I had a realization during my meditation today. A voice, whose, I don’t know, but certainly not one I’m familiar with, said, “Maybe it’s okay if you’re just getting by.” I tried to shake off the thought, but it was fiester than I had anticipated and penetrated through my admittedly weak shield of mindfulness I’d created for meditation. When it broke through in penetrated me to my core and I doubled over in my chair, momentarily broken. I did not believe, and until that moment hadn’t ever considered, that it might be alright to just be getting by.
My wife and I are poor. We spent the majority of our savings moving to Wales so that she could pursue her PhD in theology and I could start my own business. These are not things that traditionally financially savvy people do, but we do not fall into that category. We are artists, intellectuals and people of faith, and this move was motivated by those considerations and not financial ones. This kind of decision is not uncommon in my life; I have never been motivated by financial gain. I love having money and I love spending it, but I have never enjoyed earning, nor have I spent my life planning for it.
But, there has always been disdain for the way that I was living, a hard moral line that my lifestyle was pushing up against. I couldn’t have articulated that moral line before today, but it has been a constant baseline, a foundation against which I’ve lived my life. I implicitly believed that this foundation was a bulwark against loserdom; that as long as this wall of disapproval for poverty, near-poverty and life choices that did not account for long-term financial security existed it would keep me safe, from starving, from a threadbare life. Not until today did I see just how much that bulwark was keeping out.
Most of what it was keeping out was risk. Implicit in the composition of this wall was the truth that I could not succeed if I strayed beyond its protection. To move beyond the wall was to venture into the world of financial risk, which was obviously well beyond my comprehension, something so daunting as to be unavigable by someone as irresponsible and useless as I obviously was. If I was savvy enough to survive out there, then I would have easily been able to raise enough funds within the wall to escape it. Not having done that, I believed, I was better off staying within its walls until I could. The lie, of course, is that within the walls it’s much more difficult to raise funds, because risk is nearly impossible behind that wall.
Objectively there’s nothing wrong with the viewpoint expressed in the wall. Financial conservatism in and of itself isn’t wrong. My parents have fared very well for themselves utilizing this approach to money and life. But it wasn’t something that I believed in, though I found it difficult or impossible to articulate this beyond taking shitty, getting-by jobs as a mute form of rebellion against some vague thing that my parents embodied. In time, I found some modicum of success in the sliver of middle ground that my world view and the one I had internalized from my parents shared, working at Lehrhaus Judiaca managing their publicity and web technology, but I still wasn’t happy, though I couldn’t have explained to you why. I know now that I wanted to be on the other side of the glass. I didn’t want to manage graphic designers, I wanted to be the graphic designer.
Energetically I was at loggerheads with myself. I had a deeply internalized belief that the path to Being a Good Person was a road named Financial Security Street, and yet in order to walk that road I felt I had to sacrifice a lot of what made me happy: art, inspiration, spirituality. But neither side could best the other. If I made too much of my art, my financial insecurity and fear around Just Getting By would kick in and I would spend some time beating up on myself, work a bit harder, and find a steady job of some sort or another. Looking at my work history is not inspiring. My major response to the internalized need for financial security was self-loathing. Nothing I did, no job I had was good enough, I wasn’t doing any of the things my father suggested, I didn’t have a portfolio or a 401k, I was planning for the future and all of this was going to lead to my downfall or ruin.
I should point out here that when I speak of my father I’m talking more about my internalized version of my father than my actual dad. My actual dad is nothing but supportive and when he talks about finances is just sharing with me what he knows. He never pushes anything on me or at me (except for second hand toys for my son that he rummages up at thrift stores, his primary hobby), and has never openly disapproved of my life choices, many of which I believe go staunchly against his grain. But the model that my father set for my brother and I, as dysfunctional as it was in many ways, is the one that I’ve internalized and carried with me until now.
That model was one of hard work, saving, and avoiding brand names. We bought cheap, disposable crap for most of my growing up and didn’t ever have the best of anything. I’m sure there was a time in my youth when we couldn’t afford it, but later, in high school, college and after, my parents could easily afford nice things, but continue to live “simply.” Their aversion to nice things has been passed down to me, though I, am beginning to realize that I though I value living simply have no desire to purchase something because it’s inexpensive. I grew up with things that I didn’t value because I bought what I thought we could afford, and rarely what I wanted. All of this has contributed to the 30 years that I’ve lived financially insecure and unhappy.
Leaving Lehrhaus and moving to Wales flies in the face of everything that the wall of financial security embodies, but I was able to do it anyway, and start my own business, not because I realized that the wall was there, but because I was listening to a more seductive and powerful voice, the voice of God, the voice of my Self. Living here without a steady job, surviving on the goodness and generosity of family, friends and God has been hard, but I’ve also been happy. Working for myself is one of the most satisfying experiences I’ve ever had. And the free time that comes with Just Getting By has allowed me to explore things artistically and spiritually that I would never have had time for if I was working a steady job. I am firmly outside that bulwark that I created, and after three months of fear and loathing at being in a new place spiritually and ideologically I finally realized that, you know what, it’s alright if I’m just getting by. In fact, it’s pretty great just getting by. I’m really enjoying myself out here.