Living on the Edge - do so deliberately
I know of two true life situations where people are living on the edge. One has a good grip on things, and one is falling off. What is the difference between the two?
One lives deliberately and the other doesn't. One lives in a harsh and unforgiving environment and the other doesn't. One says "we love our life" and the other says "I hate my job."
Both are on the edge, but only one lives a satisfying and happy life of achievement. The other one simply exists.
It's clear that living on the edge isn't the factor in success. It's the choices they made that placed them where they're at.
The Zeigers - living on the edge and loving it
Meet my friend Mark Zeiger and his family at their homestead in Alaska. They're living on the edge of a fjord. They're living on the edge in many other respects as well - all by choice. They participate in the local economy, but for the most part, they are very self sufficient.
They hunt, fish, grow vegetables, gather food from the forest, heat their home and water with wood, and generate all of their own electricity from wind and solar. Their water comes from several catchment systems that depend on rainfall and natural surface water sources.
To get to their home, they either use a water craft or they walk more than a mile from the nearest road where they park their truck. The ability to use the waterway is limited due to weather conditions, so with rough seas, they walk over a mile to get to their truck, and they walk over a mile to carry their belongings to their home - through the forest.
Are you convinced that they're living on the edge? Wait, there's more.
The Zeigers have few neighbors and none of them anywhere nearby. They have no mail delivery to the house, no driveway, no garage, no carport, no sidewalks, no corner stores, and they can't use any cooking or heating device that requires electricity because they're not connected to the grid.
The Zeigers describe their sources of income as micro in nature. No one in the family has a regular job for steady income like most of us are accustomed to.
Alaska has long daylight hours in the summer, but cold dark winters that just won't quit. The Zeigers must live deliberately to provide themselves with the basics of life. Yet, this form of living on the edge has them loving every minute of it.
Tim - not happy about living on the edge
Now meet Tim, an individual who is living on the edge in a warm southern state in a suburban area. Like the typical American, Tim is dependent on the mainstream economy for everything he has and everything he enjoys. He's living on the edge, but in a very different way.
Tim doesn't hunt for food, nor raise it himself. It's either fast food or something that can be delivered to him. He chooses not to go grocery shopping. His electricity and gas come from a commercial source and his water comes from a city supply, just like his many thousands of neighbors that live all around him.
Mail is picked up and delivered at Tim's apartment. He has a car for transportation to and from work and shopping. His car is parked right outside his door. Shopping is very conveniently located nearby, much of it within walking distance.
Tim has a job, or rather, he had a job until he lost it because he took too much time off work. Tim used to say, "I hate my job." Now he can't say that anymore. He lives with family members and collects unemployment.
He had to move out of his apartment because he couldn't afford the rent. Now, he's being asked to leave the home of family members, and he's quite ill-prepared to do so. He has no money except unemployment.
He's facing living on the street in his car, or possibly moving in with a friend. Neither of these options are desirable to him, but somethings "got to give" because time is running out.
How Did This Sad Situation Develop?
Here's a little background on Tim that will help shed light on how and why he finds himself in such a tough spot, living on the edge in what ought to be a comfortable environment.
- Tim never had good parental role models in terms of financial decision-making.
- He's been living on the edge financially speaking, living check-to-check with no real focus on savings or accumulation of wealth. No focus on being prepared beyond the next day or so.
- Repeatedly, Tim seeks advice and financial help from friends and family, and resists or dismisses the advice, but readily accepts the financial help.
- Comfort is a big thing for Tim. If he's comfortable, then that's good enough, and there's no reason to do anything more.
- Over the years, he's withdrawn into simply existing. He's happy with just making it each day. Even with a minimal existence, he gets used to it and accepts his limited involvement, limited goals, and limited ability to influence the world.
- Tim's life is characterized by a series of poor decisions that reflect a lack of concern for the future, a focus on immediate comfort, and satisfaction with just doing okay.
For the most part, Tim is responsible for where he finds himself - a half an inch away from being homeless. He's in his mid-forties, so he's been fully responsible for his actions or lack thereof for more than 20 years. His "train wreck" has been 20 years in the making.
His family is partly responsible for where Tim is in life because they have repeatedly enabled him to be irresponsible. They have given him loans when he needed money, and this "help" has always provided a much needed "safety net" that he should have been providing for himself.
Tim is essentially a "dog" that has been fed, and that's why he keeps coming back. Only now, his family isn't being responsive. They've grown tired of his ways and see little benefit in helping someone who has little interest in helping themselves.
So, his options are becoming fewer and less desirable. He's slipping off of the edge simply because he has chosen living on the edge as his way of life. He's getting what he deserves.
What Tim doesn't realize is that accidents, problems and bad situations don't happen randomly, they happen because everything gets aligned just right. Tim's life isn't a comedy of errors, as if by mistake, it's a deliberately unplanned life that is punctuated by errors in judgment and poor decision-making, and an unwise dependency on others.
The Lessons to Learn
It's clear to me that the Zeiger family is focused on self reliance and Tim has focused on dependency. That has made all the difference in the world. It's also clear that the Zeigers view themselves as victors and Tim views himself as a victim. We know that a can do attitude produces the best results, so it's no wonder why one on a perilous edge thrives, while the other in a comfortable environment continues to have an increasingly tenuous grip on things.
Allow me to draw additional conclusions from the comparison of these two very different situations that both involve people living on the edge:
- Deliberate living makes a huge difference in outcome. One has you actively managing your life, while the other has you being managed by the circumstances you find yourself in (and place yourself in).
- Being prepared and concerned about the future also makes a big difference. Having the foresight to be prepared financially provides options for where and how you live, and in what level of comfort.
- Attitude makes a big difference as well. The Zeigers view their life as an exciting challenge that has achievement as one of its rewards. Tim views his life as a struggle to be avoided.
- Going into things with your eyes wide open is a wise approach. Ignoring reality can be disastrous.
- Tim's family is tired of his ways. He's worn out his welcome. He continues to stress out members of his family who care for him. The stress is generated by his life situation and his lack of care for himself.
Ben Franklin said, "Experience is a dear school, but fools will learn in no other."
Living on the edge demands that you stay well ahead of "the blade," and this is much easier done by living deliberately with planned purpose and an attitude of achievement. To do anything less invites a personal "train wreck."
If you're heading for a "train wreck," then I suggest you adjust your attitude and approach, and start taking care of your own situation because it's in your best interest. As you can see by the reaction of Tim's family, they've finally figured out that there is no sense in looking out for the interest of one who values their life so little as to leave it in the hands of others.
Done with Living on the Edge, back to Mindset of Frugality