One of my new year’s resolutions in 2013 was to “make peace with money.” Like so many other things that I have issues with, I have wanted to end the war. So, I started making up steps.
STEP 1: Money & Your Imagination- The first step in this has been realizing that money is a neutral energy. Contrary to popular belief, it is not the root of all evil. It is neither good nor bad, but rather an arbitrary, and to a greater or lesser extent, totally made up thing. We give it value with numbers on paper. We give it standing with exchange rates in the world. But most of all, we give it meaning when it comes to our self-worth.
When you work as a freelancer, run your own company as an entrepreneur or work as a professional artist, this is an especially interesting topic. I often help my clients to price their products and services and this little exercise often produces crazy results. Some people start justifying nervously. Some can’t make eye contact. Other people actively try to change the subject. “How much is your time and energy worth?” It’s an interesting question.
The reasons I take money for my services are two parts value and one part practicality. 1) To show value to myself- it’s an exercise in self-worth. 2) So that people value the work- if it’s free, folks are less likely to take it seriously thereby rendering our work together ineffective. 3) Because the world requires money in exchange for some things I want- like food and shelter.
STEP 2: Stripping Down the Malls– The second step in this has been to clear out the things I don’t really need. This part has been easier in Berlin because, as a general rule of thumb, the city is much more minimalist. But being in LA always makes me feel consumptive. Every day feels like Black Friday to me and I always feel like I need more money here. It’s hard not to be consumed by consumerism. I used to think that this was just life- chain restaurants, strip malls, climbing gas prices and overpriced parking. I thought that this was “job normal” in the world- the endless pursuit of bling. I didn’t realize until I left that I was born into a marketing mecca- an advertiser’s wet dream.
“I got my mind on my money and my money on my mind.”
I am not saying that you don’t need money everywhere. But I am saying that the hold it has on hearts and minds is extreme here and in America at large. Just take a look at the 10 best Black Friday Walmart fights and you will see what I mean.
There is nothing wrong with having stuff- it’s why you have stuff that might be the problem. Does it make you feel powerful? Does it show people around you that you have excellent taste? Does your stuff bring true wonder into your life? Does it enhance the moments you spend in this world doing things that actually matter?
I feel like the unexamined life is not much of a life at all. And on this particular subject, I refuse to be a pinball in the machine- getting shot from top to bottom in a constant state of reaction: economic elation and panic.
STEP 3: Find Somewhere to Land– The step I am on right now is about defining the term “enough”. This stuff is important. Exploring the invisible chasm between need and want. Exploring our motivation for having new, better and more stuff. Everyone brings different ideals, backgrounds and needs to the table. But in my life and my work thus far I have come to believe that the only way to be happy with your finances (or anything really) is by defining enough for yourself. What do you really need to be happy and if you had it already, would you even notice?
Letting consumption go unexamined is like taking a road trip with no destination, goals or time period. How will you ever know when you arrive?
And since the drive so far has been pretty epic, I find myself yelling from the backseat: “Are we there yet?!?”