Everything A Van Dweller Needs To Know About Power Stations/Solar Generators

One of the advantages of owning Violet the campervan since 2018 is that I have learned what works and what doesn’t when it comes to house battery systems. Naturally, that assumption is based on my particular needs. However, I’m pretty generic, so my needs are likely similar to many others. 

Who am I to inform you? Am I an electrical engineer or an expert in solar energy? Not at all. I understand electronics (I hold an advanced amateur radio license), am comfortable with technology, and have worked with various power systems in my van since 2018. In addition, I have tested quite a few solar generators and solar panels, as I’m an official reviewer for a large online internet marketplace (side gig). Based on this, I would call myself an informed consumer.

Individuals choose a part-time or full-time life in a vehicle for many reasons. Some enjoy the adventure; others do it for economics. Vehicles exist in various sizes, impacting what you can and can not do. Are you living full-time in a Prius or vacationing in a converted school bus? These are two very different environments. Lastly, different people have different desires. Some want a minimalist lifestyle, while others desire all of the comforts of home. A financially secure individual in a class C motor home who camps at RV resorts has completely different needs than someone boondocking full-time in their Astrovan.  

It is impossible to come up with a one-size-fits-all scenario because of this. In today’s post, my goal will be to help the reader to start thinking about their power needs as I offer some potential solutions. 

Fit yourself loosely into one of these three categories: 

-Minimalist: Your power needs are minimal. Your electronics consist of your smartphone. You don’t use a refrigerator and instead rely on daily shopping or only eating shelf-stable foods. You may have a few USB chargeable items, like a headlamp or light pucks. 

-Average user: You use a 12-volt fridge and may use other items like a vent fan. You like to travel with your tablet or energy-efficient laptop, but you don’t regularly do computer-intensive activities like video editing. 

-Power-user: You need a reliable and constant energy source to power your fridge and other electrical devices like a blender, induction cooktop, and microwave. You may have advanced electronics like a Starlink internet connection. You use a powerful laptop regularly. You consider your vehicle your home on wheels and want to live a life of modern conveniences.

It is essential to determine your van life situation. A weekend warrior can charge a large battery at home before and after a trip. A weekend warrior’s power needs will differ from someone who has to rely on their power system in a permanent boondocking scenario.

Where are you going to camp? Will you spend your winters in sunny Arizona or live in the often overcast Pacific Northwest? I have 400 watts of solar on my roof, and in an ideal sunny situation, those panels have an output of around 360 watts. However, their output can be as little as 10 to 25 watts on an overcast day. If you plan on spending a lot of time in cloudy environments, you will need more than solar panels to keep your battery system healthy. 

My friend helping me install 400 watts of solar on my roof.

Appliances can use different amounts of power at different times. Let’s look at a fridge for an example. A fridge running in a 70F environment will use less power than one that keeps your food cold in a 90F environment. A full fridge will be more efficient than one that is empty. Likewise, a fridge will use less power than a fridge/freezer. 

Some devices use constant power, while others use power intermittently. A roof fan uses continuous power. If it is rated at 35 watts, it will use 35 watts in one hour. A small electric pressure cooker may be rated at 700 watts. It uses full power to bring the unit up to pressure, but then it may power on only 20% of the time to maintain pressure. This can make it difficult to determine your power needs. The easiest solution is to use a wattage meter (“Kill-A-Watt”) to get a general idea of the wattage used based on the quantity and type of food you cook. 

A small electric pressure cooker can be very efficient as it only uses full power to get up to pressure and then cycles on and off to maintain pressure.

This is all that you need to know:

If you are an average or above user, get the largest power system that you can:

  1. Afford.
  2. Fit into your vehicle without compromising your living space.
  3. Keep charged by whatever means available to you.

Build or buy?

Building a battery system will be less expensive than buying an all-in-one solar generator, but only if you build the system yourself. Hiring a technician to create a custom system can be costly. The technical knowledge to develop your system can be acquired by reading articles and watching YouTube videos. It is essential to match your components and to do things correctly. You need to use the correct gauge wire and many other considerations. Although I have the skill to build a system, I have always used solar generators for my van’s house power needs. The remainder of this post will focus on solar generators as they are the easiest and best solution for many. Your mileage may vary. 

Solar Generators.

The price of solar generators has dropped considerably over the last few years. I love their “plug-and-play” ability and portability. All of the parts of a solar generator are matched, so everything works well together. Typically, their footprint will be smaller than a comparable custom system. Their downside is that if one component fails, it can take down the whole system. However, I have never had that happen in my years of van life.

Battery types.

Lead acid/AGM batteries.  

The original battery type used in solar generators These batteries are heavy and have many disadvantages over newer battery chemistries. However, they can operate and charge at a wider range of temperatures than newer battery types. For many, this technology is obsolete for a vehicle’s house battery needs.

My first solar generator was a Goal Zero Yeti 1250. It was super heavy due to its AGM battery and I could only use about 50% of its power at any given time.


This is the battery chemistry of choice for most. There are several chemistries for this battery class, but for simplicity’s sake, I’ll split them into two types: Lithium-ion and Lithium Iron Phosphate (LifePO4).

Lithium-ion batteries are often used in electronics (like phones) and EVs (electric vehicles) because they are more energy-dense than LifePO4 batteries. This means the batteries are both smaller and lighter than a LifePO4 system. There are cases where these batteries can enter an uncontrollable self-heating state and catch fire. This will more likely happen with poorly manufactured batteries with cheap BMS (battery management system) circuitry. 

I then moved on to this Bluetti lithium ion battery. it worked well, but it had a few quirks that bugged me. I now use a Pecron E3000 battery that I like.

LiFePO4 (lithium iron phosphate) batteries are not likely to enter into an uncontrollable thermal cascade. Additionally, they can be charged and discharged many more times than a lithium-ion cell. However, they are significantly bulkier and heavier than a similarly capable lithium-ion battery.

Both battery chemistries are reasonable to use in a solar generator. If you need the lightest/smallest package, go with lithium-ion. If you want the safest option that will also last longer, go with LiFePO4. The overall trend in solar generators is to use LiFePO4 batteries.

Lithium batteries can be discharged to around 10% of their total charge compared to lead acid/AGM batteries, which should only be discharged to about 50% of their capacity. Solar Generator companies will list how many times a battery can be discharged and recharged before it degrades. They usually list the number of charge cycles before a battery is reduced to 80% capacity. However, other companies fudge these numbers and will give you the number of cycles to 70% capacity, so be aware of what you are reading. If you are a part-time van dweller, most solar generators will last you many years. If you live in your van 365 days a year, use a battery system that can be discharged many times before its performance degrades. 

How big of a battery system should you get?

As stated above, as much as you can. However, here are some basic guidelines.

First, a caution. Solar generator manufacturers sometimes list the power of their unit’s AC inverter front and center. They may say something like “1000-watt solar generator,” but the actual battery bank may only be 600 watt/hour, while the AC inverter is 1000 watts.  

Look for “watt/hours” to determine the capacity of a solar generator. However, knowing an inverter’s power is also essential, as a larger inverter can allow the end user to use more powerful appliances, like a small microwave. Watt/Hours tells you how much power storage you have; inverter size tells you what you can run on AC.

You lose some of your battery power in “translation,” additionally, the unit’s BMS will never allow for a full battery discharge. Therefore, the actual run time will be less than the calculated run time. For example, you have a 500-watt/hour unit. The overall runtime of an appliance that uses 500 watts will be less than an hour (500/500 = 1.0 hour, minus overhead energy use), and the overall runtime of an appliance that uses 250 watts will be less than 2 hours (500/250 = 2.0 hours, minus overhead energy use). 

The 300-watt/hour range systems are great for charging cell phones and running simple devices like USB fans. They are small, so they recharge quickly. Their size makes it possible to take them into public places (like a coffee shop, workplace, or library) and discretely charge them. Naturally, do this only with appropriate permission.

Small battery banks are simple to use and can easily charged at a coffee shop or library. Get one that has fast charging capabilities.

Systems in the 700-1500 watt/hour range are helpful for the average van dweller. They are reasonably priced and have enough capacity to run your fridge even if you have a cloudy day or two and your system can’t get enough solar. Higher capacity units may be enough to power some electric appliances.

Systems in the 2000 watt/hour and beyond range open up the possibility for power use. These units typically have large inverters to energize power-hungry devices like a small microwave or an induction burner. 

Features to look for in a Solar Generator.

-The ability to accept higher-powered solar panel systems. More input will mean faster charging.

-The right size pure sine wave inverter (as opposed to modified sine wave inverter) that converts DC power to the AC power home appliances need. 

-A regulated 12-volt power output. Batteries will drop their voltage as they discharge. Some appliances (like 12-volt fridges) and medical devices (like CPAP machines) need a constant voltage to operate. A regulated output accomplishes this. However, this circuitry will use more battery in the regulation process.  

-Fast charging from an AC source. Some newer solar generators can recharge very fast when plugged into shore power. Older design units may take many hours to accomplish what a more recent device can do in a single hour. I have an older Jackery that charges at 65 watts/hour, while my new (and very high capacity) Pecron can charge at almost 1000 watts/hour. 

-Pass-through charging allows you to use your devices simultaneously while charging.

-The right port complement will make your life easier. For instance, if your computer can charge via USB C, having this available on your solar generator will be more efficient than using the power inverter to convert DC to AC for your computer’s power adapter and then having the adapter convert it back to DC for your computer’s charging circuitry.  

-The right-sized inverter. An inverter converts the DC current from your battery to the AC house current that many appliances use. If you plan on using power-hungry appliances (like a small microwave), you will need an inverter sized to accomplish this. For instance, a typical 700-watt (output) dorm microwave requires an input power of around 1,100 watts. A solar generator with an inverter with a capacity of 1500 watts would be the minimum requirement in this situation. 

Note that AC Inverters use energy to convert battery DC power to AC power. Larger inverters use more conversion power than smaller units. Therefore, you want to pick a solar generator with an inverter that is “big enough” but not so large that you are wasting power by just keeping the AC on. 

Pro Tip:  If you are changing from one solar generator to another, pay attention to the new unit’s solar panel requirements.  Low Watt/Hour units often require low voltage solar panels in the 12-24 volt range, while larger units typically require solar panels that may be in the 36+ volt range.  If you have multiple solar panels it is simple to increase your panel’s voltage by connecting them in series instead of parallel.  Two 18 volt panels connected in series will yield 36 volts (18 + 18 = 36 volts). 

Pro Tip: I only turn on the AC when I need to run something that needs it, and I immediately turn it off when I am done. Continuously leaving an inverter on can drain a large battery bank in a day, even if it isn’t powering any appliances. Beyond my AC-powered cooking appliances, most of the things that I use are run on DC power (fridge, fan, heater). 

All appliances list their maximum power draw on a label located on the back or the bottom of the unit. My current solar generator has a 2000-watt inverter built in, which is enough for my “all-electric” van’s needs. I can carefully use an induction burner, microwave, coffee pot, and even a three-quart Instant Pot, but only one at a time.

My current Pecron battery has 3,000 watts of power and a 2,000 watt inverter. I use it minus its trolley.

-There may be other solar generator features that could be important to you, like the ability to control the unit with an app or a wireless charging pad for your phone. I like newer units that have their AC recharging circuitry built into the unit (instead of an external power brick). However, I don’t consider that to be a mandatory requirement.

You can go small if you are creative.

People do operate 12-volt fridges with small solar generators. However, they do this with compromise. Some use two small 300-watt/hour units. They use one to run the fridge while they charge the other one with a folding solar panel. Others use small solar generators and load their fridge with purchased ice (turning it into a temporary ice chest) when they have a run of cloudy days. The less you rely on electricity, the smaller the system that you need.

Ways to recharge your solar generator.

Rooftop solar panels

I have 400 watts of solar power on my van’s roof, and this has served me well.

Advantages: Set and forget. My panels are always charging my batteries when the sun is present.

Disadvantages: It can be expensive (if you use a professional installer) or mildly complicated (if you do it yourself) to mount. Being flat on the roof, the panels have a sub-optimal angle for solar charging. They don’t generate power if I’m parked in the shade.

Folding solar panels.

Advantage: No installation, simple to use. You can place them at the proper angle to capture the most solar energy. You can place them in the sun while keeping the van in the shade.

Disadvantages: May not have a high enough voltage needed for larger solar generators. Clunky. They can only be used when you are stationary. They can be stolen. 

Here I’m testing some folding solar panels. They come in a variety of designs and wattage levels.

Secondary Inverter.

I have an inverter connected to my car’s battery, and my solar generator’s charging brick is connected to the inverter.  

Advantage: I can run the AC appliances independently off this unit if I idle my van. When I drive, I can charge my solar generator at a high rate. Caution, as some brand-X inverters are not what they say they are. I had a 1500-watt unit that could only produce around 900 watts of power. I now have a Xantrex unit that was at least twice as expensive, but it does the job. 

Disadvantage: An additional expense. It may stress smaller vehicle’s electrical systems. 

I can use this power inverter to charge my solar generator or independently power my appliances if needed.

Car accessory (cigarette lighter) socket.  

Advantage: Using this is as simple as plugging in a patch cord into your cigarette lighter and then into your solar generator.

Disadvantage: At most, you can only charge at 10 Amps ( 10 Amps x 12 Volts = 120 Watts). In many cases, your system will only allow you to charge at 65 watts. This may work for small solar generators or folks who are constantly driving, but more is needed for most. 

Inverter Generator.

These are relatively small gas generators that have a pure sine wave AC power output.  

Advantage: You can keep your battery charged regardless of sky or shade conditions. They are very efficient, so a little gas goes a long way. Such a generator could charge up a solar generator for a relatively small cost. Honda is the class leader but is expensive. There are a number of Chinese brands that offer a similar capability for a fraction of the price of a Honda unit. However, they may not have the longevity of a Honda. I have a cheap Chinese unit, but I have never needed to use it. 

Disadvantage: These generators take up space, and you also have to carry gasoline.  

A typical inverter generator.

AC Mains Power.

Advantage: If you have access to regular AC power, use it to keep your solar generator topped off. I take advantage of AC power whenever I am able. I just plug the solar generator’s charging brick into the AC to keep the solar generator’s batteries fully charged. 

Disadvantage: You have to have an outlet handy. This won’t be the case in many National Parks or in any boondocking situations.

Be sensible.

When you have to rely on a potentially unreliable power source, it is important to have some sort of backup. Although I do the majority of cooking with electricity, I also have a small butane stove. Additionally, I have battery operator lights and even a battery-operated fan. On a recent trip with my son, my 12-volt fridge mechanically failed. Luckily, we had enough emergency shelf-stable foods to “carry on.” There are no emergencies for those who are prepared. 

If you have a run of cloudy days you can always use an a different method to cook with. Be prepared.


We all know the big brands, which are often excellent products. I have used Goal Zero, Jackery, and Bluetti systems, and they are good. Off brands are mixed, but most are OK (I have tested many). Some less-known brands stand out. I have been especially pleased with my current Pecron system, and I have also heard good things about the Oupes brand.  

I have changed my power system several times, initially out of need, now more out of tweaking interest. However, most users can be “one and done” with a little thought.

I hope that this post has helped new van-dwelling get an understanding of the ins and outs of van-life power.  

With my friend’s help I recently rebuilt my kitchen to accommodate my “all electric” life style. I cook with electricity around 90% of the time (even when boondocking).
My induction cook top pulls out of the kitchen for ease of use.

On Thanksgiving

A frozen turkey thaws in our basement refrigerator. A cardboard box filled with bags of Pepperidge Farm dressing, cans of cranberry sauce, and a tub of French fried onions is clumsily placed on the dining room table.  Kathryn retrieved the Thanksgiving decoration box from the basement and William and I placed the holiday decorations around the house, most of which were made by the kids when they were in preschool.  Thanksgiving is coming, my favorite holiday.

In the past, Thanksgiving would be a chaotic, but fun time,as we would have to get the house ready for Julie’s family to descend upon us.  Wednesday night would find me changing out burnt light bulbs and taking 10 PM trips to Walmart to buy extra towels.  Her entire family would arrive Wednesday night and leave on Saturday or Sunday.  In the beginning, all of her family would stay at our house, but eventually, the family grew too large and some had to hotel.  Football on TV, group movies, games, walks downtown to see the decorations… and meals, many meals. It was exhausting but wonderful.

This changed with COVID, and then it became too difficult for Julie’s aging parents to travel the many hours from Minnesota to Illinois.  The size of our dinners scaled down, but the kids wanted all of the same dishes.  After all, it was tradition.  Of course, we complied.

This year it will be our family and Will’s girlfriend, Lauren.  She is delightful, and we are happy to share our feast with her.  Number one daughter, Anne will celebrate Thanksgiving with her partner’s family but will come to Naperville from central Illinois on Friday.  We miss her and her family terribly, but we have been so preoccupied with Julie’s illness that we haven’t traveled to see her. We are all excited to reconnect.

Today (Wednesday), we will do a little more house organizing. The robot vacuums do a decent job, but I may pull out the real vacuum so the place looks extra nice.  I have already made multiple trips to the grocer, but Julie will go today to buy some freshly cut flowers, and whatever else peaks her fancy.  

When we were first married Julie felt intimidated by the task of making Thanksgiving dinner.  I took over and have organized it ever since.  Tonight all of us will spend a little time putting together side dishes.  We do a very traditional dinner so the kids will be assigned various tasks. Kathryn will make the cranberry Jello (a Midwestern tradition), William will make the green bean casserole, Grace will likely be assigned the sweet potatoes, and Julie will make the corn casserole.  We will also bake some pies, and make some yeast dinner rolls. A starch-laden meal, but that’s how we roll. Tomorrow, I’ll make the turkey, dressing, gravy, and potatoes (although I’ll enlist some potato peelers).  Then the cleanup, and a family walk.  Traditionally, we end the evening with a viewing of “A Christmas Story,”  my all-time favorite movie. In the blink of an eye, the weekend will be over, but the memories will last.

During Thanksgiving dinner, we go around the table to say what we are thankful for.  This year, I am thankful for so many things.  I am fortunate beyond belief.

I am thankful that Julie’s surgery and radiation are behind her.  She is suffering but faces life with courage and grace.  I will do whatever is necessary to help her along her path.

I am thankful for my wonderful children.  I can’t describe their outstanding qualities, as they would fill pages.  They are kind and considerate individuals, all four of them.  Their energy is focused on making the world a better place for all. My pride in them bursts from me.

I am thankful for my grandkids.  I wish I had seen them more this last year.  Cancer got in the way.

I am thankful for my friends. Saying this brings tears to my eyes.  I have never needed tons of friends, but I do need some, and they have been so loyal and concerned for me and my family.  They have no obligation to do so, but they have stood by me in the way true friends do.

I am thankful for my extended family on both sides.  I am so lucky to have such good people in my life.  For many, the holidays are times of nightmares.  For me, they are times of reconnecting and joy.  

I am thankful for my aging kitty, Mercury, who loves to wake me up very early in the morning so I can feed her. Her sweet and gentle nature adds comfort to our home.

I am thankful for my general good health, for obvious reasons.

I am thankful that I am retired, but have the resources to weather inflation in a beautiful community filled with wonderful people.

I am thankful that I am happy and continue to find joy in learning new things. 

I’m thankful for Violet the campervan.  A machine that I have personified as she gives me so much pleasure.

Lastly, I am thankful that you read this little missive.  Thank you for being you!

Happy Thanksgiving.


One of our many homemade Thanksgiving decorations. This one was made by William when he was in preschool. Yes, I know the turkey is missing a leg, it was lost years ago, we don’t care.


Let me share a little bit of who I am. I believe that people have the right to believe in what they choose to. A nation should support all of its citizens and should not only be a vehicle to make the rich richer. I think healthcare is a right, not a privilege. I understand that gender and sexual orientation are two different things. Neither is a marker for one’s value or morality. Everyone has the right to their religious or non-religious beliefs. I accept that I am no better or worse than any other person on this planet. I am driven by facts more than ideology. I see no value difference between different races. I know that both men and women are equally capable.

This is a small snapshot of my identity, but why am I sharing it with you? I’m doing this to elicit a reaction in you. Are you nodding your head in agreement, or are you becoming angry? Do you like me more, or do you feel that I’m misguided? Are you in my tribe, or are you in an opposing tribe?

Tribes have always been a way for individuals to band together—to increase their strength and, in turn, their survival. In prehistoric times, this could mean the acquisition of food and shelter or the ability to reproduce. We say we are social beings, but that is another way of saying that many of us are more comfortable belonging to a tribe. A desire so intrinsic to our being that it permeates every aspect of us.  

What is your religious tribe? What is your political tribe? What is your socioeconomic tribe? What is your racial tribe? What is your sexual orientation tribe? What is your gender tribe? What is your sports team tribe? And so it goes.  

The tribe that you belong to quickly identifies you to others as a friend or foe. The need to be in a tribe is so strong that it can make illogical claims turn into facts, cause families to split apart, and even make wars erupt.  

Even in recent times, tribes have a survival benefit. The citizens of the United States tribe fought fascism during WW2. The tribe of immunologists developed vaccines that have saved millions of lives. The union tribes fought for workers’ rights and improved their lives. Tribes allow people to use their combined resources to solve problems and elicit change.

Tribe structure typically follows rules. There is a leader, an ideology, and a set of norms that members must follow. Leaders sometimes use their power for their personal benefits, and tribes can sometimes establish rules of absolute belief for their members. You can see this in religious and political tribes, but it is apparent in many other tribes as well. If a member questions a leader or belief, they can be banished from the tribe. That rejection can be anything from social removal to eternal damnation. Both options can be crushing for the individual.

This hazard has always existed but can be tempered by tolerance.

Growing up, I can remember negative stereotypes of other tribes. Racial tribes, ethnic tribes, and even gender tribes. Daming views of others could be telegraphed in many ways. The tool of fear was common, but other tactics, like “dark humor,” could also be employed. If you grew up in the 1960s, you may recall dumb blond jokes or Polack jokes. How can you make a blond go up on a roof? Tell her the drinks are on the house. How many Polacks does it take to change a light bulb? Three, one to hold the lightbulb and two to turn the ladder. Innocent jokes? Hardly.  

Almost everyone in my neighborhood was Catholic, and I was so brainwashed that I would pray for the Protestant family across the street as I was terrified that they would go to hell. The first Jew that I met was when I was in high school. The first blacks that I met were on the battlefield of that same high school that was going through a racial change. The first gay person that I knew of was so reviled that he was known only as “Ralph, the queer.”  

What kept me in my bubble? What kept me under control? Mostly fear. Fear that those other groups would somehow try to corrupt me, control me, destroy me. Irrational fears were promoted by the group that I belonged to. Rules that said anyone outside of my tribe was dangerous.

Tribe leaders can find natural or imaginary examples of how these “other” tribes were evil. How they were hellbent on taking away MY rights, destroying MY world, and corrupting MY values. The world as I knew it could explode into chaos if I allowed other tribes to have a voice. I had to protect MY way of life because the other tribes wanted to destroy it.

Such lunacy can be easily accomplished as long as tribe members are isolated in one fashion or another from alternate experiences or ways of thinking. This can be done by establishing a “trust no one else” rule or by citing examples that somehow verify a belief. The examples don’t have to be balanced or accurate. Shoplifting can be higher in some predominantly black neighborhoods, so blacks are morally corrupt! Let’s not talk about poverty, lack of options, and other factors that have nothing to do with race. If you can’t find an example, then make something up. I was once told by a educated protestant man (a fellow medical student) that Catholics had secret stores of weapons in their basements and were going to rise up and take over the government. Or how about the “gay agenda,” where gays are secretly plotting to convert innocent children to a gay lifestyle? These crazy thoughts were believed and fueled by fear, and although they caused hate towards the opposing tribe, their real purpose was to bind the individual to their tribe. To make it impossible to leave, to listen, or to learn.

It should be evident from my opening paragraph that I’m not the same person I was when I was 10. I have abandoned that tribe. So how did that happen? Some of the process was intellectual. Categorizing others based on limited arbitrary criteria makes no sense to a thinking person. However, a lot of my change happened by experience.  

I trained in Evanston and lived in Skokie, a high Jewish enclave. I have worked with many Muslims. I have known many people with varied sexual and gender orientations; I know many individuals of different ethnic and racial types. Time again, I have reached the same conclusion. There are assholes everywhere, but most people are intrinsically good and want to live their lives to the best of their ability and without the prejudice of others.  Why can’t we let that happen?

How ridiculous it is to think that I’m better than someone else because I have less pigment in my skin. How pompous of me to believe that my religion is the one true religion and those who believe in other religions are heretics? How shameful of me to think that I have the right to control the private consensual sexual lives of others. We live in a society where it is OK to hate others, but it is not OK to love who you choose. Think about that.

I understand that tribes are necessary, but it concerns me that they have become rigid and intolerant as of late. Our country was based on liberty for all, but that “all” didn’t include enslaved people, Jews, gays, and a host of others. The cultural revolution of the 1970s emphasized humanity and acceptance, and rejected established rules of discrimination. This helped spawn a period of tolerance of other tribes. However, the last decade has reversed many of those gains. Tribal leaders can deny the truth, and their lies are accepted by their “faithful.” The need to belong is so great that it is OK to vilify others and even inflict violence on them.  

I understand that this hate movement is temporary, like all movements are. However, I have to ponder if there is any way to break this cycle or if it will repeat at infinitum.   

At the start of this post, I disclosed a little about myself. Did you judge me? Did you accept or reject me based on those statements? I hope not, as I’m more complex than a few identifiers. Judge me for who I am, not who you think I am, based on labels. I will do the same for you.

No One Will Help Me…

In my professional life I witnessed an interesting phenomena, individuals stuck on a past identity.  They lived their lives in past triumphs and seem to be locked into days gone by as they repeatedly recount their time spent on the high school football team or their years in the military.  I believe it is fine to proudly remember such events, but I don’t think that it is productive to stagnate in days of yore and not move forward.

My personality is similar to what it was when I was a teen, but over the years I have grown in other ways.  That process continues in my retirement years.  You may ask, how do I know where I need to make a change?  The answer is simple, I do nothing and the need presents itself. This is a process that happens to everyone, but you have to be cognizant of the offer and willing to act on it.

I mentioned that I have the same personality as I did as a teen, but I am a different person.  I’m more self assured, more assertive, and generally a happier person.  I have taken opportunities over the years to grow and to challenge false beliefs that seemed so true that they were law, but they were not.

One significant false belief that I held for many years is that no one would ever want to help me so I needed to figure out everything on my own.  As a corollary, I also had to know how to do everything, even when no one taught me how to do something.  Somehow, this knowledge was supposed to be embedded in me, and if I couldn’t retrieve it something was wrong with me.

I believed that these sets of beliefs developed when I was a young child,  as asking my dad for help almost universally resulted in a “no” followed by a shaming statement.  He often gave me tasks to do with no instructions, and would blame me if I did the job incorrectly.  These experiences would certainly lead a person to believe that it was their responsibility to solve any problem.

Before you feel sorry for me, I would say that the above was actually a blessing in disguise as I became an excellent problem solver, independent, confident, and competent.  If you have lemons, best to make lemonade.  

I am a caregiver type, and it is easy to find folks who want to be cared for.  That works when you are a physician giving care, but it doesn’t lead to balanced healthy personal relationships.  

Many decades ago I decided to challenge the false belief that I’m not worthy of asking others for help, but I did so in a limited way.  I have no problem asking Julie or my kids for help when I need it. I always knew that there were others in my life, like my sisters, who would offer assistance if I asked for it. However, I tended to reserve those requests for times of great need.

I have known my friend, Tom for 11 years and we became fast friends over 9 years ago. Early on I had an overwhelming feeling that I needed to protect Tom.  This made no sense as Tom is younger, and stronger than I am.  In addition, he had lived a successful life well before he ever met me.  Tom is a Polish immigrant.  I am reluctant to state generalizations, but Eastern European men tend to emphasize their strengths and don’t present as weak or needy.  Tom fits this category.  So why did I have an overwhelming feeling that I needed to protect him?

As our friendship strengthened it turned out that I did have some skills that I believe helped my friend and protected him from a very real, if covert, threat.  However, that was only part of the story.  Remember, I believe that if a person is open to growth, opportunities will present themselves that will allow this process to happen.

My connection with Tom wasn’t only about me helping him, it was also about him helping me change.  

It takes a significant amount of energy and time to learn things that often have very limited utility.  I love learning anything, even trivial things, but it is energy draining.  Time spent in such pursuits could be used more efficiently, or the job could have been completed more professionally if I had asked for help.  Additionally, there is no better way to learn something than to have a competent teacher instruct you on that process.

My friend, Tom has not only been willing to help me, at times he has been insistent.  This process started with small things.  Things that I wouldn’t feel too guilty about asking for his help.  However, he has gone above and beyond on so many occasions that he has helped me to feel comfortable asking for help from someone who doesn’t have a “blood obligation” to me. Most recently, he spent weekends putting together a new kitchen set-up for Violet the camper van.  I wanted a simple modification, but he gave me an entirely new kitchen. When asked why, he responded that he wanted to do it for me.

Beyond the joy of having someone help me, these interactions have taught me a valuable lesson.  I always knew that I felt good when I helped someone, but now I know that people feel good when they help me.  This may sound elementary to you readers.  However, it was a revolutionary concept for me, a person who thought that they didn’t deserve to be helped.  Naturally, that last statement comes from emotional Mike, not rational Mike.

My belief that I needed to protect Tom was the “hook” into the relationship, but he showed me that I also needed him to grow further.

I never want to become stagnant.  I always want to move forward.  I understand that as I age I may need to give up some aspects of my identity, but I have been shown time and time again that when a door closes a window opens.  Overall, as I accept who I am, not only my strengths but also my limitations, I can challenge those limitations and sometimes conquer them.  How does all of this make me feel?  Happy.

My friend, Tom spent weekends custom building a new kitchen for my camper van, Violet.
The competed kitchen. Perfect for my “off-grid” all electric lifestyle.