I was at the end of a very hectic week when the head of the non-profit where I work called. She wanted to ask for my help on a tech project – something I gave up doing a few years back. She opened the conversation with a simple and often used lead-in: “I don’t know what your life looks like right now, but…”.
She didn’t wait for a response, but if she had, I might have said something like this: On Monday, my niece gave birth to a high-risk baby who is awaiting heart-surgery in the NICU at Vanderbilt. While she was in the hospital for four days, we kept our 3-year old great-niece. We took her home – which is a 3-hour round-trip drive – on Wednesday night, only to have my mom text with a 9-1-1 emergency while we were still half an hour away. We rushed to my mom’s house and rushed her to the ER, where I spent the next 5 hours (until 2 AM) watching her get poked and prodded as they worked to bring her out of hypertensive crisis. The next day was a blur of picking up prescriptions and checking on various people and Friday was spent at the doctor’s office with my mom. Like I said, a very hectic week…or was it?
Having had some time since then to reflect, I don’t know if it was actually hectic or typical for my life these days. In any given week, I may have to take my mom to the doctor 1-2 times, pick up groceries and prescriptions 2-3 times, and work on some project that some one else deems “the most important thing” of the week, like painting Mom’s laundry room door. Betwixt this, I also manage to work 32 hours, make dinner when it’s my turn, read books, write posts for this blog, and spend quality time with Angie, doing the things that make us who we are. I think this is the nature of life when you have older parents and you are the sole caregiver. Yes, it is frustrating sometimes and yes, it’s hard to balance all the spinning plates, but then there are those moments, when you are faced with new options, that you realize, you’d choose this same life again. Every. Single. Time.
But, for as much as I would choose family over work…I haven’t yet figured out a way to say no when I’m asked for help. It’s in my nature to be helpful. I feel guilty when someone asks me for help and I don’t oblige, even when doing so goes against what I want to do. And like a lot of people I feel afraid; afraid that I’ll be fired, and the next job might not be a good one. Sure, there’s a part of me that knows that’s not true but nevertheless, the thought is there. So, I agree, and then I get angry. Angry at myself for not being able to say no. Angry at myself for trading my most valuable asset – time – for something I have zero interest in. Tech projects don’t excite me. The prospect of working more hours doesn’t excite me. Money doesn’t even excite me. The things I love to do are usually free (or super cheap) so mostly, I just want enough money to pay the bills. Employers don’t want to hear that. And even if they did, I don’t know how to even begin to tell them.
For as good as I am at expressing my ideas in writing, I completely suck at speaking my own truth. I recently tried to talk to my mom about my feelings about work and money and it totally backfired. Here’s a person that I’ve talked to for 40+ years about everything from Jesus to jelly beans and I couldn’t make my words make sense. The conversation ended with her nearly spitting at me as she yelled, “well I don’t know how you expect to live without money when you love to go on all those expensive vacations!” It was as if my disdain for money was an affront to everything she believed in. As if saying that I didn’t want to work my life away meant that her choice to have a career was wrong. We are all different. Why is this so hard for folks to grasp?
Side note: the most expensive vacation we took this year was to Florida, where we spent a week just steps from the water…in a campground. Transportation, food, lodging, entertainment and a new pair of flip flops cost a whopping $263. But I digress…
I don’t want to carry around society’s fears or my own family’s fears about money – that there’s never enough and you have to work yourself to death to provide. I believe less money doesn’t equate to all the bad things people imagine. I believe less money actually means more freedom. If we choose a life where money is not our primary consideration, it becomes easier to say no to excess, to consumerism, to stuff, to unrealistic expectations, to the American Dream Delusion, and most importantly, to tech project and other jobs we just don’t want to do.
Most people who subscribe to minimalism, choose to live with less in order to have more money; money to do more of the things they love, to pay off debt, or retire early. I’ve been hard-pressed to find examples of folks living with less simply to have less money. I think I want to be one of those people. Or maybe I don’t. All I know right now is that seeing lives lived for the sole purpose of earning money makes me question the meaning of our existence.
Can we ever learn to peacefully coexist with money? What does living within one’s means actually mean anyway? I’d love to hear your thoughts on work and money; and stay tuned for future posts about this subject as we spend some time in the coming months figuring out our own relationship with the two.