A few years ago I needed to replace my front door. Like most homeowners I went to my local hardware store to look at some door styles. The shop had about five different types on display. Available for purchase immediately in standard sizes. In addition, there was a catalog with dozens of more elaborate door designs to choose from and more size options, however those models had to be special ordered and required a few extra weeks to be delivered.
Other stores did offer a few more selections, but none sold the door I was looking for. Except for the number of panels, the hundreds of door designs I saw, all seemed to look the same. Stylized after the local and popular colonial model. The only feature that distinguished them was the glass design. Some had birds etched on them, others had flowers, while the rest had some kind of graphic patterns. Ultimately, the door designs were far too ornate for my taste. I was looking for something simple.
Wanting something different is considered exceptional, and exceptional carries a high price
It surprised me that it was easier to find an elaborate door design over a simple one. It’s like being in a mood for a plain bagel, but all you can find is poppy seed, sesame, onion, blueberry, or sun-dried tomato flavors. Everything under the sun, but no plain bagel in sight.
My search took me to all kinds of showrooms. And eventually I did find a door I liked, but it was custom made, and instead of $1,000, the sticker price was $15,000. What bothered me most though was that the architecture of my dream door was the simplest of all the designs I’ve seen. It had clean lines, and none of the fancy glass features. It’s like finally finding a plain bagel, but it costs more than the one with all the fancy ingredients. It made zero sense to me.
So why was it so much more expensive? My first guess is maybe because majority of the houses in my area are colonial style and therefore most customers choose to buy colonial style door. My house happened to be a contemporary one, a rare occurrence in the neighborhoods packed with these colonial-style cookie-cutter homes. So, for having an exceptional house, I would either have to slap a door that didn’t match the building, or pay a hefty sum to get the door that fit.
Going with the current rather than fighting it, takes less energy, but the current might not take you where you want to go
I felt annoyed by the limited options: either conform and buy what the masses bought, or pay the extra bucks—a lot more extra—and get the right door for my type of a house.
It’s not in my nature to conform and I couldn’t pay $15,000 for a door. There had to be another way. I decided to do some research outside of the retail market and search through the local carpenter listings for someone who could help me build a simple door. Most refused or proposed outlandish prices. And after a month of research, I almost gave up. That’s until one of the carpenters reconsidered and called me back. I was fortunate he did. After examining my door design closer, he agreed to do the job for half the price. Still not cheap, but something I could afford. He seemed to have a passion for working with wood and obviously this was more than just a job for him. I was thrilled, and after eight weeks, I finally had the right door for my home, without breaking the bank.
Refusing to settle and choosing to chase a dream requires deliberate action and hard work
So why bring up this renovation story? Well, I often compare this homogenous door-market experience to situations in life. For those who accept or are happy with the one-size-fits all packaged life and execute each step as expected: go to school, get good grades, graduate, get a job in some office, marry, get a house in a nice neighborhood, have a couple of kids, maybe even get a pet, and live happily ever after… then that door, sold at the local hardware store, will work for you. It’s a functional door and readily available. That door will close and open, keep your house safe when locked, and the birds etched on the glass might even bring you a smile. And if you happen to live in a colonial-style house, then you have everything you need at your doorstep.
Trouble is when you want a custom life, one that doesn’t fit the standard sold to the masses. Then your options become limited. You will either need a lot of money to fulfill your custom dreams, or conform and somehow endure the cookie-cutter life. Either way, you pay a high price for wanting to live a life that fits your needs rather than what society expects. Some folks are able to endure this, but pay it with frustration or isolation. Others embark on the road of making loads of money so they can pay for their custom life.
The danger with pursuing money is we risk losing our objective, because money functions primarily on a superficial level and happiness that it generates is often temporary. And in those cases, instead of being treated as a tool, money often becomes the goal.
On the other hand, if we resolve to live with the frustration caused by the standard that doesn’t fit us, and deny our core desires, we run into the danger of having all those suppressed yearnings erupt and potentially cause some serious damage, such as losing our job, house, spouse, family or friends. Either way, there is a price.
There is always an alternative, but we need to be creative in finding it
I like to think that there must be a road somewhere in the middle too. But that one takes time, work, and deliberate action. It takes discipline too. It requires us to take initiative to define the goal or dream we wish to realize, and then find resources and tools to make it happen. It requires creative solutions.
Maybe that means waking up earlier one hour each day to spend on learning something we wish to be doing for our living eventually. Or maybe it’s as simple as taking a cooking or a language class. Maybe it’s by stating and verbalizing our desires, rather than assuming that what we want is understood by others. No matter what it is, without action, our dreams remain a fantasy. A custom life requires action and work on our part. Action, that gets you a step closer towards the life you want. And even though the results you want will not be immediate, it’s a step in the right direction and a step closer to your goal. Each single step like this brings you closer and closer to fulfilling your dream. It’s better to crawl towards your destination, no matter how far, than just to stand in one place and stare at it.
But it will not be as simple as walking into a hardware store and buying a door off the shelf. It will take research, time, and persistence to get the door or the life you want. Because the masses don’t know who you are and what you want. The masses only understand the voice of a group, not the individual. You’re the only one who has the blueprint for your custom life and only you can build it. And maybe if you’re lucky, after a long search, you’ll find that passionate carpenter or someone who wants to help you along, and who will give you a hand. But even then, it’s a good idea to keep that blueprint in your pocket, so you don’t stray too much from your design.
About the picture:
The water is simmering and flowing fast, but the surrounding land is stagnant. People who are next to this free flowing river are either pensively staring at it, hesitantly dabbing their finger in it, or jumping across it. A boy on the right has been sleeping and he is slowly waking up, but he can’t see the river because he’s turned away from it. His attention is captured by the vast sky above and he can’t see the earth below. Everyone on this picture has a dream, but not every person is acting on those dreams. While one boy is jumping across the river on the boulders to get to the other side of the water, and realize his dream, others are just sitting there. One boy is stuck in a tree, thinking about his dream, but he does not know how to get off the branch because he fears that he will fall into the fast-moving current underneath his feet. A girl on the shore is curious, but lacks the courage to take the plunge, so she gently touches the water with her finger and plays it safe. But testing the water is not enough to get her across. It only gives her a taste of what she’s missing. Only the boy who’s not afraid to jump across, from boulder to boulder, will be able to get to his goal that’s on the other side.