If I Think I’m Running Out of Time, Remember It’s Just a Thought

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.

Vulnerability Will Help Us Rise

“Vulnerability is not weakness. It is our greatest measure of courage.”

Brené Brown

I tried to light a candle just now. Wick is gone. I tried a used tea light. Dead wick. I tried a third, and the flame lasted all of 10 seconds. This is vulnerability: lighting a flame even when we know there’s not much wick to burn. It’s showing up with low energy and knowing that a spark will find its way into the light. Vulnerability is not an act of darkness but a bringing of light. We carry ourselves day in and day out, no matter if or when the sun rises, and vulnerability is our way of rising. Not in spite of gravity but with her support. Gravity doesn’t bring us down. She enables us to rise. Vulnerability doesn’t bring me down. It lifts me up.

“Grasping amplifies the sense of separation from the object.”

Stephen Cope

We sense gravity’s force only because we have the opposing force of being. In our search for connection (clinging) we make ourselves – through perception – more separate. Let go of the outcome, Cope writes. Let go of believing we need to achieve attachment, belonging, and connection? In these beliefs, we distance ourselves from connection.

I lift others by creating space for them to rise. I create space by expressing vulnerability. I am my own champion, and I am the champion of others when I am me. I am me when I am vulnerable, open, honest.

I don’t subscribe to “fake it til you make it”. Yes, dream, but know where you’re lying/laying when you’re dreaming. Clouds only look like shapes from far away. What does it mean to dream and know we’re dreaming? Water vapor needs dust to condense. What does it mean to watch our dreams condense and transpire?

We need to show the world when we’re faking it, dreaming, setting ambitious hopes — because this visionary, visualization tells the ones watching us that they can do it, too. If we only see the outside, we miss recognizing how much potency is in our potential. Grasping amplifies the sense of separation from the object.

Whereas we see kinetic energy when we look at the stars, our dreams, the performative nature of being human, the potential energy – the energy at rest – is what can propel us forward. So, rest, my love. Let your flame burn, light the feelings on fire, fill up your tank, condense your potential, fuel your heart, and know that you’re allowed to dream.

Gravity will help you rise, and vulnerability will carry your dreams into reality.

Self-Powered Mathematical Courage

How would you define courage? Go ahead, take a moment to grab a pen and paper or open a text document, and write down your thoughts. What does courage mean to you? Can you think of examples where you demonstrated courage or where you didn’t but could have? For just a moment, be courageous enough to try and define courage.

My coach asked me this question last week. I first remember that the word courage comes from the heart, and it’s inspiring to know that the mind doesn’t need to be involved in courage. I gave a long-winded answer about actions, beliefs, and thoughts overpowering a “cannot” mindset. Later in our discussion I came to the simplified thought “Courage = Motivation > Hesitation”. When motivation is stronger than hesitation, this is courage, to me.

From my vantage point, some global societies and especially individuals have faltered in the past year, due to the unanticipated change of priorities and decision-making criteria. Where have you hesitated and/or felt less courageous during the Coronavirus pandemic? Where have you acted with a high degree of motivation and courage?

In his book The Righteous Mind: Why Good People are Divided by Politics and Religion, Jonathan Haidt gives a definition of moral systems which focuses on behaviors and identities that “suppress or regulate self-interest and make cooperative societies possible”. I like to think of this as action/thought/belief/etc in the interest of the common good. Perhaps we have started to hesitate, to ponder decisions, and to act less readily, due to the fact that “common good” has been called into question more frequently. With personal ethics at each of our foundations, it’s natural that we struggle to act when we face ethical dilemmas. We have seen a re-shuffling of the hierarchy and new faces become the essential, critical actors that deserve priority. The richest players have, in some cases, been replaced by the most vulnerable, and we are not used to the rules of this new game. Haidt’s moral systems ask us which outlets we use to suppress self-interest and make cooperation possible.

We increasingly and repeatedly ask ourselves: What public health precautions are in the interest of the common good? What policing strategies serve the common good? What activities should be allowed / disallowed against a raging virus? What tasks should I prioritize in my routine when the routine is disrupted and my environment becomes stagnate?

In a separate publication, Haidt also determined that people who highly respect authority figures are far more likely to believe society will break down if strong institutions do not regulate conduct. I suspect that in today’s set of crises, the lack of clarity and certainty at the authoritative level limits the factors on which we can base our decisions. Ambiguity thus impairs action. Perhaps this is why start-ups and ambitious companies strategically employ people who can work autonomously, and thriving is hard. Where authority lacks, autonomous beings attempt to self-regulate. Autonomy comes from the Greek words for “self” and “law”. Of course, people participating in a system cannot be fully autonomous, else wise the system is necessarily non-existent. The capacity to make an informed decision depends on having information. Thus, we are a bit handicapped these days, not having the same degree of reliable information, realizing what we thought to be facts are more stories and agreed-upon-realities, and not being our usual “autonomous” selves.

Hesitation is thriving, and what’s the status of motivation? With frequent thought patterns of no-end-in-sight and increasing rates of burnout, extrinsic and intrinsic motivation have undoubtedly suffered across the collective. Hesitation has blossomed, while motivation has hibernated. To re-empower ourselves and flip the tables, experts like Daniel Goleman and Viktor Frankl recommend focusing on incremental goals and acknowledge that achieving (even small) intrinsically motivated outcomes can restore motivation, like a self-charging battery.

I find myself relieved to land on such a simple definition of courage. Although hesitation sometimes outweighs motivation, I think we can all look for an area where we have zero hesitation, we can act, and we can start to re-empower ourselves to be a soft blend of motivated and courageous. Can you relate?