I’ve talked about times I have felt judged by others for my very un-flashy lifestyle. I’ve talked about checking our privilege. But what I’ve yet to talk about is the times I’ve unfairly judged others. We’ve all done it.
Most recently, a young legal assistant at the law firm I work for got engaged. She received a gorgeous ring from her now-fiancé. It is the typical, American, 1+ carat diamond. Knowing how much she gets paid and that she’s still in school, I momentarily judged her (and her fiancé) for what I perceived to be a wasteful purchase that almost certainly put them in debt. I reminded myself: I don’t know their situation. We all have different priorities in life, financially and otherwise, and it’s unfair for me to judge. I have come a long way in my minimalism journey, but I wasn’t always able to remind myself not to judge. In the past, I have judged people for the opposite reason — they didn’t have/do/buy enough.
When I was in yoga teacher training, we did study sessions at the studio owner/teacher trainer’s house. It was a small house and sparsely furnished. I remember a bookcase, a kitchen table and chairs and not much else. We all sat on the floor. My immediate reaction was confusion: didn’t he make decent money as the studio owner? Wasn’t his living room currently filled with a group of teacher trainees who all spent thousands of dollars to be there? Why didn’t he have more stuff?
Minimalism wasn’t the buzzword back then it is now and he described himself as a “non-materialist.” Training extended through the holiday season as he explained to the class that he doesn’t celebrate the holiday season; rather, he chooses to gift at other, unexpected times. If he sees something he believes someone in his life would appreciate, he gifts it at that point, not during the obligatory holiday gifting season. It is then truly a gift and not an obligation. He requested we not gift him anything material for the holiday. This all seemed quite pretentious to me at the time, but now I understand where he was coming from. This person has had so many wonderful experiences in his life that I’m sure his “non-materialist” lifestyle allowed him the freedom to pursue; in addition to having taught yoga, including teacher trainings, he is a scuba diver and skydiver, and probably many other exciting things I do not know about.
During my undergraduate years, I participated in my school’s freshman program. For incoming freshmen in their first semester, the school offered bundles of classes targeted towards freshmen with particular goals—pre-med, pre-law, education, etc. All of the students were in almost all of the same classes, including a class taught by a upperclassman with the same interests as a mentor.
While most of the students from the pre-law group I was in didn’t end up going to law school, there was one particularly bright student who I was surprised did not.
At graduation, he was recognized as one of three students to graduate with a perfect 4.0 average. At the time, when I found out his GPA and the fact that he wasn’t going to law school, I couldn’t believe it. With just a halfway decent LSAT score, he could probably have his pick—and not have to worry too much about money, either. “What a waste of hard work!” I thought to myself.
When I look back, I’m sure there were lots of people in his life not just thinking it to themselves. I’m sure this young man had lots of pressure on him to take the LSAT and go to law school. Now, I look back and think how brave it was of him to go ahead and do what he wanted with his life, rather than what others expected of him. He knew himself well enough to know that he did not want a high-stress, corporate job. Good for him!
He ended up devoting himself to the church. I see the photos on his Facebook of him and his wife with their baby and he has the same big, bright smile he always had. That smile, folks, is freedom. He is not burdened by doing a job he doesn’t love. He has clearly followed his conscience and his passion. I hope everyone can find the same freedom in their lives. There is more than one path in this life, and I wish that everyone has the courage to find the one that brings them the most happiness.