Many people choose a career where they believe they can help others and create a better world. What often happens in real life is that they feel thwarted.
In my own field, frustration was widespread and growing. Fewer and fewer workers were being expected to produce more and more, and there was no question that quality was declining. Sound familiar? What I noticed was how much similar feelings are being voiced by other professionals. Within a month’s span, for instance, I heard a funeral director tell me he was feeling it was time to quit after 35 years in the business, “I just can’t take it anymore,” and then two physicians, on two different occasions, voiced their own frustrations. One said he couldn’t advise anyone to go into his specialty anymore; the other asked me outright if I was happy at my job, and then explained that after his most recent performance evaluation, he had gone back with a counter proposal: “Reduce my salary by 10 percent and my workload by four hours a week.” It was his only hope of being able to keep up with the paperwork. Teachers and principals express similar emotions. Highly placed public officials are choosing not to run for reelection, just when they should be hitting their prime. Other workers are watching their jobs be moved to other countries or are taking sharp hits in their paychecks as a reaction to globalization. It’s not just people working on mind-numbing assembly lines anymore.
When we mention “work,” what’s the first association to pop up in your mind? The office, store, or factory that employs you? Or a bigger vision, such as your life’s mission, that unique service you have to offer the world?
Sometimes these money stories seem to come right out of the headlines. Not just the Business pages, either. Think of feature stories, entertainment, or especially politics. One of my favorites came out of the New Hampshire first-in-the-nation presidential primary a few decades ago, when a prominent candidate was projecting a populist image that included a signature plaid shirt and much walking among the populace. In one stop, however, he was asked, “Do you know the price of a gallon of milk and a loaf of bread?” The White House hopeful stumbled.
Consider his options:
“No, I don’t.” (And he thinks he can manage the federal budget? Not if he doesn’t know the basics.)
“No, I don’t. My wife does the household shopping.” (Not a politically correct answer, not if he wants a working mother’s vote.)
“No, I don’t. Our maid does the household shopping.” (Some populist.)
“No, I don’t. The demands of campaigning or attending official functions means I dine out most of the time.” (And he wants us to believe he’s a Washington outsider?)
“No, I just can’t keep up with the changing price tags.” (Good only if they really have been changing.)
Instead, he was caught off-camera berating his campaign aides, who were ordered to go out and find the cost of the (expletives, we assume) loaf and jug. His campaign never recovered.
What was I saying about the centrality of money issues?
Within your circle, when you speak of money, labor, time, and possessions, take care to focus on your own real-life encounters. Otherwise, you may get tangled in a depressing, seemingly hopeless morass of problems “they” present — whoever that other party seems to be. By concentrating on your personal situation, you are likely to develop strategies for enriching your everyday life, even if you don’t increase your income.
Do you find yourself caught up in large expenditures of time and effort just trying to make ends meet?
In my novel What’s Left, Cassia’s uncle Dimitri blends his MBA degree with a counterculture vision of what he calls Guerrilla Economix. He uses the family-owned restaurant to advance a wider local circle of entrepreneurs and their enterprises.
In your journey, remember, be vigilant to keep the focus on personal encounters and values. Talk of “the system,” “capitalism-socialism,” a “military-industrial-financial complex,” or other large-scale concepts can easily engulf you. Keeping these momentarily in the background, however, allows you some space to devise personal strategies to achieve greater control in your own life, maneuvering toward self-directed economics.
Until you have carefully examined your own emotions involving money issues, as you’ve been doing in these exercises and conversations, you risk overlooking your own disorder and blaming countless “theys” you cannot immediately change.
By keeping the focus here on your own situation, you will find that when the discussion turns toward possibilities of bartering, for instance, you will promptly ask, “What do I produce that can be traded?” The response will probably suggest why we are dealing with a monetary system in the first place; on the other hand, some of you may well perceive new avenues of enterprise or exchange.
Sometimes the benefits don’t even cost anything.
Are you able to find some time each day — maybe only fifteen minutes to a half-hour — to indulge in something purely for yourself?
I hope you’re discovering the money complex has many different doorways — so many, in fact, that keeping the conversation focused can be difficult. I hope these posts are serving as a compass as you integrate money’s diverse energies into more skillful balancing act that puts you more effectively in charge of your own life.
If you’ve formed a group, you might pursue these subjects in an argumentative seminar format, or you might instead agree to employ one of several “deep-listening” techniques available. This way, you’re more likely to draw out nuggets from all participants, and thus glean a wider array of insights than normally happens when the most vocal individuals pace freely and roar.
In the Society of Friends (or Quakers), for instance, a “worship-sharing” format has become popular: the group centers into a prayerful silence and the topic is introduced. Each person has a turn to speak around the circle or at random. No one is expected or forced to speak, but everyone is welcome to offer an insight, a memory, or even a passing thought. Offerings are brief: time is short and everyone needs to have a chance. Worshipful silence resumes before the next person speaks. There are no responses or “helpful” comments as one talks. Words arise from the heart, as well as the head. Everyone has a turn before anyone speaks a second time. At the close, the group centers again in silence.
These guidelines give you the idea. You may well modify them to fit the character of your circle or your traditions. It’s amazing, of course, what turns up in a prayerful setting when people speak from and to the heart.
Listen to yourself and to each other openly and compassionately. Speak frankly of your own lives and emerging insights. Challenge your current assumptions and actions.
The essential topic is you.
Name three things you really like to do. And three you must do, but dislike intensely. Any commonalities or patterns there? What would you be willing to give up to open more time to pursue the ones you like? Are there ways you could “delegate” out the unpleasant ones? Would it be worth paying someone else (the laundry, for instance)?
Remember, no matter which approach you take, the examination of your personal money complex is both liberating and rare. It’s not the one-on-one conversation you might have with an investment planner, insurance agent, or your boss. Not usually. It’s not about supply-and-demand charts or theories encountered in economics or business administration classes — clinical approaches that have as much in common with the confessions I’m urging as sex education has with romance and parenting.
I’m still encouraging you to form a group to share this exploration. Look for other members among your friends and neighbors. Also within religious congregations, or men’s or women’s groups, where a commonality already exists. Even co-workers, off-hours.
Whether you make New Year’s resolutions or simply reflect, here’s a good opportunity to review your spending plan and your feelings about money, Many of the earlier postings in this Talking Money series may serve as useful prompts, if you wish.
Has your spending changed this year?
Are you saving more? Are you donating more?
Do you feel better about your relationship with money and your uses of it?
Do you have a clearer sense of your life mission and values?
What goals and milestones are you setting for the coming year?