Tuesday, May 02, 2006

If Money Didn't Matter

I was listening to financial guru Dave Ramsey on the radio, and heard him ask one of the most subversive questions one can ask in a capitalist, debt-driven society: “What would you do if money were not an issue?”

This is different than asking, “What would you do if you were rich?” Dealing with being rich continues your focus on finances. Ramsey’s question shifts that focus from wealth to happiness. Happiness is not a capitalist value. Happy people are harder to manipulate, harder to sell to. Ramsey was asking his listeners to think about what they want rather than what they are worth.

Try it. Imagine you did not have to think about money at all. Imagine that your basic needs for food, clothing, shelter, transportation, insurance, retirement, etc. were taken care of. What would you do with your life?

I have thought about this for several days, and I discovered I would be doing pretty much what I am doing now. I teach and I write. Sure, if I had no monetary worries I would live in a nicer home, drive a hybrid car, and never worry about the financial woes of illness or retirement, but I would not change what I do. I would simply do what I already do without beating myself up over that fact that I am not making enough money doing it.

Alan Watts, talking about the same issue some three decades earlier, urged his audience to live as if money was not an issue. His reasoning was this: you will never have enough money to do what you want, so you will always be enslaved to doing what you don’t want, in the vain hope that someday you will be able to do what you do want. This slavery makes you miserable. Since you are going to be miserable, anyway (either because you don’t have enough money or because you are forced to work at a job you hate), why not do what you want and just give up the illusion of financial success? Be miserable over your finances rather than over the fact that you are never going to do what you want. At least you can feel good about what you do even as you feel miserable about how poor you are doing it.

I will never make any real money teaching and writing. Adjunct professors like myself are a dime a dozen, and we are paid that way. My book sales, while solid, still don’t put food on the table. And as far as retirement goes, I can neither afford it nor do I desire it. After all, since I am already doing what I want, why would I want to retire?

I am happy doing what I want even if society isn’t willing to pay me what I am worth. There was a time when I made what I was worth but I didn’t like what I had to do to earn it. So, for now at least, I am willing to give up what I am worth in favor of doing what I want.

How about you? What would you do if money were not an issue?

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