Money and Meaning

05 January 2009 · 8 comments

Just under three years ago, I started a new blog. I’d been writing here at foldedspace for five years, and had great fun interacting with my friends and family (and the small community that had grown up around our interactions). We argued about politics, about religion, about comics, about Truth.

I started my money blog on little more than a whim. I thought I could help other people while also helping myself. Surprisingly, it worked. That site attracted a following, and at the same time it became my livelihood. Last year I made more money than I’ve ever made in my life.

But a funny thing has happened, one which a few of you have had a chance to glimpse. Though I love my work, and though I’m happy to be earning my living from writing, at some point I became a workaholic. J.D. the lazy became J.D. the driven. Was it because my work was producing so much income? Was it because of the praise I received? I don’t know.

As I became more and more engrossed in my work, I began to leave other things behind. I stopped reading. I stopped seeing my friends. I stopped learning Latin and going for walks in the country. I left a part of me behind.

Over the last few months, I’ve been doing a lot of soul-searching. I’ve been asking myself what it is I really want. I’ve dug myself out of debt and even set aside a nice nest egg (though taxes are going to reduce that from “nice” to “a little”). I’ve changed my financial habits. I’m not tempted to buy every book or magazine or videogame I see. In fact, they rarely tempt me at all. So, I no longer want money.

I think what I want is meaning. But how do I find that? To some extent, my meaning will continue to be derived from Get Rich Slowly. As I’ve said before, I truly feel as if I’ve found my vocation. I’m helping other people develop a better relationship with money. But that cannot be my only source of meaning.

Tammy, who still visits foldedspace now and then, will tell me that I’ll find meaning through God. That’s one way. But I think it’s possible to find meaning and purpose through other avenues as well. I look around at my friends, and most of them have children, and these children help to provide meaning. That’s another way, but again, it’s not for me.

I’m not sure there’s an easy answer to this question. (In fact, I know there’s not; people have wrestled with it for centuries.) What I do know is that I’m ready to broaden my horizons…

1 Kris January 5, 2009 at 18:19

I love you!

2 Amy Jo January 5, 2009 at 18:24

Good luck on your journey. It is healthy to stop and look at what is important to us, how we want to live our lives. And, having meaning, in whatever form it takes for you personally, is important, and I think it is equally as important to have multiple sources of meaning in ones life. People whose meaning is solely derived in the work, their children, their spouses, etc. don’t seem to be as resilient or ultimately as happy as others who find meaning in many things/acts.

3 Dave in Seattle January 5, 2009 at 18:27

Have you considered volunteer work?

4 Lisa January 5, 2009 at 20:29

I think part of the change in your work/life balance came when you began doing an absorbing job. One of the benefits of working at a job that you’re not truly engaged with is that you can come home and do lots of other things. I had a lot of free time and energy at certain points in my career for that very reason. But if you’re doing a job that’s interesting and challenging, it begins to erode the time and emotional energy that you have for other things, unless you carefully control it.

Creating a fulfilling job structure that leaves energy for the other things as well is not a simple task, and something that I, for one, will probably struggle with for most of my life…

5 Denise January 5, 2009 at 20:58

Well, you do have four cats…that’s got to be at least as hard as one child.

6 Josh January 6, 2009 at 12:56

J.D. –

Sheila is currently in Cambodia providing dental care to orphaned Cambodia children. I suspect that she will return with her values and worldview significantly altered by the experience.

Lisa –

I’ve often pondered this dilemma. I’ve never had a job so personally rewarding as to become all-consuming, but your post reminded me why this might, in fact, be a *good* thing. :) I get a degree of fulfillment from my job, my daughter, my wife, my friends and extended family, creative writing, and playing in a rock band. And I’d do a lot more, if I could find the time! ;)

7 Dave January 6, 2009 at 16:32

JD, I’ve found my meaning through walking the spiritual path, *not* the religious path — there is a world of difference between the two, and if you don’t know what that is, finding out could be a kind of access point for you. I won’t be able to really describe it in this comment, but briefly, religion is all about beliefs, whereas spirituality is all about your state of consciousness and how you interact w/ the world moment to moment.

But maybe you just need to review your life to see if you can simplify to make some space for the old JD? I mean, just the lawn maintenance alone that you do is INSANE. Maybe move back to a smaller house — or even a condo or a townhouse and pay it off. Maybe rethink all the cooking you do. Just find some healthy foods you like, and eat them raw. Maybe stop being so obsessed w/ personal finance — yes, I realize it’s your job! But you understand enough already. Maybe just workout at home, and forget the gym. Just go for walks instead. Just burn yourself to the ground, man, and start over. Maybe the new JD isn’t really interested in collecting comics anymore. Fine then — just be yourself, your *new* self. Just trust your intuition and do what you want. :)

8 Paul J. January 6, 2009 at 22:05

Gotta love that word “just”. Just do X. Just to Y. “just” jump over that house. There’s a lot of stuff in that word and we throw it around like it’s nothing. If all of us could “just” (fill in the blank) we’d all be perfect, right?

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