Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Ebb and Flow of Money

Back in my early twenties, when I landed on the IT infrastructure project that would launch my career, I was pretty broke. To make ends meet, I had been duct-taping together temp work with after hours retail work. I could pay the bills, but I was definitely not getting ahead.

Then I landed on an SAP implementation. Massachusetts was undergoing deregulation in the electric supply industry, and the company I worked for was buying up the electricity generating assets. A consulting partner was brought in to provide the expertise to implement a new operations and financial system.

It was late 1998 and early 1999 - still the days of wine and roses in the IT consulting world. And I found myself living in a curious state of dichotomy - on my smallish salary, I would go home to my lightly furnished apartment some nights for a dinner of mac n' cheese, but other nights I would go out with the consultants, and find myself eating fine food and drinking excellent wine at some of Boston's top restaurants. I started travelling for work, and the gap between my actual (income) means and my (expensed) lifestyle got even greater. I would be taking colleagues out to high-end steakhouses on my corporate card and staying weekly at the Hilton, while privately wondering how I was going to afford groceries until payday on Friday once I returned home.

It was a pretty odd way of living, to say the least.

Over the years my career took off, my means improved significantly, and the gap between my means and my lifestyle got smaller. If anything, most of the time my lifestyle allowed for a fairly abundant amount left over.

But in May, my husband lost his job. And so all of a sudden, I find myself back down that odd little rabbit hole in which I started my career: a $200 dinner with clients one night, packing leftovers for lunch the next day. Curiouser and Curiouser, as Alice would say.

It's not that we are scrounging, in fact quite the opposite - our means in comparison to our lifestyle has allowed for us to build up a cushion that protects us from most of the worst that the current economy is dishing out. And in point of fact, I almost always prefer leftovers for lunch, coffee from home and cooking in. We're in no danger of going hungry or losing our home, and we're still able to give of our time and money to causes we believe in. But it is a fairly odd way to live.

In thinking about it, I realized that I agreed with Suze Ormon that money flows through our lives like water. Sometimes a rush, sometimes as trickle. If you make a fist, you lose it all, but if you cup your hands you can fill them up with enough to quench your thirst.

Right now, money is flowing into our lives, but not at the rate that it once was. That's okay, we're figuring out how to adapt. It's interesting, revisiting a place so similar to where I started, where life is overabundant one moment, and not so much the next. I've learned - from way back when - that I can savor the leftovers as much as the good wine. And so the ebb and flow doesn't matter so much to me any more. Sure, I'd still like a swimming pool full of gold coins like Scrooge McDuck, but it's not necessary for me to be happy.

And that is abundance indeed.

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