I never saw a wild thing sorry for itself
A small bird will fall frozen dead from a bough
Without ever having felt sorry for itself
You are never optionless
Over the years, one of my many mantras has been, "You are never optionless." A few individuals who know me exceptionally well can attest to this.
It is a little self-affirmation that has kept me confident and self-assured throughout many trying circumstances. I've used it as a reminder that the world—for me, in the way I choose to see it—is a wide-open place full to the brim with opportunity and potential. More importantly, though, it reminds me that no matter what happens to me, I am not trapped or on a one-way road; there are always alternative routes available; little side streets are hidden amongst the brush, paths less trodden. It is a matter of perspective.
One of the ways I like to remind myself of my never optionless status is to take stock of my life. For me, taking stock is a little self-audit that I conduct very frequently. It's an act that I do not recall being taught, but something I've often felt the urge to do from a young age. Taking stock of my life in this way calms me and enables me to see all of the potentials in my life. It's very much along with the philosophy of 'doing what you can, where you are, with what you've got.'
Sometimes I take stock as a soliloquy (actually, I perform these a lot for many topics!), sometimes I write it down (in my BuJo, for a reminder of that, see here), sometimes I do it as a long audio message to a close friend! (Make sure this friend is one who can tolerate long orations.)
I'll give you a rundown of what taking stock involves for me. Please feel free to adapt to your own circumstances. Note, the following headings are not ordinal variables. There may also be some overlap in terms of "tangibility." However, when I take stock, I do not list things in this way; I am doing so only for the purposes of this article as a template for the reader. The lists are not exhaustive…
In this section, I generally consider my possessions. I list out all of the worldly material things I own. Not only do I list them, I consider whether they are serving me; I consider whether I should keep hold of them or sell them or give them away; a sort of Marie Kondo itemization of my goods.
Something to consider—I can generally mentally list almost every single material item I own (perhaps I forget a few odd bits and bobs sometimes, i.e., snorkel or map case). The point being, knowing what you own, actually being able to think about each thing, means you really know the worth and usefulness of the item. If you've got so much stuff that you don't even know you've got it—well, I'd say you've got too much damn stuff.
I remember reading a passage in a book; I think perhaps it was Tribe by Sebastian Junger, in which he described how Native Americans looked upon white people as crazy for wanting to have so many things. To them, if you wanted things, it meant you were mentally unwell. Of course, it makes total sense when you consider how nomadic peoples have lived around the world—you could only possess what you could carry; wanting more was madness. I like to ruminate on this often. We'd all do well to adopt a similar way of thinking in our silly modern lives of affluence.
Bicycle - one of the best inventions the world has seen.
Kettlebell - also one of the best inventions the world has seen.
Clothes (I consider the different types, i.e., one nice suit, five pairs of running shorts, four pairs of smart Lululemon work pants, etc.)
Standing desk - easily my best lockdown purchase!!!
Books and kindle
You get the point. I find doing this not only makes me realize how lucky I am to own all of this cool (particularly the Lambo) and useful and fun stuff, but it makes me consider what else I can use it for. Not everyone is great at thinking laterally about things—that's quite apparent—but this exercise can help.
Furthermore, I suppose as I am an innate minimalist (I really dislike too much stuff and romanticize the frugal traveler, such as in Laurie Lee's account of his tramping through Spain in As I Walked Out One Midsummer Morning), I find listing my possessions makes me consider the reason why I own something in the first place.
The dollars in my bank account
The shares I own
Considering the value of my possessions, if I needed to sell them to fund a newly acquired cocaine habit. Fingers crossed, life won't ever come to this.
Shared goods (with Anna)
Our bed - there are few things I love more in this life than sleeping in a nice bed. Our bed is indeed a prized possession.
Furnishing (we don't have many)
Ornaments (we have a vase, that's about it)
Qualifications and documents (my papers)
This section includes things like my passport, my visa, and my educational qualifications. These things are both tangible and intangible.
My passport is very real, a material manifestation of the very concept of freedom. It is probably the thing I consider most valuable—again, maybe more because of what it signifies than what it actually is. I suppose the symbolism of the passport is what I hold extremely dear. I am not a patriot and actually balk at the idea of borders. But they do exist, and therefore, the passport is of utmost importance. When I take stock, the passport and my nationality as a British Citizen are certainly one of the first things I think about. How lucky I am to have been randomly assigned this incredibly useful citizenship during the birth lottery. I do not take it for granted.
My degree certificates. I muse how fortunate I am to have received an education—although I consider there to be many, many, many flaws with our educational system. Nevertheless, I am lucky to have been educated at a top-tier British University (something that most people around the world could only dream of), and it didn't cost me a cent upfront. The certificates themselves are simply a confirmation that I have received said education, and they are valuable to me for that reason.
However, the certificates are simply pieces of paper—like cash, meaningless except for the meaning that we collectively ascribe to them. I often remind myself of a passage in Man’s Search for Meaning (I won't get this 100% accurate as I haven't read it for years), but the author describes how the Jewish people were being "signed in" to the concentration camp and how even if they had high educational certifications, those papers were just taken away from them. They meant nothing. They might have been a doctor or a lawyer or an accountant etc., but as soon as they had those papers taken away, all they were was themselves. An immediate loss of identity. Their freedoms and everything else about their lives was stolen from them. But the point the author makes is that they still had themselves, and if they were lucky enough to escape the indescribable horrors of the concentration camp, they could start again. Anyway, it's a book everyone should read once. I should probably read it again.
As I mentioned, the certificates are tangible, but the most important aspect is the underlying intangible education. Having had the privilege of actually being educated becomes self-evident in the way you think, act and speak, regardless of any degree certificate framed on the wall (really lame if you do that, by the way.)
The fact that I am a native English speaker. Seriously, consider how lucky you are even just for this!
Without a doubt, your own mind is surely your greatest asset, and the way you think is the manifestation of it. Everything is derived from thought. I repeat. Everything is derived from thought. Without the human capacity to think our world would be—actually, it would be a lot nicer in a lot of ways—devoid of any of the materials we take for granted.
However, your mind is a tool; use it as such! It can do good, make you riches, invent helpful tools—or it can destroy you and others. It doesn't come with a manual and, for many in our society, goes awry with increasing frequency. Learning how to think and use your mind is probably the most important thing you'll ever do. This must be why it isn't taught in schools, like every other thing that will have a massive impact on your life like personal finance, conflict management, logical reasoning, philosophy, debating.
For more on this, see here. You should understand that your personality is indeed an asset.
Obviously, this one could get extremely esoteric and philosophical, particularly if we consider free will (or the clear non-existence of it), but I like to be joyful that I am generally free—at least, I am not imprisoned.
Consider your friendships, family, and other relationships. Better to have a few that are deep and grow over time, exactly like compound interest, than many superficial ones.
The things I have achieved
I consider the life I have lived thus far. The challenges I have overcome and the achievements I have accomplished; doing so helps me to acknowledge the path I am on. Looking back in this way makes me think that things are only getting better.
I list things such as;
My sporting achievements - e.g., ultra-marathon or other runs, the weights I can lift, the fact that I can do muscle-ups and single-legged squats with ease, climbs, etc. I generally take these things for granted until I remind myself that others worked to achieve these movements for years! (I hope this doesn't sound like I am bragging, none of this post is, I'm simply expounding on how important it is to be grateful for what you can do, with what you've got, where you are!!!)
Navy Dive Course—not necessarily a pleasant experience but an accomplishment and test of my mettle nonetheless. The "hardest course in the Navy," according to one Commanding Officer of the Diving School Lieutenant Colonel Paul Youngman MBE.
The places I've been
I consider how lucky I am to have seen some far-flung and incredible parts of the globe. A pleasure afforded to me and few others in comparison to the current and past human population.
The Galápagos Islands
Living in Europe visa-free when I was 18! (Glad I took that opportunity while it lasted!)
Living in Australia—amazing!!
Lessons I've learned
I won't list any of these, but I can think of some pivotal moments in my life in which I really learned something about life and the world… usually the hard way (the best way?)
My rights and responsibilities
Consider your capacity to vote or protest. Your ability to volunteer or be engaged in community affairs.
As you can see, taking stock of life is an incredibly useful method to appreciate your life and what you have access to. I think the crucial thing to understand about taking stock is that it is not a competition with anyone else, nor even yourself; it is simply assessing where you are at in your life, in your headspace and truly contemplating the vast amount of potential at your disposal. It is an exercise as useful for the prisoner as it is for the billionaire, for the refugee, as for the politician. The only time it is not useful is when you don't do it.
Take stock of your life and be thankful for it! Remember all that is necessary for a good life, you already have. Most of the 'stuff' I just listed, from certificates to Lamborghinis can be taken away from you at any moment. All you really need in this life is YOU; a good dose of great health and a clear mind works wonders. All the other material rubbish is just a bit of fun on the journey.
So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view,
and demand that they respect yours.
Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.
Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend,
even a stranger, when in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people and grovel to none.
When you arise in the morning, give thanks for the food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself.
Abuse no one and no thing,
for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.
When it comes your time to die,
be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death,
so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time
to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.
~ Chief Tecumseh