Their Ups And Downs

I’m sure there’s someone you look up to a lot. There are people in real life who seem to have it all together. Someone on social media looks like they’re living it up and doing great.

While it looks like people have it together, everyone has their money struggles they’re going through.

Back when I started reading blogs, there was this one blogger who I loved. Their site was full of great blog posts, they traveled several places, got to work with well-known brands, and posted income reports. They even ditched their full-time job for a life of solopreneurship.

It truly looked like they were doing great.

As time went on, changes happened. This person struggled with their business, trying to find the right business model, and dealing with fluctuating income from month to month.

Then one day I read a post by the blogger where they had made the decision to quit solopreneurship and go back to working a 9 to 5 job.

Everyone has their struggles, no matter what the surface level looks like. People can have more empathy than you may think.

Connecting with others who are going through similar money struggles, either presently or in the past, can be helpful. Plus, a little accountability can be good.

When You Speak Up, You Can Make More

Speaking up and asking around can yield results and opportunities you may not have even expected. It could be doing compiling your work accomplishments and using it to ask for a raise, negotiate your salary for a job offer, or seeking out cheaper alternatives for expenses.

Let people know the ways you’re looking to improve.

How have you gotten through money struggles?

Travel, Survival Jobs, and Life in Transition

constant in life australia backpacker travel

At the start of this year, I found myself sitting at my desk in a humid filled room. It was the morning time and the school forbade us from turning on the air conditioning until 8:30 a.m.

I had been living in Thailand for nearly a year at that point. My pay was small but paired with the low cost of living, it evened out.

Eager to finish paying off the rest of my student loans, I picked up a part-time job tutoring and started to work seven days a week. With expenses being low, I was able to put a good portion of my income towards debt every month.

When I did get free time, I traveled to new places. I went all over Thailand, seeing new islands and exploring places like the edge of the world. Malaysia and Myanmar followed suit, getting to explore new temples and cuisine.

The only problem was things didn’t feel stable. I was in a transitionary period of my life. There was the shaky thought of if I moved a little too much, things would be pulled out from under me and I wouldn’t have anything.

I knew I didn’t want to teach English forever and ever, but I didn’t really know what was next. Neither did anyone else I worked with at the school. Every one of us, ages ranging from 21 (me at the time) to 34. Most of us didn’t know what we wanted to do. Not just with our careers but our lifestyles.

Finding a Constant In Daily Life

Eager for something of a constant to hold onto, I continued to write and work on my blog. I had started just before leaving the states and wanted to use it to document my financial path and adventures.

The blog (this blog) became the thing I held onto whenever things changed. I held onto this site when I wasn’t sure where I was going to live next or what job was going to come.

A desire formed to want to work on it more. I bought one of those big fold up white tables from the supermarket for 1,278 baht ($38 USD) and used it as my workstation in my little apartment. Then I quit my part-time tutoring gig. Signing up at a co-working place, I started to commute into Bangkok on the weekends when I was off from my full-time job.

My teaching job had started to become something of a confusion. I liked the teaching but disliked everything else: the school system, co-workers, and questionable teaching standards. Every morning, I sat for half an hour in the humid, no air conditioning teaching lounge and contemplated what I wanted to do.

I loved to travel but yearned for the routine. I wanted to go around the globe yet stay in the states full time. Everything clashed against one another and it was confusing.

The First FinCon Went By in a Blur

This confusion carried over into the states when I visited back in September 2016 to attend my very first FinCon. People would ask me what my blog was about and I would look at them with the vague expressed of “uhhh…personal finance?” I didn’t know what my main focus was.

The whole conference went by in a blur. I went back to Thailand not sure what to make of it and not convinced I would go back again.

Things changed again a few months later while in Thailand. I ended my contract with my full-time teaching job without another job lined up. My mind had been in Australia for a while and I had applied and gotten a 12-month working holiday visa the month prior.

Moving to Australia With No Plan

In April, with a body filled to the brim with nerves, I hopped on a plane and took the 21-hour journey to Sydney, Australia. I arrived in the early hours of the morning, with a backpack, one duffel bag, and no job or anything lined up other than a three-night stay at a hostel.

Nothing was waiting for me and the next few months were blurry and confusing. I had left Thailand in March and didn’t get my first official job in Australia until June. Unemployed for three months, it wasn’t fun.

Well, for the most part, it wasn’t fun. I don’t think anyone would love the idea of living and sleeping in a 10 x 14 room with five other people. As a backpacker, you just make it work.

During the two months of hostel living, I met an assortment of people. A law student from France, a guy from Spain who liked to learn American slang, and even an Instagram famous woman! Maybe one day she’ll start promoting Fit Tea on the ‘gram? Who knows!

It was fun getting to meet a diverse group of people. All of them spoke about their love of travel and getting out to see the world. None of them liked the idea of sitting in an office for 8-10 hours a day.

It reminded me of my reason for moving abroad. I hadn’t done it as a way to “ditch the cubicle” considering that I didn’t even work in a cubicle or office. I had done it because I had always wanted to travel more long term.

Despite the varying reasons for being abroad, we all did what we had to do to afford the dream of travel. We worked our survival jobs, showing up every day and saving up as much as we could so the possibility of traveling for a few months afterward would be possible. We huddled together in the small hostel room, on our bunk beds, and recounted the day’s events.

I haven’t been tons of places but have been to several and noticed a common trend to all the travelers I talked with. Throughout it all, the late night drinks, the hours-long conversations about life, a realization came about. 

We Were All Just as Lost as the People Back Home

On Instagram and Facebook, our curated lives looked appealing. Shots of airplane wings and coconuts on the beach. The day to day showed a different story. Feelings of restlessness and anxious about the future. We were hopping from survival job to survival job in order to keep our ambitions afloat.

Thinking long-term was hard, it required exposing yourself and being uncomfortable. That’s the feeling I had when had attended FinCon16. A restless feeling of being uncomfortable.

Drifting and living in the moment was the focus for so many of us traveling. Of all the people, a big thing I noticed was a lack of some sort of constant in their day to day lives. They didn’t have anything to hold onto whenever any change or uncertainty happened. 

One day, while sitting in a street-side restaurant in Thailand, I was stressed about finishing the school year without another job lined up. I didn’t know what to do and the thought of it was eating away at me.

“Well at least you have your blog and your writing,” a friend/co-worker of mine said. “I have nothing” she added.

That has stuck with me for two reasons. The first reason being that she thought she had nothing to go back to (which I later found out was a fear of not getting a job back in the states).  The second reason being I had never really known how much an impact my blog had on me until recently. For the longest time, I treated it as a hobby that I was just really gung-ho about. Now, it’s possible that it was more than that.

My blog has been the constant in my life over the past 1.5 years of moving around. It’s what has gotten me out of bed in the morning. It fills my thoughts when I go to bed.

I don’t dream and think about sitting at a computer alone, typing words into a screen. I think about sharing stories and information. Hearing what others are doing and making.

My work contract in Australia ended right before I came to FinCon17. It was a blow to the stomach. If it had happened a year ago, I would have been completely lost, which is what I felt when I attended FinCon16.

However, I didn’t lose all sense of myself once I walked out for the last time from that job. For the last few months, I had been working on other things and slowly building up a sense of myself.

A Better FinCon Experience

When I attended FinCon17, as a newly minted unemployed person, I felt recharged. I had my blog and I had been freelance writing for several months at that point.

At the present moment, I’m sitting in Texas. My freelance writing side hustle is growing from all the contacts I got while at the FinCon freelancers marketplace. I’m focusing more on my blog.

I’m still not sure if I’ll make this a full-time gig, but I’m exploring my options and applying for jobs all over. I may go back to Australia and do another work holiday stint. Not totally sure.

All I know for sure is without these two things, my blog and my side hustle, I would feel a lot more uncomfortable and restless.

Simply getting started, on my blog and my side hustle, and learning to be okay with the uncomfort that came with it, has allowed me to build a constant in my life as I go through these transitions. A life in progress, as you could call it.

I could have just not started it all. I could have stayed for years and years in my safe, but dull, teaching job in Thailand. Many others have.  Although at the end of the day, I knew it was the right choice to leave. It’s what allowed me to experience Australia. And leaving Australia is what allowed me to experience the ultimately great and far less uncomfortable FinCon17.

Let’s see what’s next to come.

“One can choose to go back toward safety or forward toward growth. Growth must be chosen again and again; fear must be overcome again and again.” – Abraham Maslow

FinCon17 Dallas Recap

fincon17 dallasThese past two days I’ve gotten so much sleep and it’s been great. Last week I was in Dallas, Texas attending FinCon17. It was amazing, I learned a lot, I lost a lot of sleep, and all in all, it was a great experience.

This year’s conference was my second time attending, the first being last year’s FinCon16. Just like last year, the journey to get to the conference was hectic in the most pleasant way.

The last six months I have been living in Australia so my starting point to the conference happened in Perth, Western Australia. This time around, I tried to prepare against any jet lag that was bound to happen.

Last year when I came to FinCon, I didn’t prepare at all and ended up crashing for a long nap at around 3pm every day. Not the best way to spend a conference, eh? So this year, in preparation to beat jet lag, I stayed up for 30 hours while on my flight journey to FinCon.

This sounds as exciting as reading it. It mainly involved drinking excessive amounts of coffee and pacing around the airport endlessly. I loathe coffee but it was a necessary evil in this case. I ended up not falling asleep in the afternoon while at FinCon! Success!

Admittedly, I was tired during the afternoons, but maybe that had more to do that I didn’t get a lot of sleep while attending the conference. I don’t regret it one bit though, the four days of FinCon were great.

I came home full of inspiration. There was so much I learned and so many amazing people I got to talk with. The 4-hour Megabus journey back to Houston went by in a flash because my thoughts were filled with all the stuff I wanted to do going forward.


My FinCon preparation extended beyond just staying up for 30 hours to beat jet lag. I actually formed some goals I wanted to achieve while there. This ended up making my experience so much more enjoyable.

My first FinCon experience (FinCon16) was great but it felt confusing as well. I hadn’t gone into the conference with an idea of what I wanted to get out of it so I ended up feeling conflicted about what to do with all the information I got.

I think part of it had to do with being a new blogger. My blog was seven months old when I went last year. I hadn’t really defined what my niche was within personal finance (budgeting, side hustling, frugality, debt, etc) so everything felt like a lot.

After seeing a thread in the FinCon Facebook group about everyone’s conference goals, I decided to make some.

  • Meet fellow bloggers/FinMedia people
  • Find new, higher-paying freelance clients
  • Learn about the new FinTech services
  • Learn about different ways to grow a brand

They were simple-ish and not a set “I want x number of this or that” type goals. Even so, having them gave me a good framework going into FinCon17. Having set goals may not work for everyone but with my love of organization and planning, they really helped me.

It was fun getting to meet all the different financial media people and bloggers I interact with online. There are so many people I wanted to meet and say hi to but I knew it was better to practice quality over quantity.

I reconnected with people from last year and got to connect with new people from this year. A lot of the interactions were so fun. I would spot someone while walking through the hotel, there would be a moment of hesitation wondering if it was really them, it really would be them, and cue the internal freak out as I got to talk with them.

In terms of finding freelance clients, there were two things that were very helpful: the freelancer’s marketplace and the one-on-one mentoring. I got to meet with several bloggers and companies at the marketplace and exchanged business cards.

I made it a point to sit down and really take the time to conversate with each of the companies. There was one company I really loved the mission and personality of. Hopefully the connections I made pay off!

The one-on-one mentoring was something I got to do for the first time. I signed up a few weeks before the conference when the email got sent out and hoped to pair with someone in the freelance writing space.

I got paired with the perfect person! It was with fellow personal finance blogger whose coaching program I had done just a few months ago. Perfect fit and I got to get some burning questions answered.

If there is an area you want to grow more in, definitely consider signing up for the one-on-one mentoring. It was worth it for me.

Meeting Other Bloggers

FinCon is like a family reunion. One that you actually want to go to

I think Pat Flynn said that. Not too sure, but it’s definitely true. The best part of FinCon is the people. Getting to hear their stories, their struggles, and their plans for the future. It’s great to be surrounded by like-minded people and have thoughtful conversations about money and beyond.

I got to see Cait Flanders again, who I met again while sitting in the hotel lobby at 10 pm. I can’t wait for her book The Year of Less to come out in January. She won best minimalism blog this year at the Plutus Awards!

Lauren from Financial Best Life. I’ve been following her blog forever and it was one of the first personal finance blogs I started reading. She has one of the funniest and relatable writing styles. I randomly met her while stuffing cookies into my swag bag in the expo hall, haha.

Gwen from Fiery Millennials I met again while volunteering on the first day. The F.I.R.E panel she was part of was one of my favorite sessions of the conference.

I immediately thought of Desirae from Half Banked when David Bach started to discuss his (controversial?) “Latte Factor” during a keynote. I got to meet Mixed Up Money, who probably has one of the funniest personal finance blogs around.

I went to lunch one day with several bloggers including Catherine from My Work Money Life who told everyone at the table their personality types. Apparently, I’m an INFJ. I also got to meet up with all the people I connected with through the conference app including Ashley from WiseBread and Liz from Kitchen Table Finances.

Allea from Ask Allea I bonded with over a love of gifs and Taylor Swift. Jen from Saving With Spunk who recently became debt-free! And a bunch of other people. So many awesome conversations.

The Sessions

The sessions at FinCon17 were top notch. There was a lot of variety including 20-minute sessions, hour-long sessions, workshops, and discussions. It felt like a good improvement from last year.

I liked that there were more sessions aside from just brand building and blog monetization. I loved the FIRE panel “What’s Wrong with Being on FI/RE?” with Our Next Life, Fiery Millennials, Bigger Pockets, and Military Guide.

I caught the first few minutes of Kylie Travers “How to Turn Your Obstacles into Opportunities to Accelerate Your Business and Life”. She’s one of the Aussies I got to talk to while at FinCon and I love her story of growth.

I liked the session on growing a brand and making products, but it was nice to get to go to sessions about personal finance topics and discussions. The first-day workshops were so helpful. They included a lot of hands-on learning where you got to bring your laptop and follow along with the speaker.

FinCon is a conference geared mainly towards the marketing aspect of building a platform rather than general personal finance discussion. There have been some suggestions in the past for FinCon to have more panels centered on discussing topics within personal finance and I think they’ve really made an effort to improve in this area.

There will always be a main focus on the marketing aspect, but it was nice to see more variety in the panels, both in terms of the topics discussed as well as the speakers. I like that the team makes an effort to take into account all that the attendees recommend.

Biggest Takeaways

Be Yourself.

It’s been said so much it’s become a cliche that lifestyle coaches put on their Instagram captions. It’s on par with the sayings of ‘get enough sleep’ and ‘eat breakfast’. While I didn’t get enough of either of the latter two during FinCon, I did learn the value of being yourself.

As I mentioned earlier, the sessions this year were wicked awesome. Part of what came from the diversity of the sessions was a bigger emphasis on perspective. There were a lot of perspectives and over and over again I heard from people who talked about the different ways to go about growing a brand, reaching financial independence, and getting better with money.

There is a lot of talk about the “right” way to do something, but with the FinCon community, these are people who aren’t doing the conventional, and they’re rocking it.

Companies are creating new FinTech services that change the way we manage our money, people are approaching FIRE in different ways, everyone is using their own perspective to better the financial media community in a unique way.

FinCon felt different for me this year. When I first went last year, I still hadn’t found my blogging voice. I wasn’t sure exactly how to handle all the stuff I had learned. This year was better. I felt surer of myself and was able to focus better.

The conference was really big this year. There are always pros and cons when things get bigger. FinCon16 had 1200 people and this year it was 1700 people. While I can’t say too much about the cons, I can signal one big positive: more voices and more perspectives. And that’s really awesome in my book.

Did you attend FinCon17? Are you going to FinCon18 in Orlando, FL? 

The American Hustle

It’s not hard to find someone who works two or three jobs in order to live. It’s the American Hustle. We hear a lot about the ever constant “hustle”.

We work side hustles after coming home from a long day at work. Doing several jobs to cobble together a living. It can be hard, but in a society of stagnant wages, high costs of living and big student loan bills, it’s the clear thing to do.  Hustling to survive.

When the world constantly feels like it’s knocking us down, we race to find any comfort that will take us away from the pain. Comfort, it’s such a joyous bliss to be in. However, it has different sides to it. While it gives us bliss in making a new norm, it keeps us trapped from any outside perspective.

Advertisements tell us how we want to feel. They know we feel overworked and frustrated. They sell us the ideas of comfort in the form of new cars, over the top vacations, and general excess. Don’t let society tell you what you need, only you know what you need.

Our work ethic and drive gets beaten down and twisted. It’s morphed by societal tendencies to tell us we work to afford all the things that will make life wonderful. A new car because you deserve it! A big, spacious house with two living rooms because you deserve it! This Amazon purchase because you deserve it!

“Because you deserve it”. It’s a dangerous little phrase.

When you choose to do your hard work, without an external reward waiting on a string in front of you, people get shocked and confused. Advertisements and what most everyone else is doing influences us so much that being motivated and doing hard work without buying something afterward is strange. Motivation and determination are strange. Have motivation and hustle because it makes you better, not because it helps you get some kind of consumer good.

Throughout my life, people never understood why I had such motivation to do things. They didn’t understand why I started taking college classes when I was 15. They didn’t understand why I chose to complete my 4-year bachelor’s degree in 2.5 years. They didn’t understand why I was in such a hurry to pay off my student loans.

They didn’t understand.

When you’re used how things are usually done, doing something different doesn’t feel right. Societal expectations, whether we want to admit it or not, plays a factor in our decision making at one point or another. We don’t want to be looked at as weird or ostracized. Our comfort zones nurture us and keep out any new perspective.

When I was 18 years old, I was faced with a situation. I didn’t have enough financial aid to cover all my college costs. I did have a job but it wouldn’t have been enough to pay for an apartment or an overpriced college dorm room.

I had to make a decision. I chose to live in my car my first year of college. A 2003 Ford Focus I had bought when I was 17, with money I had saved up from working as a dishwasher at a BBQ restaurant.

A year later, I wrote about it in an article for USA Today College. The story went viral. Several news outlets picked it up, I started getting calls for interviews and quotes. One of the top questions people asked me was my motivation behind why I did it.

I didn’t really have an answer besides “Uh, well I wanted to go to college, and I didn’t have money for a place, so…”

The seed of motivation and drive 

The more I think about it now, I can see where my ‘why’ has come from: My Grandpa and mom.

My grandpa, on my mother’s side, was born in 1912. In his early twenties, he got a job in a post office doing cleaning work. It wasn’t glamorous and the other post office workers frequently made his inferiority to them known. Both in the employment and in life. He made sure to focus on his work and do his best. During his shifts, he would watch the maintenance workers do their work. After watching how they did their work, he was able to start helping on the tasks. He moved up in his job.

Despite the advancements in employment, he still always felt disconnected from the illustrious ‘American Dream’. He didn’t get all the opportunities available to other Americans. People looked down on him. He was separated from others. It was because he was a black man, working through the 1930’s and beyond.

Being biracial, I’ve always been shown from an early age just how powerful societal notions can be.

As my mom grew up during the 1950’s and 60’s, my grandpa would tell her about all the things that made up the American dream. The nice house with a picket fence and green lawn. The good jobs middle-class Americans got. The extras they were able to afford.

When he and my mom would drive around the city and pass by the nice houses, she would exclaim about how she would live in one one day. “No” he would tell her softly. People like them didn’t get to have those things.

My mom held it with her. As she made her way into adulthood, she joined the Army and got her college paid for. She earned two master’s degrees. She went after the things my grandpa said she would never be able to have.

She bought and bought and bought. Fi, st it was the nice cars. Then it was nice clothes. After a while, she was able to get the big house she had always wanted. I would always hear the fascination in my mom’s voice whenever she bought yet another thing.

Being black and born in the 1950’s, experiencing segregation and racism, she thought she would never have all the things that made up the “American Dream”. As I grew up, she would tell me how she was proving her dad wrong. She was rising up in society. At a whopping 5,640 square feet, people fawned over how big and beautiful our house was.

Originally a lot smaller, my mom enlisted the carpentry expertise of my dad and had us do home renovations and add-ons almost every year. There was something that always needed to be added. A large master bath because she had seen it a Home Living magazine. An addition with 14 foot high ceilings because she had remembered seeing one from her childhood.

There is always a need for more

To fund all of the purchases and home renovations, she worked every day at her nursing home business she had started. Every day was spent tending to the business and reaching out to people in order to get more patients in the facility.

She was an entrepreneur and she loved her business. Building it up was something she is still most proud of doing. However, she felt obligated to continue buying more stuff. She wanted to have the “American Dream” that her dad had said she would never have growing up.

I’m not sure where to line is to show a person has achieved “the American dream”, but my mom seemed to have it. The big house, nice cars, nice clothes, and copious amounts of stuff.

She thought she was happy

Last year, when everything changed. She was diagnosed with advanced stage colon cancer. Suddenly, her outlook changed.

Whenever I go home, I sit and talk with her. On the first talk after the diagnosis, she recalled the moments in her life she was most proud of which including hustling to build a better life for herself. A life that society said, statistically, she wouldn’t be able to have. She’s proud going through the army. Going to school and getting two masters degrees. And building a business that she ran for a decade and a half.

Most of all, she said she’s proud of her motivation and hustle to do it all. Her hustle to rise up in life. The American Hustle.

There was something she left out feeling proud about. It was all the stuff she bought that she didn’t really need. Maybe she didn’t need the newest car after all. Maybe those home renovations and add-on’s weren’t necessary.

She cherishes her motivation and hustle. But after all this time, maybe having them within her was all she needed.

As I’ve learned from talking with her, don’t let society tell you what you need. Only you know what you need.

Focus on yourself. Find your why. Go after things and experiences that help build your identity capital. Do stuff that helps you advance yourself rather than just to keep up with the Joneses. 

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