I had an experience this Spring that I just can’t get out of my mind, which means I probably should share it with you.
As I sometimes do when I want a change of pace, I go to one of three coffee shops within walking distance of our home. I’m waiting in line for my free refill when I notice this guy two spots ahead of me, pacing back and forth from his spot to the window and back.
He did this often enough that I just had to see what the heck was monopolizing his attetion. He was the proud owner of a Mercedes parked in a handicap spot and he was pacing back and forth to check on it.
OK. This just got fun. Then I take a closer look at “Mr. M”. Yes, that's right, I do a full personal finance body scan. He looks about thirty years old. He sports an expensive hair cut, designer dressy casual clothes, the expensive watch, shades and shoes needed to complete the ensemble, and the latest cellphone that seems permanently affixed to his ear and/or hands, and a set of keys with an obnoxiously large Mercedes logo dangling from it.
I can’t help but smile. My impression is here’s a guy who needs to look the part so badly—which includes buying an expensive coffee, of course—that he can’t enjoy life because he’s too busy creating the “perfect” version of it. Truth is, I would never have noticed him if he weren't so wound up and preoccupied...and oblivious to his own self-absorbed behaviour.
I don’t know exactly why he was nervous about where he parked. It could be that he was worried about getting a ticket, getting towed, having it scratched…whatever it was, what I do know that he was not having what I would consider a good morning. A mere $0.50 in the meter (and I’m being generous here) would have enabled him to calmly get his coffee in peace, complete with the ability to just breathe.
I started thinking that maybe he didn’t have the $0.50 because it needed to go towards that fancy pants extra whip/extra hot/extra shot/cherry on top coffee of his. Who knows for sure. What I did know is that I was having a much better morning than he was and that it was well within his power too to have chosen to have a reasonable, calm, easy-going morning.
Compared to this guy, my quality of life is the bomb, at least at that time and in that moment. He was the personification of “mo money, mo problems”, or at least "mo stuff, mo problems": worried about material goods, worried about something external happening to him, unable to enjoy his luxury experiences, his life.
He had "the look", but I felt pretty sure he didn’t have “the life”. You know the one: the life that all the marketing in the world tries to convince us is just around the corner if we just hang in there and make that next purchase, sign up for that next thing that will really mean we’ve arrived.
Watching him made me feel truly wealthy in that moment. I felt I had everything I needed [ok, except for that free refill, but it was coming ;)]: I was where I wanted to be, I wasn’t worried about anything in life at the time, I was wrapping up a productive morning…and I also knew that, if I wanted to, I could drop some serious stacks at a car dealership that afternoon and buy that very same white Mercedes. Outright. Boom!
There’s no better feeling than to know deep in our bones what it means to have “enough”, no matter what a marketer tries to sell us. That understanding, that level of contentment, can’t be bought, leased or rented. It can only be cultivated by paying attention to what truly matters to us in this life and focusing our resources—time, money, attention, effort—toward fulfilling those needs and aspirations.
Mercedes guy helped me appreciate what I have and I'm thankful we crossed paths, a brief $0.50's worth of time that was tremendously valuable, at least for me.