You don’t want a lemon

Today, I took a trip to my old apartment on Slauson and Culver to pick up some straggled mail from the new tenant who’s been nice enough to hold it for me. As I left the building, I recognized an old face – an old neighbor to whom I’d spoken once or twice while I lived there – Mike. Seeing him still in the same living situation reminded me of something important: you have the power to change what doesn’t make you happy.

There will be times in your life where you’re not completely satisfied with certain aspects. You know you’re unhappy and you are compelled to change your situation, yet, you remain stuck in a bad job, or stuck in a bad relationship, or stuck in an apartment with the worst landlord because you perceive the investment you made to stay as worth way more than the effort it would take to leave. This is called the lemon effect.

Say you’re a painter, and over the years, you’ve created masterpieces that you installed around your apartment. You love them, they are indeed an extension of who you are, and there is absolutely no way you would take them down, except perhaps to rotate the works with new ones. One day, you fall head over heels for a guy you meet at a bar. After quite a few amazing, oh-my-gosh-I-wanna-marry-this-guy type dates, he honestly confesses after staying many nights at your place that he hates the way you’ve decorated. Not so much the layout or the furniture, but he specifically hates the art. Which, of course, you made. What do you do now? You find this amazing guy with whom you’re compatible and have loads of fun with, but he “hates” the very thing you love creating. Unfortunately, many of us would rationalize staying with this guy because, let’s face it – nobody likes to be lonely. You find reasons why you should stay, and push away fundamental qualities that you found important in previous relationships, like similar tastes in art. And the longer you stay with this guy, the more money, time, emotion, effort you invest, the harder it is to leave. So eventually, your art work collects dust in a storage unit a few blocks away so that your boyfriend can enjoy his time with you at your place; in other words, you’ve given up that artistic extension of yourself to make him happy. This is a lemon of a relationship.

Let’s steer this in another direction and fit the conversation to my past living situation. Last year, summer 2012, I was in between jobs and apartments and was ready to live on my own. Maybe it was the exhaustion from all the searching, the meeting with an endless supply of landlords, and the frustration of not having settled down yet – but once I saw a unit in the Culver West area, I fell impulsively in love. By October, I was settled in and living on my own.

Unfortunately, it turned out to be a bad fit. Though the unit was absolutely adorable, I ultimately did not feel safe around the neighborhood. I couldn’t walk alone around the area without getting whistled at or hollered at. Especially after dark, I was completely scared to be alone, even if it was a short trip to the laundry room out back. One evening, I encountered Mike, the neighbor I mentioned before, walking through the parking lot. I interrupted him for a minute to ask whether he and his wife felt safe. “No,” he’d said. “But we deal with it – you just have to get used to it.”

Despite the thousands of reasons to leave, I decided to “get used to it” and stay. I just loved the apartment too much to move out. It was a great space, I had great neighbors around the building, and I was finally living alone – all after a life of sharing space with 3 sisters and eventually with college roommates. The apartment was a symbol of my independence and I didn’t want to give it up. But alas, this was a lemon of an apartment.

I soon got tired of skirting around the issue of not feeling safe – not only was it exhausting, but a simple trip to the grocery store or going out with friends became hassles. Simple errands or outings that brought pleasure to my life were all attached with this feeling of uncertainty and doubt. I eventually lost the love I had for my apartment, finally admitted defeat, and moved out. By December, I gave up living alone in a sketchy neighborhood in order to feel safe and secure, and I couldn’t be happier. I now have great roommates, live close to work and close to awesome bus lines, and my favorite restaurants are just blocks away. I love coming home to my apartment and to my roommates in the evening after work – it’s such a great, natural fit.

Lemon is a term used in the automotive industry for a defective car whose shortcomings aren’t apparent at first. Basically, it’s a crappy car to begin with, but because you’ve already spent tens of thousands to buy it, you keep it. You then spend much on repairs just to keep it running. You intrinsically know it’s a crappy car, but you settle for it, prepared to shell out even more money for future repairs. Getting a new car would be cheaper down the line, but the effort to give up your lemon doesn’t seem worth the money you’ve already wasted.

But you don’t want a lemon. A lemon of a house, a job, a career, a relationship, or even a car… To be happy, simply and fully, is not hard. But when you get in the bad habit of seeking things that make you happy enough, it’s quite easy to fall victim to the lemon effect of rationalizing and investing just a little too much because happy enough is as far as you think you can go. But you deserve to be completely happy – the only person in your way is you.

Stop thinking that the car will soon run perfectly fine. It’s a lemon – its very definition denotes an entirely different level of care and cost compared to a normal car. Give up the car and get a better one. Because chances are, the better one is waiting to make you completely happy, and not just happy enough.

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