“Money is only a tool. It will take you wherever you wish, but it will not replace you as the driver.” ~ Ayn Rand
A few years ago I made my first trip to Spain. That trip was a first in many things: first trip to Spain, first trip alone, first trip backpacking, etc.. It was a trip that spanned three weeks and six cities.
After spending a few days in the first city (Madrid), right when I was about to leave the hostel, I noticed something unsettling: half of the money I had brought with me had disappeared, along with my sunglasses and my towel. At first I got very upset with myself, thinking that I should have been more careful, that I shouldn’t have stayed in a hostel, that it was a lot of money, etc., etc.. You know how it goes when something bad happens and you start to recapitulate in your mind all the things that could have been done to prevent it, assigning blame to yourself and others… At that point I took a deep breath and realized that I had two choices:
- Continue to be upset and let this ruin my trip that was just getting started
- Accept that there was nothing that could be done and move on with my trip, enjoying every part of it
What allowed me to pick option 2 was to try and think about all the positive aspects of this event, instead of focusing on the very obvious and negative aspects. This is what I came up with:
- I had lost only half of my money, since I followed the very useful advice from my parents to never put all my eggs into one basket (the rest of the money was safe in another place)
- I could spend a little bit less during the trip, as my biggest expense was already covered (the train tickets between each city), and I could also try to use my credit card in places that accepted it
- The towel I had brought with me was too big, so that would give me a chance to buy a new-and-smaller one that wouldn’t make my backpack be so full (ok, I was stretching my positive thinking to the limit, but don’t we tend to do the exact same thing with our negative thinking, exaggerating the impact of everything and our contributions to it?)
With my choice made, I proceeded with my trip without letting this disturb me, travelling to Toledo, then Córdoba, Seville, Granada and Barcelona, having a blast with every part of the trip and meeting so many incredible people along the way.
After Barcelona, I took a night train back to Madrid, where I would spend one night back at the same hostel from the beginning of the trip and then catch my flight back home the following day. Now imagine my surprise when I come back to the hostel and the manager approaches me to ask if I had lost some money in there. It turns out that someone had found my sunglasses’ case, and the money was inside of it. All the money was there!
The person that found the money gave it to the hostel’s manager and he had kept it in there, since he noticed some Brazilian currency in there, realized it could be mine and decided to wait until I returned to the hostel before heading back to Brazil. Can you believe that? All that money, found by a stranger, delivered to another stranger, who kept it until I returned to the place just to check if it was mine or not. Part of me thought that it had to be a trick from the higher powers to test if I could keep my cool in a situation like this.
And why did this event came back to my mind today? Because today I had what you could call a tough day. I was supposed to have a nice and relaxing lunch with my dear wife, when minutes before leaving the house I noticed I couldn’t find the car keys anywhere. And we don’t have a spare key. That was the only one, and it was gone. Also gone was our nice-and-relaxing lunch, since we did not have time to take the T (subway) to the restaurant. All crushed in a few minutes because I had lost the car keys…
Then I couldn’t configure the cool DJ mixer station my parents got for my daughter for Children’s Day. Then I couldn’t get my old iPhone to restore so I could configure it with some games and give it to my daughter (to use it as a iPod Touch, without phone functions)… and the list of things that I couldn’t do went on and on and on…
It was only later in the day that I thought about the “lost” money on the trip to Spain. Ironically, a few hours later, after I had already called a locksmith and he was creating a new key that would cost me a small fortune ($465!!), my wife found our car keys somewhere in the office.
Again I could have chosen to be upset because I had already called the locksmith and now I would have to waste money with something I didn’t need (since we found our key)… or I could simply accept that there was nothing that could be done and focus on the positive things:
- We found our keys
- Be very glad that I had the money this month to pay for the spare key
- Now we would have a spare key if we ever needed it (no more cancelling nice-and-relaxing lunches because of a lost key :))
The best of all is that now I doubt I will ever go through a situation like this and not remember the trip in Spain, which will always remind me of the importance of consciously choosing what to think about. I just need to keep practicing it, as in the end it all rests into how you think and act, instead of reacting, to the situations life throws at you.
“The mind is everything. What you think you become.” ~ Buddha
P.s.: if you got all the way through here and want to read my all-time favorite text about the important on focusing on what you think, check this Commencement Speech from David Foster Wallace at Kenyon University.