“Think it more satisfactory to live richly than die rich.”
– Sir Thomas Browne
For some people, making money and managing it is not difficult. Those people will tell me this time and again how simple it is, and, why do you have such trouble with earnings and managing your finances?
I see myself as an artist, as one who inspires others–an evangelist, coach and booster. Some of us are born for service. We have less interest in money. Money is not my primary motivator. Of course, money is necessary, but is not necessarily my chief concern. People like me –artists– are committed to making the world a better place by applying our creative talents.
OK. Not writing this to blow my horn, but to explain where all of my time and energy has gone that were not concerned with earnings, while some of my colleagues found a way to make a decent living:
In my case, I have provided audiences with great happiness through my efforts as cellist, actor, singer, stage director, opera conductor, choir director, and less directly as drama teacher, music teacher, etc.
Today, I inspire, inform, comfort, educate, and heal by teaching yoga, offering talks, writing, and delivering yoga therapy to clients.
None of these are typically high paying occupations. (A few find a way to achieve fame, fortune or both.)
This is because, while these artistic and health living endeavors are aesthetically pleasing, personally rewarding and benefit clients, students, parents and society, they are not typically well compensated. They are undervalued by our society.
As my therapist often reminded me at my lowest times: “David. You play the cello. How cool is that? How many people can say they play the cello?”
At the risk of sounding snooty, my gifts are unique. Have you developed your empathy and compassion as much as I have? Are you comfortable standing in front of a room, an auditorium, theater to deliver a lesson, speech, or performance? Do you have the ability to help people get excited about themselves? For instance, when I led a church children choir, it was with intention. I considered myself a minister of music–and I taught the kids to think of themselves the same way. They were ministering to the congregation, sharing their vocal and musical talents, and managing their natural fear of performing in front of an audience. They were doing something that most people would do anything to avoid. They were touching the hearts of the congregation as evidenced by the tears their singing produced.
Which leads to the question: should I value my skills more highly in the marketplace? For instance, should I charge more? That requires acquiring additional business and marketing skills. I must become more confident that a market exists for clients and customers who are willing to pay more for my services, or that I can attract a higher volume of demand for my services, or find new ways to package what I do to produce passive income streams, such as books, videos and podcasts. I am not afraid of acquiring this knowledge. I am working on these skills and on finding others to help me.
I am not ashamed that I do not know how to do all of these things yet on my own. Why? Because I do this work for the love of it–it is my right livelihood–and doing it for the money is not my principal motivation.
Thus, when someone dismisses what I do because I do not earn gobs of cash, I merely smile inwardly. I know that I have special skills that few others have and that benefit me, my family, my friends, my community and the world in less tangible ways than a paycheck.
I know I am not alone in this category. A creative friend of mine is divorcing her husband after a long marriage. After they entered mediation, he (today) withdrew all of their money from their joint accounts. He told her the money was not hers, because, although she set aside 30-40% of her income from her creative endeavors, he said it was barely enough to pay the taxes on the income. Hence, all the money was his. Legality aside, as marital assets are community property to split evenly, she contributed many years of love and commitment to the relationship and the household. He is a different person because of her. She was the yin to his yang.
Now he regards her contribution to the marriage as a commodity he can put a price tag on. Because she has withdrawn her love and affection, he withdraws all of the money. It breaks my heart to see her fall into the trap at times of believing his rhetoric and second guessing herself. She asks herself if she should have been charging more for her services, booking more business, beefing up her marketing, cultivating additional income streams, stashing it all away(!)–all things she must do now to survive on her own.
Of course, this misses the point. She is beloved by thousands of people she has served with her abundant energy and passion, and perhaps millions through the chapters of books she has authored, magazine articles, her television news appearances. She should be supported and cared for. I know she will find some way to survive this financially and emotionally. Based on my own experience, I would bet that she will find someone who appreciates her for precisely who she is and would willingly support her financially, if this is what she wants and needs.
When I turned forty I was going through a divorce. It had started out amicable with mediation, but when I lost my six figure tech industry job and couldn’t afford to pay the original child support, it turned ugly. I was unemployed, sick and miserable. For a short time I was able to carry some computer consulting clients but I did not know how to be self-employed, or how to get new clients. I believed that no one could love a failure like me, that I would lose my kids to their mother moving out of state, that I would never land on my feet again.
For my fortieth birthday, I emailed a bunch of friends and acquaintances to invite to my birthday party. Only my brother came. When I cried and felt sorry for myself, he pointed out that I did have someone who cared about me–him. I am so grateful to him for that moment. He had stood by me and supported me financially for a year to help me keep my apartment, my kids, and my possessions while I sought employment and retraining. He enabled me to pay legal bills to defend myself against a frivolous legal challenge. I am forever grateful and I look forward to the day I can repay his kindness.
Nine years later, I am married four years to a woman who sees me and loves me for who I am, warts and all. I have two more wonderful children. I have a promising career in my right livelihood. My financial situation is much improved. Even on my worst days, and with some medical conditions that were the result of my previously unhealthy lifestyle, I am happier and healthier than ever before in my life. I keep coming back to my yoga practice–the yoga off the mat–no matter how bad it looks, in this moment, not in the regrets of the past, and not in the fear of the future, I am all right.
If I am not compensated highly for my work, where is my reward? It is intrinsic. It is of the spirit. Think the Cratchett family and Tiny Tim: God bless us everyone!
Facebook is great. I love following the antics of friends and acquaintances on Facebook. It is delightful when they remember me as a good friend or nice kid in elementary school and the sandbox. Some remember my performance in the sixth grade play. Some people from junior high and high school have vivid memories of conversations I can’t recall. I have to look at my yearbooks to jar my memories. College acquaintances, classmates, roommates. I don’t even remember last names. Parents of kids I taught drama or music to over twenty years ago–these parents are still raving fans. Some of the now grownup kids remember having a good time and many are still involved in the arts, several professionally successful.
The list goes on. People who remember that I gave them confidence for an endeavor when they needed a lift, or kept a confidence when they were upset and needed safety. Parents of kids I have taught in Sunday school or prepared for an audition or performance. Professionals to whom I taught computer software applications. Business clients who appreciated the high level of service I provided combined with a pleasurable personal experience. People I worked with on project teams when I was a computer consultant. Yoga clients and students. Parents of kids with special needs are my most recent raving fans.
I don’t need these reminders to know that I am a good person or that I am good at what I do. And while I appreciate a pat on the back I also take great pleasure in the expression on someone’s face when they succeed because of something they learned with me.
Hooray for the Stars! And What I Am NOT Saying…
Being responsible financially and offering service and being creative are certainly not mutually exclusive. I know plenty of people good at both. I admire them greatly. I believe they got that way with hard work and great personal values. I don’t think this is something that necessarily comes naturally, but some people learn these lessons earlier in life due to their personal circumstances.
These people are stars. They are “triple threats” as they say of performers who are multi-talented at singing, acting and dancing. These people seem to have it all together and earn a lot of money while they give back a lot, not just money, but of themselves. They serve on boards of charities and non-profits, they have family foundations to support great needs, they teach Sunday school, they put on plays or engage in other creative activities that give pleasure to many. They may even have careers or businesses that permit them to earn a lot while doing something with great reach for great good–not just selling widgets. I strive to emulate them.
I would like to be a social entrepreneur. Think how much more reach I would have with more cash flow and money to give to charity to continue my good works.
Postscript: Today I saw in the NY Times that politician Andrew Stein received a slap on the wrist from the courts for tax evasion–he will not serve any jail time–which was a lesser plea he accepted for not reporting the millions he made through kickbacks when he used his office to assist a Ponzi scheme! He got a light sentence because of his years of good service to the community! As the Wizard of Oz would say, he was a “good deed doer”!
I don’t know what to make of news like this. I will have to leave this for another post.
About Sir Thomas Browne
The erudite English doctor Sir Thomas Browne, who wrote a number of books on science and religion, was known for his baroque prose style and his controversial opinions. He was born in 1605 in London and settled in Norwich to practice medicine. He wrote his most famous book, Religio Medici (The Religion of a Physician), an intellectual autobiography, in 1635. A friend published it in 1642 without his permission, embarrassing him, but the book’s popularity encouraged him to write more. He died in 1682.