One day I was having what could have been perceived as a tough conversation with my niece. We were on the way to the pawn shop and we were talking about why we needed to be there. I explained that my sister had offered to pay the pawn fees in exchange for being able to use my digital camera – a camera that I need to take beautiful photographs and earn a living but had had to pawn for grocery money. I should have been embarrassed or distraught or facing a similarly negative emotion. Instead, I found myself talking about the great service that pawn shops provide when someone is in a bind and need money quickly. This in turn led to a conversation about money and the role of credit in our lives.
In remembering the conversation and going over it in my mind, I realized that I’ve come very far in my personal development. I went from being poor growing up (although I didn’t realize it at the time), to being a broke student in college, to being well off with a stable career, to being broke again. I have found that I really did believe at some point that money buys happiness. Now I know it’s not true. I have consciously decided to leave the corporate world behind and become self-employed. A risky move in these tough times, but a decision that leaves my soul smiling from ear to ear. I am in a good place emotionally and spiritually and I have good relationships with my loved ones. I have no doubt in my mind that these things are what make me happy. Money comes and goes, but my inner health and well-being and my relationship with loved ones are what bring me peace and joy.
I’ve learned a lot by being broke. I’ve learned to distinguish between true friends and conditional friends. I have learned that I don’t need to buy my family expensive gifts or invite them to lavish dinners in order for them to love me. I have found that when money fails, I can still help others in need by giving them something that everyone craves: love, attention and validation. I have learned that you should never judge a homeless or destitute person because you don’t know the circumstances that brought that person there. I have realized that a dinner cooked with love and served with a healthy portion of affection is more valuable than dinner at the fanciest restaurant. I’ve learned that buying generic can save valuable dollars that you can later use to treat your loved one to a movie or an ice cream. I have found that sometimes a listening ear and a compassionate heart are more valuable than all the money in my bank account.
Being broke also led me to re-discover myself. I found things about me that I had long forgotten or skills I didn’t even know I had. For example, I found that I love photography and graphic design and people actually enjoy my work. I discovered the gift of gab that had long been dormant. In spending more time with my nieces and nephews, I found that I have a natural ability to teach. During periods of unemployment or underemployment, I found that I had plenty of time to figure out what I wanted to do with my life and what made me tick. Working 60-hour workweeks and commuting at least two hours a day left me exhausted and grouchy. I had no desire to ponder the meaning of life and my role in it. The extra time allowed me to figure out who I was, what I wanted to do, and what legacy I wanted to leave behind.
In this society, money is still needed to survive. While I’m still willing and able to earn it I will continue to do so. However, money to me has become a tool that enables me to take care of the everyday things so that I can focus on the bigger picture. Money is not my destination, it is a tool that helps me on my journey. Money doesn’t define me anymore. My actions and beliefs do. I can hold my head up high and let the world know that I may be broke, but I am not broken. It is a lesson that has cost me most of my worldly possessions, but a lesson that I will gladly repeat if it means that I can continue to be free inside.
Image courtesy of milenita.