One thing that I usually hold back from talking about is money.
I think that’s true of most of us. Conversations about financial issues and affairs are usually filled with vulnerability, pride and shame, and reserved for our most intimate companions. That’s how we’ve been trained by society. If we are sharing about money with acquaintances, it’s usually in a way that can be perceived as good but not so good as to be braggy. “I won $20 in the lottery.” “I got a raise.” “This tote bag came from NPR when I gave them a donation.”
When I made the decision to write a memoir of the past year, I decided to reveal everything about all of the decisions, the reasoning I used to make them and the results that flowed from them.
But before I dive into my financial affairs, we need to talk about money for a moment so you understand where I’m coming from.
Sometimes I think the worst that can happen is losing all of my things. In the next breath, I feel the freedom that lies within that loss. That moment where I can walk away and fly again because I don’t have to carry all that baggage.
I can understand the need to relinquish everything and rely totally on myself, people who push themselves into vision quests and live in RVs or just carry a backpack and a sleeping bag and rest under the stars.
This is not something I want to do. I don’t like camping.
My point is that I can understand it, and I feel it sometimes in moments when I feel trapped or wildly unhappy. Walking away from everything I know and love.
But what I also know is that what usually makes me feel unhappy or trapped is scarcity. Focusing on the things I don’t have, goals I haven’t met, bills I need to pay.
And then I think of my beautiful wife smiling across the den at me, the spinning excitement of my dog as we head out on our daily walk, the purple blossoms of the redbud trees along that path in the springtime. I run my fingers over the yards of books in my bookcase and stroke my cheek with a skein of fluffy alpaca yarn. I am caught by the brilliant pink that an artist captured in a swoosh of paint on a canvas in the dining room.
Each of these people, pets, things, and spaces bring me joy. When I contemplate them, I can see my abundance. My focus is now the wealth of love, the joy of creating, the beauty of art and nature.
Right now, I’m downsizing as we prepare for a move. Looking at each thing with the idea of carrying it to our next place casts a light on them that reveals their inadequacies or the absolute joy that they bring to us. I am amazed at the pieces that are suddenly unimportant and those that must be carried into the next part of our lives.
But what does this have to do with money?
While we need money to obtain some of the things on these lists, to facilitate experiences, to support the way of life that we love, money isn’t the thing that we love.
Money is a tool, like a hammer or a knitting needle or a paint brush or a pen.
The tool of money works like water more than a hammer. It ebbs and flows and uses both slow action and rapids to create giant pressure. It pushes open locked doors and slams others shut. Its power is undeniable. It travels through our lives and communities, sneaking into tiny estuaries and tributaries, invading where it has no right to be, leaving a dearth where it seems needed.
But it is only a tool. Money isn’t moral. Having money or not isn’t an indication of your worth or the worth of your creative work or the life you’ve built or anything like that. Pick it up, put it down, use it within the confines of the law. Use it to enhance your life, your work, the work and lives of others.
Money is a tool to facilitate our activities in this modern world.
And money is only one—one!—tool out of the many in your toolbelt.
What other tools do you carry with you? What are your skills? What other resources do you have? Who are your allies? Make a list of at least ten of your tools—things you have or can do or are willing to learn. Include your ability to learn in that list.
When you’ve finished that list, look at it. Can you open yourself to feeling how powerful you are? How wondrous you are? Can you contemplate that unique list of tools in your life and imagine that you are good enough for just fifteen seconds?
Because you are good enough.
And the amount of money that you have…
The amount of money that you need…
The amount of money that you want…
Has nothing to do with your worth.
And that’s what I believe money is.