I don’t usually write Op-Eds or articles that find me as the focal point. Truth is, I had almost written my entire other piece that was on a subject far removed from this. I was going to share with you the recent emergence of retro camper releases. Myself, smitten since last November with the Shasta Airflyte re-release, I thought it was a topic the tiny house community would really find interesting. But alas, as I was knee-deep in my due diligence on the Dub Box, I flipped over a few web tabs to Facebook. Truth is I was looking for a Direct Message response and instead saw at the top of my news feed a link to an article I had read well over a year ago about a young lady who chucked the American Dream in favor of international work and travel. The person who shared the link simply had as her status update “Not putting this out there as a formula. But reading it might inspire some other good ideas toward making ‘dream tiny’ into ‘done tiny.’ And like that, I had to switch my blog post.
I am neither rich nor will I ever be. I am not privileged (as it has come to be known) nor do I want to be. I am the proud son of a firefighter and a “school of hard knocks” mom. I have several brothers and sisters and we group up in a 976 sq.ft. home built just after WWII supposedly as a “starter home.” Newsflash! We started there and sort of ended there. It was just our home. My dad worked hard and did so at the expense of time with his family (and especially us kids). He held down two full-time jobs (as he was also a U.S. Naval Reserve) and did odds-and-ends gigs when they came about. He put $10/paycheck into a savings account for each kid. He saved change during the year and recycled Coke cans so we could go on vacation for 1 week each year. On those vacations we lived like kings getting to eat fresh donuts for breakfast, roadside hamburgers for lunch, and grilled ‘this or that’ for supper. We stayed in our *new to us* pop-up camper each time and even that felt like some sort of fairy tale dream.
At 16 years old I was invited to go to Japan on an international exchange. My momma and daddy somehow found the money to send me. I realize now that our meals of fried salmon patties and spaghettios as well as trips to the day old bread store were not because that food tasted so much better. They were secretly socking funds away so I could enjoy the whole process of going abroad and not once having to worry about money.
I never wore Nike Air sneakers. Instead, I wore plain Nikes and endured the taunts of my “friends” at school. Heck, I was no dummy. At night before bed I thanked God that I had shoes to wear. Come to think of it, I had a lot of creature comforts. Heck, there was a hardly a summer day go by that we didn’t get a single dip cone from Hardees soft serve (they used to cost just $0.25 in the South).
As I got older and started understanding more about money, financing, mortgaging, debt, the new American Dream, love, provision, and all that goes with it, I began rejecting the middle class (maybe even lower? I’m still not sure) values and zest for life I had grown up with. I wanted more. I felt I deserved more. My daddy had always taught me that hard work will get you everywhere. My momma always showed me that no one in the family was less than the other. We all had jobs and responsibilities and together we could prevail and thrive. But sometime around college graduation (first in my family to go and graduate, I was often reminded) my ideas changed. I wasn’t going to be happy unless I lived here, drove this, made this, and saw this, this, and especially, this! The grass was definitely greener on the other side and I wasn’t going to let anyone stop me from taking off my shoes and burying my feet deep into that soil.
By the time I was 30 years old I had started a company, made a little money, traveled extensively, built up a collection (86 pair strong) of un-worn Nike Air Flights, lived in New York City, and been named one of the future voices of the American Enterprise. But on the flipside of the coin I had also buried another company, maxed out an American Express and a VISA both, had to beg my folks to cover my rent for a couple of months, sold shoes on eBay to buy food, been divorced, and been told my ideas were old and irrelevant. For every up there was a down (or two) and I was quickly becoming bitter and disenfranchised. I could neither identify with the values my parents had taught me nor the life I had adopted. I was lost and I was living someone else’s dream.
In a desperate measure I lashed out at myself and everything in my world. I went polar opposite of who I was and I started making major changes. I sold all my possessions. I left New York City. I shut off my cell phone plan. I swore off dating and companionship in general. I was convinced that I was undeserving of anything. The story does indeed go on. I write all of this though because I see so much of myself in so many I meet in the tiny house world. I see people running away from an American Dream that just wasn’t ever going to work anyway. I see people displaying entitlement and shunning work using a tiny house as an excuse. I see people being bullied into living a life that is not their true heart’s desire. And quite frankly, I’ve had enough of it. I am writing all of this because I want to tell each person in the tiny house community:
It doesn’t have to be your dream unless it is your dream!
I am coming up on 40 years old. I have lived in a tiny house on wheels. I have lived on the road in a travel trailer. I now live in a small house on a small farm plot. I am re-married. I have a daughter. I even have a dog! And I am so stinkin’ happy. I work hard each and every day. I hold down a 40-hour a week “day job”, take care of my responsibilities around our land and home, and pursue odds-and-ends jobs for a little extra money and to invest in my passions. I have learned when to slow down and even when to stop. I have learned to hug tightly, laugh loudly, and smile gently. I am not perfect though. Please don’t think that. But I am real. I am who I am. If you meet me at the Tiny House Jamboree or at the county auction – doesn’t matter – I am the same guy. And why? Because I am living MY dream.
All those years I was searching for me. In order to find me though I had to walk through a lot of hims and hers. I had to filter out everyone else’s dream to get to my own. And that is why I am writing this. I want to encourage you to live your dream. Maybe it involved a tiny house. Maybe it doesn’t. Maybe it involves traveling. Maybe it doesn’t. No one can decide that for you. No one can live that for you.
These days I hold fast to the lessons I learned growing up. Work is not the enemy. A man held back by work is. Sacrifice is not death. Consumption without thankfulness is. Success is not black and white. It is a myriad of colors that glow and fade with the passing of seasons.