There were always the cassette tapes. Along with the bags of garbage, moldy clothes, old box springs and mattresses, and dirty, plastic Christmas decorations.
Many years ago, I worked for a property management company and one of my more glamorous duties was inventorying storage units when people fell way behind on their rent. Even before my co-worker pulled his bolt cutter out of the back of his truck to cut the lock, I knew what awaited us: a bag of garbage, half-drunk bottles of Mountain Dew (it was always Mountain Dew), moldy bags of clothes, an old, dirty mattress, cast off furniture, and plastic binders with cracked covers of old cassette tapes from the popular fitness gurus, top real estate hucksters and snake oil sales people of the decade.
The tapes were always in pristine condition with the first installment in a series of 10 half listened to before the owner gave up and put it back in its case. The people in the glossy photographed covers with their perfectly coiffed hair and whitened smiles promised their true believers they too could be the next best real estate giant, the fittest, thinnest, healthiest person on the block, and the smartest, rockstar in their profession. Just give them 10 hours of your time and you can transform your life! It’s that easy!
I saw the storage units as snapshots of these people’s lives. The salvation in a box of tapes didn’t deliver and they just couldn’t throw away the Christmas decorations leftover from a time when things were easier and happier. They hoarded things they couldn’t throw away.. and promised themselves they would pick that habit back up again when times got better or they had more time (like my husband’s wall of comic books in our garage) and weren’t distracted by Facebook or the second season of Jessica Jones.
Back before social media and the 24/7 news cycle, we never really got the full story behind these “self made” people. We never really learned that they were successful because they were born into privilege and their wealthy father funded their first successful “deal” or they had significant plastic surgery so they could play the role as the thinness and best fitness guru. Of course, we learned their dirty secrets later when they had a public meltdown or The National Enquirer did an expose piece on them. But for the time being, we bought the books and cassette tapes with the hope that by just simply reading or listening would transform our lives.
Why do we think salvation is easy? Should it be easy? How can committing yourself to some random deity, self-proclaimed guru with a box of cassette tapes, or reading a Buzz Feed article instantly change a lifetime of bad habits? 5 Kale Cleanses for the Successful Woman! 6 Life Hacks to Reverse a Lifetime of Emotional Baggage! No, hipster Buzz Feed writer living in your camper, I don’t think so…. and yet we still buy into it. As I am writing this, I got distracted by an article on Medium about 6 Ways to Hack Your Productivity and a NY Times article on re-wiring your brain.
We crave instant gratification in three easy steps and a life plan dictated to us in pig Latin from the back a Chipotle bag. We crave a clear, concise life map rather than the windy, twisty, dangerous road on the side of a cliff. I remember a day when I went to my favorite running spot in the middle of the woods in a rich, affluent Portland suburb and got annoyed that half the parking lot was taken up by construction. Surely I should have known! There had to be some sort of app or tarot card that I failed to consult! Did I mention I’m a horrible perfectionist? Life would be so much easier of we just listened to that box of moldy cassette tapes.
Despite my ramblings, I’m not dismissing the fact that a spark of imagination or creative inspiration can’t be found from that moldy box of cassette tapes or Chipotle bag.. we just have to realize the spark takes work to turn into a fire; it needs air and fuel and we have to coax it into a fire. The box of cassette tapes and the gym membership won’t make us thin unless we commit. Commitment is hard and frustrating and takes work. A lot of work. Something I’m not always very good at doing. Like a lot of creative people, I have journals (and a blog) full of Grand Plans and life changing lists that I never followed through on because I got distracted by the next shiny object.
So, the point of all this rambling is we can lead healthier lifestyles, run faster and be the top sales person in our field if we are willing to commit and put in the time. Having a dream can only get us so far. We have to find people who can help us set benchmark goals and encourage us to keep going. And most importantly, help us throw away those those moldy old tapes because that fitness guru and real estate mogol was indicted on money laundering charges back when Bill Clinton was president.