December 20th, 2019: Thoughts on Work, Ambition and Time
So December has been a busy month but also stagnant in some ways. Earlier this month, with the help of Simplicio’s lovely and generous extended family, we laid in a new wood laminate floor in the living room! This was a huge victory as it was one of the big things on our original list for the house and the transformation was amazing! Leading up to this we were already getting a little fed up of constant invasions, endless cleaning, installing, re-installing and more cleaning (mostly on my part). We arrived mid October and, since then, have cleared the house, replaced sinks, faucets and bathroom cabinets, mended and painted all the walls, varnished the wood framings, purchased and installed new appliances, acquired and FINALLY installed the heater, installed a new automatic garage door, made a laundry room out of nothing and that’s just the big stuff! Everyone who knew the house before comes in and can’t believe it’s the same place and that is very rewarding! We haven’t done it alone, we’ve had TONS of help and there’s still some important things to do like : replacing the ROOF!, replacing the front door (which will be more complex than it sounds because we will raise the entrance of the house to be flush with the sidewalk instead of lower), mending and painting the EXTERIOR of the house which we haven’t even touched because of the rain so we are waiting until spring and then there’s some aesthetic things like light fixtures, removing the carpet from the stairs, and THEN we want to start thinking about the garden. And of course, I have barely started decorating the way I’d like to. So, as you can see, we’ve done a lot and the house is definitely livable, but there’s still a lot to do. All this just to set up where we were once the floor was done. We decided to take a little break and went to Salamanca, Spain which is a 3 hour drive from Macieira. (This is one of the biggest reasons I wanted to live in Europe: the facility of travel and how, in just a few hours, you are in a different country, culture and landscape!) Salamanca is a beautiful historical city with one of the oldest universities in Europe, the historical center (where we stayed) was lovely and walkable, easy to explore and there are many cultural things to do like museums, cathedrals and monuments. It was a delightful 3 days and we enjoyed the break! However, it was VERY cold and, unlike our region in Portugal, Spain seemed better prepared to deal with the cold. So, we’d be walking about in 3 degrees but then walk into museums, stores, etc that were fully heated so there was a lot of temperature shock. Perhaps it was the accumulated fatigue, the cold, or who knows, the Spanish Flu, but I came back to Macieira already sick. I was pretty much bed-ridded for about 5 days with fever, sore throat and even some trouble breathing. I truly believe my recovery was a miracle, because when my throat gets that way, I usually end up with a severe infection and have to take antibiotics, so, when I started getting better just with regular medication and all kinds of TEAS, I was VERY grateful! But, with being sick, lots of rain and no real reason to get up (the weather and holiday season pretty much stops any work around here), the psychological damage had already been done. Even after I felt the disease leaving me, I found it difficult to find the motivation to get out of bed. I started thinking about a lot of things regarding motivation and why do we work and perhaps this will be rantings born in a dark place, but I believe there’s something here: First of all, ever since we moved to Europe and started interacting economically with locals, I have felt a deep disappointment with one aspect : work ethic/efficiency. Now, please bear with me as I am also questioning my own notions and do not intend to offend any culture nor has a final "verdict" been made in my mind. Although my blood may be Brazilian, I lived in the United States from when I was 2 until I was 25 (very important years in anyone's formation) and while I have always been interested in other cultures, strove to not be an arrogant and ignorant, American (not all are, but some yes) and actively embrace diversity, my views on the value of hard work, financial independence and "success" being intertwined with a paycheck are unmistakably influenced by the American world view. I also believe a family of overachievers and a Protestant faith background also influence the " Thou Shalt Hustle" voice in the back of my mind. For me, it's not just about the money, but the pride and honor that comes from a job well done. In America, money does talks, people (in general) want to work, they want to grow, to have nice things and they are willing to pay the price in time and effort. Then, in the San Francisco Bay Area, where I spent my last 6 years in the States, they take it to a whole other level. At the cutting edge of innovation where some of the richest industries were born and are booming, More is always better and if you can't handle it, step aside because there are 100 other people (equally or better qualified) who will submit themselves to almost anything to claw their way for your spot. And, yes, I'm an Artist, I went to art school because I have this idealistic dream of following my "gift" and doing something that makes me happy, but that doesn't mean I want to be poor haha! So, when I moved to Brasilia, 10 years ago, I got a job right away, possessing skills that were scarce in Brasilia, so I found work easily and there was more demand (first for international teaching then english classes and finally the bilingual art classes and events) than I could supply to be quite honest. I started a business, I grew that business, worked weekends, holidays, took pride in being a dependable, organized business both to clients but also to the eventual employees. And, thank you, God, the business grew, I was financially independent for the most part, paid for my trips, my cats' care, my personal luxuries, etc. and this autonomy has always been empowering. One reason, besides God's mercy and provision on my life, I believe that contributed to the success of that business was that being punctual, consistently committed to quality, and honest are not Brazilian values. I'm sorry, Brazil, I love you and your people are some of the friendliest, warmest and most creative in the world, but those aforementioned values are not actively praised by the general population. OF COURSE there are rampant exceptions, my family and many friends and coworkers come to mind, but the GENERAL population likes to take it easy. The average Brazilian puts his/her comfort above others and would never submit themselves to the discomfort of trying a little harder to say make it on time to a commitment or doing exactly what they said they would do even if it's a little unpleasant or God forbid miss their lunch break to meet a deadline! The average Brazilian wants to "ficar de boa" (stay well and at ease, unaflicted by the cares of the world) and is content with less materially, if he has his hammock, the day's food and his havaianas, he's probably gonna relax and drink the rest of the week. I'm sorry if that's offensive, but I'm not entirely against this mentality. However, in a consumer/client driven world, that lack of objective efficiency doesn't always fit into the faster, better, more, MORE model. And speaking from the side of the "consumer", its freaking annoying when YOU want to get things done and organize your life but depend on someone with this mind set . Back to my disappointment! All that up there was to say that we had this expectation that Europeans would be more "efficient", that they would do things promptly if they were being paid well. How wrong we were! Besides not being particular "friendly" or "customer service driven" compared to Brazilians and Americans, we have found that, at least in Portugal, Spain and France, people do things when they want and they definitely value their time and comfort above any amount of money you could offer and if you don't like it, take your business elsewhere because, after all, they're doing you a favor by even offering you anything. They don't care if they come off rude, if it's your first time in their establishment or using their service and could potentially be a returning customer, they don't care if you are willing to pay twice the price to install the damn heater because you're dying of cold in your own home (yes, I will be sore about that for a while!), they just don't care which is infuriating, baffling, but also mind-boggling curious. (And once again, it's not everyone and maybe I perceive it worse because I am a foreigner, please understand I am just making observations from personal experience and there are always fantastic exceptions!) And my curiosity about this "approach" has brought on a whole wave of questions and considerations. Why aren't they interested in more business, in "growing", in MORE !? Well, according to a family member, in Portugal, besides rent, things are pretty cheap, the state provides many basic services and alot of help/discounts and with a smaller population, public services work pretty well. So, if you have your own house and some money trickling in, there isn't as much a culture of constant consumerism. And you know what!? They might be right! They have been doing this for longer, right?! Yes, the bigger cities are a little different, I see alot of people with name brand goods, almost everyone has a nice car, etc. (and, no, these are not markers of "success" but outward signs of monetary wealth) and things are open later, businesses are a little more professional and things seem to work at a slightly faster pace, but even so, the "drive" is less apparent. I guess everyone is already "rich" (compared to like 75% of the world) and there isn't a fear of falling into poverty to motivate people to work harder. But are ambition and fear the only motivations to work harder? Do we work to provide for our basic needs? To amass extra wealth? To buy better things with shiny labels that are supposed to mean those things are better? To be free of fear? Is money what motivates us to work? If you enjoy it is it still work? Now I'm going to bring these ideas to my personal moment. I worked on commissions and sold my paintings until the day we left Brazil. Like I said, I enjoy making "my own" money and being "independent " and I felt very uncomfortable with the idea that for the first few months, because of the remodeling and my legal process to work in Portugal, I would not be able to contribute much to our income. Although I hate depending on him for money for trivial things, I have been blessed with a wonderful, generous husband who wants me to be happy even if I already have more boots than I actually wear! We have savings, the rent from our apartment that comes in every month and some other passive incomes so, with not paying rent, we could actually both not work officially and skim by frugally like our neighbors in this tiny city. But neither of us plan on that (which is already something I could question). In fact, I found myself getting restless and anxious in December because I haven't made a single penny since stepping foot in Europe. I have been painting (not as much as I'd like but I'm trying to be patient with this moment preceeding establishing a set routine), there were even 2 opportunities to participate in fairs but they just didn't work out. And when I expressed my frustration, my husband was like, " You don't even have to work if you don't want to! Isn't this what you wanted?! More time to paint what you want and "find your voice"?!" And he's so right! We wanted a simpler life to enjoy our TIME which is the true luxury. I was always complaining that I didn't have enough time to paint what I wanted. And right now, honestly we have more than enough. Sure, we could have a fancier coffee maker but ours works just fine, we could have new cabinets, but I already found perfectly fine solutions, we COULD do so much more with the house to make it more modern and comfortable, but WHY!? We are among those blessed people that lack absolutely nothing, especially when comparing to most of the world (why do we choose to focus on like 10% of the global population as our frame of comparison!?!), I could never buy another piece of clothing ever again and be FINE! SO WHY DO I WANT TO MAKE MORE MONEY!? I don't understand my own motivation. And the sad part is that I am well aware that, as a painter, you're not in it for the money, it is a passion, there really is something inside me that says I MUST paint, but my insecurity tells me there is no value in what I do if I am not receiving money (this arbitrary man-made system of value) in exchange for this little piece of my soul. This just seems wrong to me and I've been digesting these thoughts and questions over the last few weeks. I'm certain there is a balance to be achieved. I'm certain there's a lot of growth to be done on my part, in so many non-monetary ways! I am also certain that my greatest wealth right now is Time, time to consider and process, time to meditate and pray, to read, and paint without the pressure of needing to sell, paint for the joy of it. What is life if we don't have time to truly experience it and enjoy it with the people that matter the most !? I guess this is at the crux of why we opted for this different life. I'm curious to hear what your thoughts are on some of these things? What motivates you? Why do you work? Is money a show of success? What does the balance look like in your mind? There really wasn't a fitting illustration for this entry so I'm just posting some of the paintings I've done since we have arrived!