Growing up, I was notorious for losing things. I would sometimes spend upwards of 10-20 minutes looking for something I lost at home: My homework assignment, textbook, game, a pencil, a water bottle. Everything is always in the last place you look, because well, you stop looking, but it frequently also felt like everything was in the last part of the last room in the house that I hadn’t checked yet. Frustration is the strongest negative emotion that I feel, and losing things all the time was super frustrating.
I used to feel like this was a moral failing on my part. Why can’t I just keep my stuff straight? Why can’t I just be consistent about where I put my things? Why don’t I have a system in place for where each item belongs, and make sure to stick to that system?
Then I got to college. And I magically stopped losing things, or at least lost them with a much lower frequency and spent a lot less time looking. I still maybe lost a water bottle a couple times a year, so I switched to cheap flip-cap water bottles that I wouldn’t mind losing. Then the frustration was completely gone, and with basically no effort expended on my part. What happened?
While I did grow up in several ways in college, it wasn’t really me that changed. No, the obvious change is that I went from living in a three-story house with literally dozens of places to set a piece of paper to living in a college dorm room, where nearly every such location was in sight from my chair.
I still have some issues today. Umbrellas, even travel ones, are annoying, because I can’t just stick them in my backpack after I’ve used them. I dropped my Bible under my futon one day and didn’t find it until a couple weeks later. But neither of these are that big of a deal: Holding an umbrella in the wind is often more work than it’s worth to me, and I always have my beloved ESV app on my phone as a backup. (Hence why I didn’t spend much time looking for my Bible when I lost it; if I had wanted it badly, I probably would have looked under the futon pretty early.)
When I was around 7 years old, I was proud of our big house and wanted to live in an even bigger one when I grew up. I even drew out floorplans for what rooms I’d put in each of the four or five stories. But living in a smaller space has turned out to be much better for me.
As I wrote the section above, I was munching on some tortilla chips, the rest of a bag that Grace and I shared as vehicles for guacamole with dinner tonight. I probably shouldn’t; I’m not hungry or anything, but they’re there.
It was the same at home, but even worse. Our cabinets were frequently stocked with all sorts of tasty food, or even not-so-tasty food. My dad would go on business trips flying United and stopping at every Red Carpet Club, so he’d restock the little buttery shortbread packets every once in a while. They wouldn’t last long with us.
This story is not quite so dramatic; I haven’t exactly lost weight since leaving home. But moments like tonight where I munch mindlessly on something or other are few and far between. I remember one time I made over 1000 cookies for a party at Caltech, but when only half of them were eaten (and my friends Tim and Zach had only managed to eat 54 between them in a competition before Zach started vibrating like a cell phone), I made the foolish decision to keep the leftovers in my room as I tried to get rid of them. It became far too easy to think, “Walk ten minutes to Chandler for lunch? Nah, I’ll just eat a handful of cookies.”
These days, I don’t really keep snacks around. If I happen to have some treats to share at board games in the future, I keep them behind a clock on my table, out of sight and hopefully out of mind. If I want something sweet, I keep a variety of diet sodas in the fridge. If I’m actually hungry, there’s always Soylent, which is filling and doesn’t taste all that amazing so I’m not tempted to have a lot of it.
I probably could use a bit more impulse control, but it’s sometimes beneficial to act on what I see. At some point around a year ago, I realized that I wasn’t flossing enough. Instead of just chastising myself for that, as I felt pretty much every time I went to the dentist, I decided to harness my impulses. I took one of my floss picks out of the packet and set it out. The next day, while brushing my teeth, I would see that floss pick and remember to floss before leaving the bathroom. Then as I was flossing, I would take another pick out out of the packet and set it out for the next day. Eventually I built up enough of a habit of flossing to notice how it felt and feel like I needed to floss before sleeping (which is how brushing already worked for me). Success!
We all do have moral failings of some sort, and church is often a place where we address them. To remind us of our own moral failings, pastors will often recount their own stories, admitting, say, hurtful thoughts they’ve had about others. I think every moment like this that my pastor has shared has been while driving. Someone cut him off in traffic and he tensed up in anger and maybe muttered something under his breath. It’s usually a reminder that we’re all sinners and still in need of sanctification.
At the same time, coming to Boston has been enlightening to me on this matter as well. Nothing I go to on a regular basis is more than four miles away, while high school was 10 and church was nearly 7 miles away from where we lived in high school. Even my dad’s work was 2.5 miles away, and it being that close was a big factor in where we chose to live.
I am paying a lot for rent, and many of my friends have chosen to move off campus to save money, which I perfectly respect. At the same time, the ones I’m thinking of who live “super far away” are just 2.3 miles away from campus, closer than we lived to my dad’s work. When the weather isn’t just awful, they bike.
Meanwhile, the breadth of transportation options to my farthest journeys — church and softball practice — keeps on increasing. The T can also be frustrating, but it’s still barely the cheapest option for me and Grace at $4.20. Lyft and Uber were both originally around $10, so when ZipCar One-Way entered the fray at $5-$6 (and no worries about drivers not getting paid enough), it looked like it win us over for good. But now Boston has UberPool, which pairs your ride with someone else’s at 2/3 the price of UberX. Meanwhile, Lyft is trying to get into the Boston market, so they’ve been offering 50% off on rides Monday through Thursday. I think the cheapest non-T options are now Lyft during the week for short distances, ZipCar One-Way during the week for longer distances, and UberPool on weekends, but the prices are close enough that I’m not too worried about picking the wrong one.
Extrapolating, it’s not too hard to imagine a day when driverless cars take over the roads and pastors have to instead bring up how a Facebook comment they came across just filled them with so much anger that they stopped what they should have been working on to write out a well-researched but powerful response, then continuously checked to see how many likes it would get.
In all of these situations, I mistook an unfortunate situation as a moral failing, when it really could be equally well diagnosed as a problem with my environment. Once I changed that environment, by nature (going to college) or by choice (keeping fewer snacks around), I stopped having that problem.
I don’t think it’s helpful to try to lay the blame for any of these things at anyone else’s feet either. It isn’t my parents’ fault for choosing the house we lived in, or choosing to live in Colorado where my dad’s job was. If anything, visiting Singapore has made me realize that part of this is the fault of the “American Dream,” the idea that every family should live in a house with a yard to mow and a driveway for their two cars and have plenty of food to eat in the home. Grace’s parents don’t have a big house, or a car, or much food in the cabinets at home. I’m thinking that I don’t want to, either.
What mistakes do you find yourself making repeatedly? Rather than just blaming yourself, what features of your environment encourage or allow for these mistakes? Can you do anything about those features?