Detachment from Money

*Crossing Fingers* – I was supposed to start my new job tomorrow, Monday, but due to outstanding background checks I will start Wednesday at the earliest or the following Monday at the latest. This brings my unpaid vacation to almost 8 weeks.

Like most, I initially freaked out when I was into the first few weeks. After starting my first full time job out of college, the most I have gone without pay was one week (that was during the job transition). I felt like my world would come to halt if there was more money going out than coming in, and no definite timeframe in the future in which more would come in.

Now that 7 weeks have passed, it doesn’t feel the same anymore. I no longer worry about money not coming in, I think more about whether I have enough to accomplish what I want to do. I feel like money is no longer as controlling as it once was. While money is limited and precious for sustaining life, I don’t have that utter sensation of money being the almighty powerful; in other words I no longer feel like I am slave to it.

I will use money when I want to. I will make money when I want to. I will find ways to not use money when possible. In the end I do need money, as anyone does, but it will not dictate the majority of my actions because I have the ability to go get it when I need it. Having that confidence to know that money can be obtained when needed frees up our mind to focus on the fundamentals of ourself.

 

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Why I Broke the Conventional Rules

The last year has felt like a train wreck, but yet it also felt like it needed to happen.

In August of 2012 I left my cushy job at a biotech company. Looking back it’s obvious I made a good choice, but at the time it didn’t quite stand out so much. Money wasn’t the problem – I felt I was compensated fairly for the work I did, and the bonuses I received each year never disappointed. Benefits were terrific – the combination of vacation time and insurance were practically second to none. I worked for a department that was significant to the business – we actually did things that made the company money. I could always easily and proudly explain what I did if anyone ever asked. My boss was great. He trusted my gut instinct and let me do my thing. He recently gave me a reference stating that I was like his right hand man. But in the end, I just felt I couldn’t stay any longer. In my previous posts I listed other factors, like upper management, lack of growth, etc. You’ve probably heard these same reasons from others that left their job. These reasons definitely played a major role, but when I look back tonight, it was never the core reason of why I left.

There was a point in time, years into the job, that I simply no longer enjoyed what I did at that company. The problem was I could never admit it to myself. I found excuses to keep myself there. I shouldn’t leave because my parents had it so much worse, so I need to be appreciative of what I have. Anywhere else I go won’t be as good as what I have here. The tough times will pass, just stick it through. There are so many unemployed people out there that would KILL to get into this biotech company, so don’t throw away such a good thing. The list goes on and on. Whenever I wanted to quit, I thought of another reason to replace the old ones that had clearly run its course. With each new excuse I made up, all I did was continue to bury something inside me that wanted to rear it’s head – my own inner voice. I let the expectations and judgment of others toss more dirt to bury the inner voice that always found a way to slightly pierce it’s hands above the ground, no matter how much more dirt was thrown on it.

It got to a point where I felt I started losing control, which was somewhere around May of 2012. I then finally decided to participate in a 10 day Buddhist meditation retreat in Twenty Nine Palms, which took place in July. When I told some friends and colleagues about it, their instant reaction was that something was wrong with me. A small handful thought it was the coolest thing in the world. But unfortunately I let the negative judgments get to me. I became defensive when explaining why I chose to burn vacation time on a silent retreat, instead of going on my usual trips to Asia to be more “cultured.” I would spin the retreat in the same way, saying things like how it was cool, hip, and different. But deep down inside I was hurting and needed a way to let out pain without the judgmental noises. I needed to be in a safe place to let loose.

On the third day into the retreat, my mind had finally calmed down. All of a sudden nothing seemed like a pressing issue, which allowed me to analyze my problems with a bit more clarity. I only realize this now when looking back – my inner voice finally pulled itself out of the ground, the same ground that I had managed to bury it so deep inside before. For the remaining 7 days, my inner voice paced itself around and found it’s way to communicate with me. As crazy as that sounds, this is actually what happened. It didn’t give me all the answers, but it was clear I had to stop what I was doing now so that I could open my eyes to see what was next. It spent the remaining days convincing me that the obstacles were not as big as my ego had made them out to be.

When I returned home, I spent the first week getting my personal chores in order. Then the search began, and within 3 weeks I had a written offer ready to sign and commit. 10 months later, as I had alluded above, this new job came to a screaming stop. I wanted to cry and bang my head on the wall. I thought I had it all figured out. But I recalled again that my inner voice only told me when something was wrong, it never spelled out a straight path to what was right – I still had to figure that out on my own.

This next decision was the unconventional part. I quit without finding another job. I needed to give myself time to sort things out. Worrying about finding another job before quitting was the kind of societal noise that I had to break apart from. I needed a period of time with no judgments or expectations of returning to a job. In the seven years that I worked, I managed to save up quite a bit of money and also invested in enough assets to allow me to afford a short career break. So I simply said, fuck it, lets do it. I owe this to myself.

This time around something was very different. I had no problems explaining what I wanted to do with my new found freedom. I wasn’t planning to travel. I had planned on using the time to stay home, wake up when I felt like it, exercise more consistently, and handle personal chores that had piled up over the months. I guess you could call it a staycation. When asked about whether I found another job (some questions had the assumption already in it), I could proudly say I purposely didn’t look for one. Simply put, I no longer cared what they thought. I no longer cared if they thought I was crazy. What I found out later was these same folks wished they had the courage to do what I did.

I thought maybe I would have a moment of epiphany, where it would just hit me and I’d know exactly what to do next. Unfortunately, none of that happened. All I had was time to look back and reflect, and that’s what has happened in the past seven weeks. I’ve been asked tons of questions about what I did, how I feel, and what I’m thinking now. Honestly, I will give a different answer depending on how I’m feeling on a particular day. Many days I felt liberated, but for an equal amount of days I also felt a lot of fear. There’s always that little side of me in the back of my head that thinks I made a mistake, simply because I haven’t found the next thing yet that I could feel passionate about. But its OK. I am finally honest with myself and allowing my inner voice to be a better guide.

One of the first things my inner voice told me to do was observe the kind of work where I was naturally productive and genuinely enjoyed doing. It doesn’t means that it will be the right answer, I’m simply being told it’s something worth considering as I’m figuring this out. I also had to make adjustments to my personal life. There are some friends and colleagues that I had to cut out because their judgment wasn’t helping me. There are several friends that I haven’t seen in a while because I have to give myself time, and I plan to continue not seeing them until I feel ready. Actually, this is one of the cool things about listening to my inner voice – I can now better feel when things are right or wrong to me, without having to look to others for answers. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still scary. Sometimes I’m told things I don’t want to hear, but as nasty as medicine can be sometimes, the patient needs to take it.

On Monday I start a six month contract at a major financial institution. I’m at a point in my career where I have enough experience to offer this kind of consulting service, so I’m hitting it full force to see where it takes me.

The train is up and running again, and I’m ready to hop back on.

Finally Back to the Grind

I am happy to report that I will be returning to work soon after taking a short hiatus to recharge and not worry about making money. Now granted, we all need money and I don’t dispute this for one second. We need to eat and most of us prefer to eat well whenever possible. But while we need money, it doesn’t mean we need to making money all the time. If you’ve been reading my past entries, you already know that in May I decided to take the plunge, and in early July it officially started. Making money is like any other habit we have that is initially tough to break. My first two weeks were a bit odd, and I did keep worrying that I wouldn’t have enough money to last, and then I’d possibly take longer than expected to find another job. But nonetheless, I persisted and after some time, those thoughts slowly disappeared. As those emotions settled down, I eventually felt that it was OK to give myself time to relax, and not feel the slave bondage of trying to bring in income all the time. Once that mental break happened, my mind found a way to focus on more deeper issues that had to be addressed. Likewise, my mind also found it’s way to think about things I enjoyed doing, but without the burden of having to relate it to generating income (or the lack of). I did things simply because I enjoyed it.

I recall that before quitting my job, my mind habitually associated “right” answers with money. If it saved money, then it was the right choice. However, there are occasional exceptions like medical care. I’m more than willing to pay top dollar for the best surgeon in the county.  It’s actually the smaller, and somewhat trivial things where we tend to make choices purely based on money savings. Take for example my choice to move out of my condo (where I had rented out the other rooms) and rent a room from someone else. This topic came up a lot amongst my friends and acquaintances, and many people will generally like to ask whats going on with my life. So naturally the easiest answer is “I just moved to a new place.”

Before I continue, let me take a brief moment to explain a bit about the economics of renting a room versus an entire house versus a single bedroom apartment.  There is a slight fundamental difference and it works this way – the market rate of a room isn’t necessary proportional to what it costs to rent that entire house where the room resides. When tenants look for rooms to rent, they usually compare it to what it costs to rent their own place, like a studio or a one bedroom apartment. For example, assume a 3 bed / 3 bath house can rent for $1800. This means the argument could be made that each room should be rented out for $600 ($1800 / 3). It doesn’t work this way. It’s also necessary to see what a one bedroom could go for – in my area $1200 is typically the low end, but the more desirable apartments were between $1300 and $1400. Also, there weren’t many studios in the area. If a tenant is faced with the prospect of paying $1300 for a 1 bedroom apartment AND all of the necessary utilities, almost anything could be perceived as better. From my own experience, each of those rooms could actually easily rent for $800 if the upkeep is good and the landlord is a decent enough salesman. $800 looks VERY attractive because in the tenants’ minds, they are comparing it to the cost of a place to live on their own. They’re saving at least $500/month and reduced utilities, and the thought of saving this absolute amount of money is more than enough to convince them $800 is downright “steal.” They aren’t actually thinking “hmm…if this place could rent for $1800 in total, that means I should only pay $600.” It may seem surprising, but it really doesn’t work this way. In addition, if they chose to rent a big house and find roommates, there’s the hassle of finding a suitable roommate, and the risk that they could be liable for more rent if they cannot find a renter to take one of the rooms. Many tenants can’t swallow that kind of risk. If they rent only a room in a big house, their rent is not tied in anyway to the vacancy of another room. In short, a landlord with decent sales skills that chooses to live in one room and rent out the others usually can save a lot in living expenses, just like I had experienced for over 5 years.

Okay, so with that out of the way, the point I am getting at is people would then follow up by asking me if I was saving money. The automatic assumption was that I wanted to save money. In fact, I was not saving money. Their facial reaction explained a lot – they thought I was making a mistake. Their minds are glued to the habit of labeling decision as correct or right only if there was a positive impact to money. Any further follow questions continued to revolve around money. If they were potentially open to finding out why I really chose to move out, questions were prefixed with “why would you….(do such and such)?” The prefix words and tone in the question are subtly STILL suggesting that I am making a bad decision or going against some kind of defined common sense.

We often hear, “there’s more to life than money,” but more often that not it stays as a saying and not much more. We still continue to revolve our decisions around how much money we stand to gain or lose. When I decided to move out, it was for a life style change. While I saved lots of money as a live in landlord, there were also many downsides, and these downsides are specific to a person’s individual personality. In my case, I had these issues that regularly clouded my mind (and that translates into wasting precious time) while living with numerous tenants throughout the years:

  1. I am particular about where things are placed, so it bothered me when things are not put back as it was found.
  2. I don’t like wasting electricity by leaving lights on in rooms that are not used, but my tenants couldn’t break their habit of leaving all the lights on.
  3. Tenants left their TVs or mini heaters on in their room while not at home, and their doors were locked.
  4. I liked keeping the common areas clean, but the coffee and dining tables were constantly cluttered with mail, magazines, and any other random items that belonged to the tenants.
  5. While not life threatening, sometimes I didn’t really like the guests that my tenants brought over because I felt they were unfriendly.
  6. Some tenants didn’t shower enough.
  7. The kitchen was regular cluttered or greasy.
  8. I can easily adjust to the weather by dressing light or heavy, but the tenants didn’t want to, so that meant the AC or heater was regularly left on.

You get the idea – tenants simply don’t maintain the household the same way as I did because to them, they were just renting. And they didn’t care as much about utilities because they only paid 1/3 of it – there was no way to accurately measure how much each person actually consumed. Even if I reminded them to stop the bad habits, it would continue regardless. If I became too difficult, then it would be hard to keep any tenants because of my attitude. Something had to give – I had to let loose a little, but in the end, it all still bothered me because that’s simply who I am.

So it made sense for me to move to simplify my life. It wasn’t about saving money. The only money concern I felt was worthwhile to think about was whether or not the hit had any practical impact on me. So suppose I stood to lose a net total of $300 per month, from the bigger overall picture did this difference really matter? Another way to ask this is, can I afford this decision? Or as I once heard, “does the difference make a difference?” The answer, of course, was no. The subjective pros drastically outweighed the financial cons.

This was a rather long example, but I wanted to illustrate that sometimes it is necessary to break the habit of labeling decisions as right or wrong based on the immediate financial impact. In fact, by moving out, I’ve freed up my mind to think about more important areas in my life, such as my career. Ultimately, this led to me making more money. But the results weren’t quickly realized. It took a few additional steps after the decision before it was realized. So I encourage people not to simply write down the pros and cons of a choice. Every decision ultimately has two choices. You either stay the same, or make a change. Take the time to write down the positives of both choices, and then think about which decision has the better positive.