I used to struggle with money. It’s not that I didn’t have enough, but I thought that I didn’t have enough.
I’m fortunate to come from family roots where I don’t remember money being a problem. I also wonder if there were some problems that I didn’t consciously know of. It must be challenging to be a parent and to navigate something with such prominent social emphasis but of absolutely no significance to our human needs. We need love, belonging, connection, but sometimes it’s most important for parents to provide money. Okay, we also need food, shelter, and water, which money can buy, but we must acknowledge that money is a means of fulfilling these needs and money itself is not vital to our well-being.
In the case of my grandfather, he needed to provide money to his mother from the age of four or five and subsequently to his wife and children from the age of eighteen. As I grew and watched him excel in business, with nightly checks of the booked orders and his investment performance, scribbled neatly in this annual pocket planner, perhaps I was conditioned to think we – I – need more money, that these numbers were how I should measure my life at the end of the day. Could I afford the 14.95 meal instead of 11.95? The problem was not the three bucks but the fact that I thought of it.
I thought of my university’s salary report, indicating the average starting income of students with my same bachelors degree. And I felt shame knowing that I was earning some 60% even with an additional masters degree. I thought of the period when I took a loan from my parents to pay my first months’ rent when I started working and living on my own simultaneously. I thought of my adolescent years, when I diligently tallied my cash, coins, and bank account on separate printed pages, marking even 27 cents if I received change from buying a CD at Best Buy. Money was something that measured my well-being — until it didn’t.
In the summer of 2019, I took a sabbatical from my work. I was still under-earning my peers and over-working myself. Yet I mustered the courage to take a break, throw $5,000 at a month-long yoga teacher training. I earned a meager €450 a month in a so-called “mini job”. I sat at the edge of a pond and decided to quit my job and leave the city. But I had no plan. I returned to my apartment and lived a simple life: waking, writing, practicing yoga, visiting with friends, exploring the city, and realizing that vast portions of the population were out and about (and not holed in offices) during the day.
And then the fear crept in.
I feel it returning now, my chest tightening, my heart beating, my thumb and first fingers gripping the pen so tightly. It’s called anxiety, and it grew within me like a toxic vine as I watched my bank account gradually decline with each scoop of ice cream, grocery trip, a month of rent, a train trip to visit friends.
Along the way, I was engaged in writing morning pages and exploring Julia Cameron’s Artist’s Way. There came a time when I should start to track my expenses. I did so. My childhood ledger advanced into a budgeting app – which set me back €5 – where I’d input each scoop of ice cream, where the notebook and pen I needed to write with became a fear of enough. I answered the question, “What is my relationship with money, and how was it first formed?” I quit the “mini job” and €450 turned to zero. Spend, spend, spend, and nothing coming in.
I unexpectedly started to receive solicitations in the same period that I finished the budgeting and expense tracking phase. Clients wanted to hire me and to know my rates. I could work 20 hours a week and earn the same as before? With little effort, my bank account reversed its decline. I stopped caring whether lunch cost 5, 10, or 30. I stopped debating whether to save 10% on a flight by costing a longer layover. I let go of anxiety around having “enough” money, and I trusted myself – to enjoy life and to trust that I’d take care of my needs.
Since this renegotiation of my relationship with money, I’ve started a long process of doing the same with time. I try to remind myself, “If I think I’m running out of time, remember it’s just a thought.” (There’s absolutely zero evidence that I ran out of time for anything in my life. My survival is not at stake.) Last spring, I spent five hours with a friend contemplating whether I was willing to separate myself from my employment, and I decided to commit my time to myself. (But I didn’t quit my job.) I explored the difference of intention behind working “for” someone and working “with” a company. (But I let myself become a dedicated follower, waiting for a boss to tell me what to do.)
I’m still renegotiating, but one thing is for sure: I have time. And researchers say time affluence is a vital component of well-being. Lucky me! I believe the opposite of scarcity is not abundance but enough, and I’m looking forward to embodying the belief that I have enough time. Until that moment, I hope you have a day, and thank you for reading!
P.S. I’m super proud of myself. Almost five years ago, I set up a category called “Café: Rumination” for this blog. I expected that my life in Europe would include ample time for sitting in cafés and writing about life. Well, now I can safely say I wrote at least one blog post from a café/bakery! If you’re ever in Berlin, I highly recommend Zeit für Brot.