We do not inherit the earth from our ancestors, we borrow it from our children
(Native American proverb).

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

The role of Money and our Tree Change

"Money is the root or all evil" is the often misquoted verse from the Bible, which actually says the "love" of money is the root of all evil. It does however play a significant role in our lives at this time of preparing for our tree change. I have oscilated between radical adoption of this phrase as a mantra for my life, and a sceptical disbelief in its central idea; but in retrospect, it has been a very real part of our journey.

Several years ago we were broke, or very nearly. Our business of 8 years was sinking fast; my wife who was the intellectual property behind the business was very ill and things were grim. For the best part of a year we struggled like you wouldn't wish on anyone, and often during this time vowed and declared that we would never again be in the position. I had wanted to build a large business out of our humble photography studio, franchising my wife's good name and artistic abilities to the end of living a jet setting lifestyle, all run out of our Hunter Valley vineyard. Even as we went through the worst of our PFC (personal financial crisis) i thought the answer would lie in earning our way out of it, then we could just step straight back into those dreams once more.

I should digress at this point and mention that 10 years earlier I was radically opposed to the whole capitalist system. I was anti big business, an active environmentalist and considering pursuing such ideals in a political sense. I had studied to be a Geography teacher to help educate the future generations in the ways of harmony with the earth and the power of community, and really only chose to to minor in the field of Economics because I disliked it least from a list of subjects I would need to get a job in NSW schools. Ironically my first teaching position was to teach Business Studies, and the path was set for the next 10 years in my gradual transition to idealise and aim for the very thing I had derided as a student.

Our PFC did not go away quickly. we struggled on, stressed and discouraged. We wanted another child (in fact we had talked early in our relationship about 4 or 6 kids) but couldn't fall pregnant. We couldn't afford IVF and weren't really sure that we wanted to go down that path, when finally we decided to just surrender to our situation and enjoy what we had. My wife left her job managing an event decoration business and went back to Uni; I worked in a school I enjoyed working in again; and you can probably guess what happened next...

...back to one income. Now, however we had to make some serious decisions about what was best for our own family, health, finances and future. At this point we were both journalling many thoughts and finally sat down to compare notes, only to discover a deep yearning to live a better quality of life, rather than a have a better standard of living. We also decided to make sure that in so doing we were not inadvertently compromising that of others in our own country or around the world. Our kitchen blackboard, which often carried inspiring sayings (as well as our weekly menu), suddenly carried some rather poignient messages including:

"Live Consciously" (which now appears on a range of tote's my wife creates)
"Be yourself, everybody else is taken" (from the song by Melinda Schneider)
"There is no pleasure in the finest cloth if it causes hunger and unhappiness" (Gandhi), and

It's funny how once you verbalise something enough, it becomes a part of you. I started to struggle teaching Business Studies when so many of the case studies I had used were only about money, and how much you could make; we started to be more focussed on providing for ourselves again by growing more and more of our own food; we began spending more on products that had been made locally, or by friends, or in ethical and environmentally sustainable ways; my wife started sewing again and worked on producing art or craft items for art sake, selling some to help make ends meet; and things started changing in our lives. Of course it took a casual conversation with our landlord one afternoon as he fixed some drawers in the kitchen for us to realise just how far we'd come. As he listened to our stories and chatted about life, he remarked that it seemed to him that we had already taken money out of the equation in how we lived our lives.

The final step was to voluntarily take a step back in my career, along with a pay cut, in order to really focus on family, learning, creating and working on our now renewed dream of country living. The irony: merely 2 months after giving notice of stepping down from my management position, all the things that I had been searching for in order to make our dream a reality started occurring in rapid succession: not one but three job vacancies in country schools which were in the vicinity of where we wanted to be; travel plans which involved visiting one of the towns I was to interview for en route to my sister-in-law's 40th birthday party celebrations; a great interview and supportive principals in both schools; a cottage on a farm in our price range, with a landlord willing to wait longer than we could have hoped for in a market where properties were scarce. Money was not the enabler, if anything it limited our imagination, stifled our creativity and served to lower our quality of life.

Now, I'm not suggesting that we can live without money altogether. On the contrary. It is a necessary evil. But when we allow ourselves to live free of money's stress, we open doors and ideas and relationships which are worth far more than the money could ever have provided.

Forget the "Show me the money!" or "Greed... is good; greed works" promises of a happiness that lasts. I say take money out of the equation.


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