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Weekly Musings, August 2nd: don’t let them take your energy

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We only get so much energy for the day, make sure you don’t waste it on things that don’t matter

My family and I have recently moved into a new home. Two years ago I realized moving further north was in the best interest of everyone in the family. It meant shorter commutes for me and my wife, it meant a better school district for my two daughters. It also meant having an opportunity to re-do some of the things we hadn’t liked about our current house. They say the first house you buy teaches you all the mistakes of homebuying and shows you what you really need and don’t need. That was true for me (my first house had 4 bedrooms when it was just me, my wife and a baby, yet had just one bathroom) and what is equally true is the first house you build teaches you the things you want just because you can have them vs the things you want because they’ll actually improve your everyday life. “Just because you can, nah, that’s not a good enough reason to do something, even when it means having more.” From can to want, it’s Matthew McConaughey’s 9th truth (excellent speech by the way and well worth the 40 minutes).

One thing I had foregone in the last house and simply added to the list of things to do down the road was landscaping the backyard. Oh I got a buffet extension on the cabinets even though it eliminated any modicum of dining area in this open concept floor plan, I got granite counter tops in my toddler’s bathroom. Hell, I got a three car garage when I only owned two cars. I got a bunch of things I could get, but not things I actually needed and that backyard never did end up getting landscaped. My kids grew almost as fast as the weeds and before I knew it, they wanted to be outside everyday and had nowhere to play. This time around I didn’t make that mistake. Landscaping the backyard was right at the top of the list and I had people building fences and laying sod just weeks after we moved in this time around.

One thing that is unique about my neighborhood is the irrigation system is not supplied by the same city water that supplies my house. It’s supplied by a private well that serves the whole neighborhood and is owned by the HOA. On top of the other amenities provided by the HOA, I can water my lawn to my heart’s content and it will always cost me $35 a month. If you haven’t been fortunate enough yet to have a lawn to maintain, let me tell you, $35 a month to water it is a steal. What I hadn’t been made aware of though was that there was an issue with the well pump. The casing had failed and rocks and concrete had been getting pumped through the lines for years. This year the system had entirely failed. The home builder in the neighborhood took responsibility, most likely because the developer who owned the well would simply go out of business if they had to foot the bill of the repairs As it was the builder who communicated through the HOA about said repairs, they became the subject of many in the neighborhood’s ire not the least of which was mine.

At my heart I knew it wasn’t a huge deal. Yes, I had to buy about $100 worth of hoses, sprinklers and manifolds to be able to water my lawn while the system was inoperable and yes, my water bill went up by about $120 for the next two months (you have to water new sod a ton so that the roots take hold), all in all I was out about $350. Now, as a principled man the idea that I was out $350 for something that wasn’t my fault at all didn’t sit right, but really the only thing that was truly important was that the grass didn’t die. Losing $350 sucks, but given the situation it was a small price to pay to save several thousand dollars worth of grass. However, there would be those days where work was tough, when I was tired and agitated. Those were the days that often ended up in a nasty email to the HOA or a nasty review on the builder’s website. These actions were the result of anger building over the day and me lashing out at someone who I knew had “wronged” me.

Every email or review of course didn’t go unnoticed. I got responses from the HOA management company that led to more arguments, my reviews led to heated text message exchanges and phone calls with the vice president of the home builder. I got angrier and angrier as each of those responses resulted in neither a compensation for my losses nor an expedition of the repairs to the irrigation system. I walked down the web of corporate HOA management companies, HOA’s that haven’t given declarant control to home owners and convoluted contractual relationships between builders and developers. When I got to the end of it I knew there was no positive resolution and I was going to be stuck with the bill.

I took time to reflect on it when I reached that point. How many hours did I spend on the issue? I realized it was far more than the five or so I spent on the phone or writing emails/reviews. I spent so much more time being angry about it, letting it effect my mood. Last week when the irrigation system was finally fixed (on my street at least) the sprinklers came on, the sod in the front yard got laid and the grass in the back was still alive and in need of a mow.

I spent so many hours being negatively effected by a relatively minor thing that resolved itself over time. It wasn’t worth it at all. My mental health took the brunt of the issue far more than the grass did. In the end though, maybe it was a good thing that it happened. It made me realize how much energy I spend on things that impact me negatively. Things that don’t matter. Things like arguing over stupid shit on twitter, or with people who will never be convinced otherwise. Pro tip: you’re never going to change someones mind on 95% of things by arguing your stance on the internet. That’s true of people who support different political ideologies, who believe in different religions and who think Kobe Bryant is better than LeBron James. It’s true of people who poorly word their coronavirus takes so that they sound like they’re Ivan Drago (wasted some energy on that this week when I didn’t need to).

My advice: don’t give them your energy. It’s naive to think we have an infinite amount of it, we don’t. We all have the basic freedom to choose where we spend our energy. We have the freedom to decide what’s important to spend it on. I’m not going to try to convince you here on the internet on what’s important. It won’t work and it’s not my place to tell you anyway. Only you know what’s important to you. My point though is take a look at what you think is important. Take stock of what you’re spending your energy on. Is it worth it? Are the emotions of anger that inevitably lead to depression and anxiety worth the desired outcome your striving for? Is the outcome even realistic? We all could benefit from focusing our energy on positive outcomes in our lives rather than on negative high horses.

That’s not to say we shouldn’t be angry, or we shouldn’t focus on changing peoples minds. It’s only to say negative energy is exhausting and tolling. Use it on what matters and make sure what you think matters is truly what matters to you. Make sure it makes your life, and the world, a better place. I know letting go of so much negative energy, whether it has to do with irrigation systems or stupid COVID takes, made this week better for me. I know I feel better every day I focus on positives, on moving forward, rather than on tearing other people and things down. Don’t give the things that don’;t matter your energy, lest they become things that matter for all the wrong reasons.