The Soul Tax
My friend Shaun and I talk all the time about life. Conversations are mainly about snowboarding and hiking, where we'd like to go and why and how in the world to get there. We go from a new song to a mountain I'd like to go to, Politics, Girls, Travel, Photography, Some crazy thing I'm Frustrated about, and about Shaun's wife, job, Problems, and dog.
Our friendship formed around our mutual wonder of the West and solidified through the comradery and general availability when both of us finally lived on the West Coast, he in Seattle and I in San Diego. I've been lucky enough to see him a couple of times in Seattle, and it feels like we are neighbors even though we've lived well over a thousand miles apart. Shaun headlines an amazing group of friends I have who enjoy me more for living life a little bit differently and actively encourage me to keep going. Most of my friends have jobs in business, tech, and finance so it's funny when we talk about life, goals, and give each other advice. They can talk practicality in me and I return the favor with thoughts geared towards meaning, passion, and long-term approaches of happiness and lasting power.
This came up time and again as Shaun considered a career change that would take him from the West back East to our home state of Michigan. The amount of factors going into the move spurred many conversations on short term and long term problems and solutions. At first, I constantly felt like an insufficient sounding board for Shaun to talk to and tried deferring him to many of our friends who are my age (I'm a couple years older than Shaun) who have more experience in his field of work, but he kept insisting on getting my point of view. My main concern was giving him bad advice or saying something that he would follow that might not be the right thing.
What eventually made me stop trying to dodge Shaun's questions is that I respect his judgment and if he wanted my opinion I'd give it to him.
The conversations always hinged around his love for his wife, the life they've built out West, and like many the handcuff of students loans which continually keep them from fully investing in the life they want. The move to Michigan spelled out a cure to many of those problems while at the same time worried us both about how it was going to be moving from Seattle to Detroit. Shaun is a mountain man, finds peace in nature, seeks meaning and understanding rather than material goods and a full schedule.
"Okay, here's a good way to look at it." I told Shaun, "You're going back to invest in your future, and it's going to cost you in a lot of ways, but you're going to get a lot in return. So what are the limits? Like, how much is it worth to give up? Consider it like a tax. What would be the acceptable amount for the tax to be taken from your wages before you said it wasn't worth it anymore. Now, apply that to who you are and what you love. What's the soul tax? Once you figure that out, you have to see if it's an acceptable rate. If it's not, don't take the job even if it'll fix a lot of things, because you can keep searching for something with a lower soul tax. If it's acceptable, then you should take it because it seems like a great opportunity but if it's too high and will make you hate life and resent the move and the reasons why you moved, don't take it."
Since then I've had similar talks with friends about their jobs, business pursuits, relationships, and moves. I feel weird and often start with disclaimers about not having "a real job" or living life traveling or pursuing dreams or "are you sure you want to take advice from someone who's going to live in a tiny home in a van?". I'm finding that, ya, it's important to people to have someone who believes in their dreams and doesn't think it's stupid to consider more than the most comfortable life possible. It makes me sad to see the problem many people face in feeling selfish or stupid for thinking of anything other than the impact of monetary gains. Most of us have bigger dreams than our jobs or the home we have. Those things matter, but they matter at the same time and just as much as the dreaming piece in all of us that cries out against the quelling we put on it as to not cause too much noise. It's sad we feel the need to suppress that to aim for something we want less.
Isaiah, a friend who is the younger brother of a Young Life guy of mine who turned into a good friend, asked me for a bit of advice this past year as he was finishing up high school and looking into colleges. "My one bit of advice is to take all that "what do you want to do? Where do you want to go? What job do you want? What will you major in?" and BAG IT! Not that you shouldn't think about it, you should. It's got its time and place, a very important time and place, but ya... Bag it. Literally think of putting it all away for a bit and instead think about how you want to do whatever you do... How do you want to do college? How do you want to make friends? How do you want to spend your money/treat girls/make decisions/decide where to go/have kids and all that fun stuff... Choose integrity, wisdom, creativity, kindness, grace, and selflessness in the 'how's' and the 'what's' will develop from a healthier and better place."
Encouragement rests in the knowledge that it is not what we do or what we have but how we do things and how we have things that matter the most. Our soul tax depends on the compounding choices we make every day alongside the significant moves we choose to form the notches on our timelines.
Shaun lives in Michigan now and I miss him tons but can't wait till he moves back out here debt free and more available to adventure. Isaiah is in his first semester at Grand Canyon University figuring out how he wants to do college.