I absolutely love Thanksgiving.
As someone who practices gratitude on a daily basis, I love the idea of a holiday centered around giving thanks. Although let’s not kid ourselves. We all know that Thanksgiving is really about food. A glorious, gluttonous, delicious buffet of carbs. You know how you can gauge how healthy your plate is by how colorful it is? In my opinion, a perfect plate of Thanksgiving food should be various shades of beige – mashed potatoes, stuffing, corn, turkey and gravy (with a smidge of cranberry sauce). And no one does it better than Boston Market.
As a Korean immigrant, growing up, Boston Market was a staple of our Thanksgiving meal. My mom is an amazing cook but for some reason American food was daunting to her. So for as long as I can remember, come Thanksgiving day, we would trek to our nearest Boston Market (then called Boston Chicken), hold hands in prayer and give thanks for the Family Meal deal.
You would think that as a child the choice between fast food or a home-cooked meal would have been a no-brainer. But when you’re a Korean immigrant growing up in a very non-diverse town, you just want to do what the other kids are doing and what they were doing was having Thanksgiving dinner at home. To make matters worse, I always had to share a soda with my older sister. We at least had separate straws but I had to bite mine down so we could remember whose was whose. I remember thinking to myself how embarrassing this all was.
I mean, if we were going to go out, let’s at least go somewhere fancy like Ponderosa for Pete’s sake.
When I grow up, I thought, I’m going to be rich. I’m going to eat wherever I want, buy whatever I want, do whatever I want. No more of my sister’s hand-me-downs. No more not being able to afford nice restaurants. At a minimum, I will have my own drink thank you very much.
That desire to not feel poor, to not feel limited, is what drove me to make money and to have financial independence. Fast forward fifteen years and a law degree later, I was living in Manhattan as a corporate lawyer. I had fancy clothes, I treated my family to nice things and I paid far more for a latte and half a sandwich than an entire meal at Boston Market. To me, that’s what money was about. Work hard to earn money to buy the things that you wanted.
My thoughts about money changed one Thanksgiving when I received an urgent email a few days before the firm closed for the holiday. One of our pro bono clients was afraid that her husband might kill her that weekend and she needed a will drafted immediately to provide for her two young daughters. She had no job and had been financially dependent on her husband during her marriage but she did have a few personal items that she wanted to make sure that her daughters received. I re-read that email again and again and I felt a tremendous sadness for the choices, or lack thereof, that this woman felt she had.
That experience fundamentally changed how I view money and why I prioritize financial independence. I still like having nice things and it means something to me to be able to provide for myself. But having money isn’t about fancy cars and designer handbags. It’s about having options. When affordability is not a factor, you can base your decisions on other equally important considerations such as whether it will be safe, make you happy, help you grow. Having money is having the ability to leave your small town, an unfulfilling job, or God forbid an abusive relationship. It’s having the safety net in place so that you can take risks and live a life based on the maximum number of options possible.
I don’t know what happened to that woman. But I think about her every Thanksgiving, and I hope that she was able to safely escape with her two daughters.
As for the Jin family, after all these years, we still go to Boston Market despite my silent proclamation that I would move us on up to Ponderosa. We order a lot more food these days although my sister and I still split a soda. We go because it’s nostalgic and it reminds us of how far we’ve come since we first moved to America over 30 years ago. And we go with a grateful heart knowing that where we get to spend our Thanksgiving together is a choice that we get to make.