There are people who view money as a bad influence, and others see money as the currency of life that guarantees involvement. With free will, we can and do choose how we relate to money. Deeper introspection is often needed to understand how to heal our relationship with whatever money signifies for our lives.
When I was little, my grandmother told me not to touch money – it was “dirty.” My mom carried forward the same message. True – money changed hands, some of which could have been laden with bacteria. However, I also got the message that money was something unclean. Because I grew up in poverty, I considered people who had money “dirty” – in my country of origin, it was unlikely that money was made in “clean” ways.
Then, there was my father – a stepdad who took us to America. He went to a computer programming bootcamp upon arriving in New York to retrain himself for a new career in the U.S,., took English classes, and persistently applied for jobs. I was told that he sent out hundreds of resumes and got the one interview that landed him his first job. Because of him, I was able to attend college. He raised us out of poverty.
My father liked his job a lot. He also taught me that supporting family was the most honorable thing one could do. We didn’t talk about it – he lived it. Family and education were the most important things to bring one out of poverty. People who have not experienced poverty have no idea how powerfully it can drive one to seek a better life.
For a long time, I resisted my father’s push to get a stable job. I wanted to help people and, without giving it much thought, still believed that helping people and money were diametrically opposed. At one point, I asked a guru to live in the ashram, and she said “No, you are needed in the world. You must be out there on the frontlines.”
When I was a single mom with my first child, I quickly realized that we would not live well on a teacher’s salary. I listened to my dad and got a corporate job. I rapidly climbed up the “ladder” and eventually made a moderate income. However, I had not realized that – at the time – I also carried a great deal of unconscious fear regarding losing money and not having enough to support my family. Poverty leaves an impression.
Even while bringing home a substantial paycheck, I felt fear about losing my job, about spending too much, and about not having enough. Eventually, I realized that no matter how much money I made, I still had fear of not being able to provide for my family or losing my job. My fear-based relationship to money brought conflict into my household, where my perception was that nothing is enough and no amount of hard work is too much.
It has now been years since I had my high-paying job. I am making a teacher’s salary again and have my children, now as a single mom once more. Although I have come full circle, my perspective is not the same. Although I still have financial pressures, I realize that things can be made to work out for my kids – but not without my active involvement and work ethic. It is possible to work hard without becoming negative and jaded.
My older son started college this year and I am fighting to secure money for his education from his dad. My younger one is still in his formative years and needs stability. I will need to fight for his stability. And, I will pick up whatever worshop “gigs” and summer school that become available to help make ends meet.
It took me time to accept that our world is set up a certain way around a currency and “market demands.” But these are just overt signs of a more profound universal process at play. One thing became clear to me: The pursuit of decent living and helping people are not incompatible. Regadless of what else I was doing, I made myself available to people.
I have enough life experience to now plan ahead and adapt to what’s needed. To live, most of us must be practical and work hard enough, but without the baggage of fear. The world needs skills and dreams – such people will always make it.
As a teacher, I see about 150 students a day. Some come from wealthy homes, and others are homeless. Many are getting a free lunch because of their family’s low income. When I ask them what they want to do with their lives, many say “I want to make lots of money.” When I ask “What will you do with this money?” Many say “Pay off my parents’ mortage” and other statements regarding rising out of poverty. Of course some also dream of having wealth, and expensive and luxurious things. Our culture seems obsessive about having things. Yet, all unanimously want to have a job that they enjoy and one that also provides.
I was fortunate enough to be persistent in my education and learn skills that were in demand. Others were not so fortunate and had impractical college majors, which ensured that someone else would always have to support them.
It is easy to talk about careers that make money as being less than noble. It is easy to put down people who work hard to bring opportunities to their children and pay the bills. But practical reality shows how a lack of money leads to unhealthy living, addictions, depression, and even crime.
For the love of our families, some of us need multiple jobs just to make ends meet, living from paycheck to paycheck. This is where I am now. It is likely that I will need to attend a crash course in Data Science and Machine Learning to get a new career and to provide more opportunities for my kids. I seriously prefer not to put back groceries on the store shelf just to meet my budget. That is reality.
Fighting reality by calling money “dirty,” necessary hard work “workaholism,” and the pursuit of higher-paying jobs “ignoble” is rejecting what is needed in our world. While all these labels are possible for some people, they do not necessarily apply to most.
Money can and does help people. Those in the STEM fields have the capacity to create and invent for our future. Those in the service industry have the ability to bring people together.
I like financial independence – it felt great to not need child support from my older son’s dad because I made enough at the time. I prefer an honest job that holds my interest, uses my brain, and pays as much as I can get for my family.
I’ve learned that practical and grounded living is essential to being on this planet. I am not afraid anymore, but neither am I grabbing a begging bowl and stopping my own education that can improve the lives of my kids.
Life on Earth is set up to immerse us in life experiences. Money is just how we exchange opportunities. If it weren’t money, it would be something similar. Spiritual living is more grounded when a person can be deeply immersed in life and with people.
Certainly, our society can improve in how we motivate people to engage in life (and not just look for escape), but calling money “dirty” and hard work unnecessary laughs in the face of our real lives. Why not, instead, ask why life is set up this way, and explore the question with deeper insight? For this is indeed a setup for us….