Living with intention. Living in the present. Your authentic life. Living your best life. Thanks mostly to Oprah, these phrases have become a central part of our culture. I admit, though, that these phrases just all seemed kind of abstract to me, not sure how to really apply them in a way that could actually change my life.
I felt for a long time, I wasn’t living authentically. I worked in a career I didn’t feel suited for or spent my time the way I imagined. During college, I majored in Marketing, knowing I wanted to live a creative life while also being drilled with the fact that I had to make money. I thought this the best way to live both. Despite this, the fall of my senior year at Indiana University’s Business school, I found myself responding to an online ad for a caretaker position at a goat farm/bed and breakfast in Vermont instead of interviewing with Fortune 100 companies. The couple that owned the farm were incredibly kind and did offer me the job, and I actually spent a couple of weeks considering it. But in the end, my head won out, and I went to work for a pharmaceutical company selling pain and cardiovascular medications. I based this decision on one thing – money. I grew up being instilled that financial security was what to strive for and that ended up winning out when it came to career decisions. It did pay off in the end – I met amazing people I am still close friends with, I was able to work part-time while my children were young, and I did make great money. Throughout my time there, though, I always felt the pull of other creative endeavors, but never pursued them with the belief that they couldn’t support a family.
The control money has over us as a culture is immense, to the point that we make decisions on how we are going to spend the majority of our lives based on it. And even though I realized this fact a long time ago, basing my career decisions on it, my behavior otherwise in regards to money didn’t reflect this. I was spending money frivolously to compensate for my unhappiness at work. As I wrote in a previous post, I was trading my time, the one non-renewable resource in my life, to buy things I didn’t need to make me feel better about not spending my time the way I wanted. I wanted to be home with our girls more. I wanted to garden more. I wanted more free time. I wanted to cook more. To add injury to insult, I was not only not doing those things, I was doing the opposite. Even though I wanted to cook, I felt too drained at the end of day and would just pick up take out. So the thing I didn’t want to do caused more of what I didn’t want. Manifesting, you could say.
I’m not sure how the next part happened really, but I sum it up as this: I now believe that if you have a strong desire yet continually deny it, life will finally get fed up with you and your ridiculous mind and jump in and take the wheel out of your hands. It finally loses its patience with you and just says, “…ugh, I’ve had it with you. Move over, I’m driving.” This happened for me in a couple of ways:
1) My boss at the time sensed my disenfranchisement, pulled me aside and said, “…recommit or adios…”, but in a much nicer, more sensitive way. It was my last day in sales. (Even though my letter of resignation had been sitting on my desk long enough that it had slightly yellowed.)
2) I randomly took a back way home from work that I had never taken before, still not sure to this day what made me turn off, and drove by a farm with a For Sale sign in the yard. Joe and I had talked about moving out of the city, but weren’t sure how to make it happen, in every sense. Lots of happy accidents came into play and we were able to buy that farm and live here today.
Needless to say, life has changed quite a bit since then. I now work on our property, running my small jewelry business, proving to myself that I can (anyone can, really) make a living doing what I love. Big step, right? But as it turns out, this business ownership and the work that went along with it actually created less free time than when I worked for someone else. Yes, I had the freedom to take the day off if I chose, but I still had orders to fill and customers to answer to and I was the one that had to take care of it. And at holiday season, the amount of time you work will start to make you question life and what it’s all about – the questions I had when I worked in corporate America. I changed my career, but I recreated the same issue as before – my workload and lack of free time- and now finally had to deal with it. But before dealing with the effects, that was when I realized I was causing this. After much soul searching and journaling and mind-cracking open, I figured it out: my thoughts and beliefs about money. To use another Oprah term, I had my “a ha moment” :
I was believing this whole time that I had to do something I didn’t love, or turn the thing I loved into crazy, hard work, to make money. Money had to be hard.
This is what had to be resolved. I had to resolve my relationship with money, how I use it in my daily life, and how this affects my life long-term.
I then spent a lot of time journaling, thinking about my relationship with money and how I used it in the past. I feel grateful that I’ve led an abundant life. I’ve always had everything I’ve needed to survive plus some. Despite this, I had an underlying feeling that there wasn’t enough. I started tracking my spending and saw some pretty obvious patterns: I didn’t shop very much for clothing, but if I saw a sweater I loved that was $78, I would think it was too much and not purchase it. But I then noticed I would go into Target to buy toilet paper and buy three shirts I didn’t love as much for $75. And they would sit in my closet. (Anyone else have that feeling of having a closet full of clothes and nothing to wear?). I wouldn’t buy the nice bottle of wine for $20, but I would buy two glasses of pinot noir while out to dinner for $9 each. I was trying to rationalize my spending and when I looked at it from the big picture, none of it made sense.
I then started to ask the hard questions: what do I really want in life? What do I stand for? What do I care about? If I track my spending, does it reflect those things?
You can probably guess the answer – no, it didn’t. I love our earth, consider myself an environmentalist, recycle everything. But I didn’t act like it when it came to spending money. Sit in a drive through for a shake in a styrofoam cup? Check. Buy a smoothie in a plastic bottle for $4 when I would’t buy bottled water? Check. Buy a $5 t-shirt from a company I know uses poor labor practices and pollutes local rivers, when I didn’t even need the shirt? Check. Check, check, check. I was spending money and time I’d never get back on things that didn’t even line up with how I wanted to live.
Now, let me say, I am all for giving myself some grace. I’m not perfect and I certainly don’t expect anyone else to be perfect. I love shakes, and I don’t want to give them up entirely, but I can do them differently, like at home or walk in and get one that isn’t in a styrofoam cup. But I do want to be conscious about how I spend my money and I want to live a life that is in line with what I value.
When I went deeper, I realized that when I spent this way, that is when I felt there wasn’t enough left for what I did care about. I want to donate to the causes I feel are important. I want my family to be able to travel to see our family that lived in far away locales. I want to finally finish the house we were living in.
I now believe in abundance, that there is more than enough to go around for everyone, including money. And even though I now know money was abundant then, I didn’t believe it was at the time and was still spending like I didn’t have enough. Ironically for me, that meant spending a lot on little things that weren’t necessary and I didn’t love to make me feel like I was abundant. It left me with lots of things that I didn’t want or need and, at times, a cluttered home. And there was not much left for what I really wanted or valued in the end.
This has made me rethink my life in many ways. I know what I want now – a simple life, filled with time for loved ones, items that I find sacred, and experiences that I’ll remember. I want to leave a small footprint on the Earth, if I can lessen what I’ve already done, and not leave a ton of stuff for my children to go through when I die.
It has also made me rethink one of the phrases at the beginning of this post – Live in the present. I agree with this sentence 100% when it comes to living life. When it comes to money? No, I don’t. My problem with money was that I was 100% living in the present and not considering my future self at all. I am guessing I thought that one day a massive windfall of money would magically fall into my life (still not ruling it out), but I’m not living like that anymore. I am doing my best to plan and to be intentional about what I spend my money on and thinking of my future self and having enough for her to buy what she will one day want or need.
I have one tool that I have created to help me do this and I will share that in my next post. But in the meantime, how do you save? Do you have specific tools you use on how to live your best money life?