My perspective is shifting, and returning to an almost-forgotten feeling. This is a good, precious, and to some people, unbelievable moment. I’m welcoming it, but I’m also making sure I remember both sides, the before and the after. The difference is distinctive enough that I’m not surprised that entire populations can’t understand the “thems” that are not their “us.”
My life is easing, a bit. Business is busy. Real estate is encouraging, and even profitable thanks to some generous fellow brokers who shared their listings and contacts. Unsolicited requests to help local business and organizations have been good for my consulting and writing businesses. Things are stacking up enough that, rather than grabbing every opportunity, as I have for the last several years, I’m in the situation where I am practicing saying no, at least sometimes.
The world is full of great advice. Frequently, each group seems to be telling another group how they should run their lives. “Tolerance and diversity? Sure, as long as you do things my way.” My circle of friends and family is full of great advice. That’s not a facetious comment. I’m truly impressed with the experience, wisdom, and insights among the people I know. But, every bit of advice is based on a series of assumptions. The explicit ones are easy to discuss. The implicit ones hide behind the defenses of paradigms, denials, accidental ignorance, and inapplicable perspective.
Recently, I’ve been reading Mark Twain’s Following the Equator. For a man thought of as a humorist, he’s excellent at exposing bias and culture clashes. Oh, to have his skills. He points at inequalities, intransigencies, and ignorance while hinting at why and how one culture’s solution is nonsense in another situation.
When I was rich, or at least a temporary millionaire, I cared about the poor, the homeless, the hungry, those subjected to injustice. I did what I thought was appropriate, volunteered, and donated to various people and organizations. I continue to be amazed that treating people as if they are people is considered radical. Too many people are stripped of the title “person” and given some other label based on generalizations. But, generalizations are what define government programs and non-profit efforts.
As my money evaporated (My Triple Whammy), the issues of those in need went from academic to personal. The great advice and conventional wisdom that I was aware of became too abstract, inapplicable, and in some ways insensitive. You should eat right – but that can be expensive. You should look for different work – but stopping one job to find another means possibly losing a house and health. Beside, working hard is not a guarantee of financial success. You should exercise – but that takes time. You should meditate – but that takes time. You should, you should, you should… I began reciting an unspoken reply: “As Long As You Can Pay Your Bills,” ALAYCPYB. If you can’t pay your bills, your life changes. Advice sounds silly when the fundamentals of life are threatened and there’s no extra time or money. Survival rules.
The persistent, adventurous, and the curious can browse through the last several years of posts (not a small task) and read the chronicle of anxiety attacks, health issues, and enforced frugality that are common for people who can’t pay their bills. To those who say, “But, they should…”, I encourage them to look at the data. Suicide rates are up. The advice may be free, but evidently, something isn’t working. Consider the possibility that things have changed in America.
And yet, my perspective is shifting.
Money shouldn’t matter, and yet it does. My financial situation and business prospects have improved to the point that I can pay all of my bills as they come in. I’m close to paying off my credit card debt. The only bills I haven’t paid off were accidents of filing. I finally started spending money on things that were delayed for too long: bundle of socks, new underwear, new t-shirts. I even bought some of those plastic trays that sit under plant pots, rather than repurposing aluminum pie plates. Terracotta comes later. A splurge may happen. I know I have a big bill approached with a shift in propane, but I may buy myself an entire cord of wood. (And will probably split it with my neighbors, but it feels like a luxury, anyway.)
People tell me I look more relaxed. I know I feel more relaxed. I feel relaxed enough to now notice how tight my muscles have been in my head, neck, jaw, and chest. It is easier to drive because there’s probably enough to pay for most maintenance issues. Gas prices still bite, and must be paid to support my real estate work, but I don’t wince as much at the pump.
My perspective has changed. Instead of worrying about optimizing every minute of the day, spending as little as possible, and wondering what if anything might come next; now I find myself enjoying today and thinking about tomorrow more. Thinking, instead of worrying. Real optimism sprouting from my defense against pessimism and depression: My Litany of Optimism. I feel better.
I feel better, but I’m also as busy as ever. Ideally, I can take one day off each week, but real estate doesn’t work that way. Work continues to take from 8AM until 8PM with time for food, but there’s less freneticism involved.
As finances improve, even in the busy days, it is easier to include more of the shoulds.
Conventional wisdom claims that small businesses are more likely to fail if they are under-capitalized. That’s true. It takes money to make money. The poor don’t have enough money. The poor are under-capitalized, and yet many expect them to escape poverty without access to capital – and then they are judged as lacking intelligence, ambition, or skill. Now, I see them as trapped.
I haven’t exactly escaped, but I am making progress. I am making progress because someone capitalized me. Which sounds like ME, but in real terms, they provided the capital to help me progress. Call it capitalization and there may be straight lines in jokes, but call it charity and it becomes derogatory in some groups.
I don’t want to lose that perspective. Today, I can see both views, and can remember the more removed perspective that’s delivered with wealth. It is difficult to see the one extreme from the other extreme. Rather than generalize within a group, I’m more likely to generalize across the general population. People want a better life for themselves, their family, and frequently for their community. Everyone is fighting at least one major battle, regardless of wealth. Regardless of net worth, it is easy to imagine losing everything. I lost 98% and have met people who’ve lost more than 100%. Disasters and accidents happen. So does good luck.
My plan continues to be to write a sequel to Dream. Invest. Live., though the title will be different. I’ve been riding a roller coaster through America’s classes, traveling from working class to middle class to millionaire to muddling by to…? Too often, advice comes from one perspective, and the advisor is surprised that it isn’t followed by all, or that a failure of it is the advisee’s fault. As writers know, the book may never be written. No one may care about what I’ve learned and have to share. But, I know that I’m glad to see and feel the shift, appreciate the various points of view, and continue to wonder how this will all turn out for me, the country, our society, and our species. Which advice will survive and help? It depends on your perspective.