Wednesday, July 02, 2014

BROKE

NOTE: I am not sure when I first wrote the following; I think it was in early April. I put it away because it seemed too raw. Then, on April 23, I added the commentary below the asterisks. But still didn't publish it, maybe because things were still too dark.

Things are looking up now. The tax refund came in May, last week I got a part-time gig, and yesterday I had my first LegalShield group enrollment (my mentor, Phil Berger, did the actual presentation; we're splitting the commissions). Sharing this as "something I'm looking back on" is easier than sharing it as "something I'm going through right now".

For those of you who have never been broke (I refuse to say "poor"), this is part of what it is like (for me).
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Stages of broke-ness:

1. I start to wince, to flinch, at the price of groceries. The day comes when I don't buy ground turkey, although it's on the shopping list, because it's just too expensive.

2. In the magazine section, my eye drifts from Forbes and Fortune, to Small Business Opportunities.

3. I stop answering our landline phone. Actually, I stopped doing that years ago, during an earlier spell of broke-ness, and never resumed. But what is signficant here, is that, more and more of the calls on that phone are now for me, again.

4. I stop opening mail. It's all bad news, and I feel unable to do anything about any of it.

And that feeling of powerlessness is the stupidity generator. Because it makes it seem pointless to even keep track of the damage. For the same reason...

5. I stop checking my accounts online. I don't want to see how badly they're overdrawn.

6. I stop answering my cell phone.

7. I stop retrieving messages on my cell phone.

8. I silence my cell phone. I don't want to hear it ring.

It's all avoidance - not as deliberate irresponsibility, but as anesthesia, to dull the pain of powerlessness.

9. I tell myself, "I am not powerless."

I have the power of thought. I have the ability to learn. I have the ability to imagine possibilities. I have the ability to speak.

Do I have the ability to get a job? Something to make ends meet until something - Legal Shield, Homewood Nation, Homewood Capital Partners - takes off?

10. I begin looking, and experience a whole new wave of pain. Am I really good for anything anymore?

After all of these years of breathing and taking up space, what am I really good for?

Stop. Don't go there.

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It's April 23. I wrote the first draft of the above...when? A week ago? Two weeks ago? Laid it aside. Too raw. But worse, too self-involved. Why put that out there? What value could it have for anyone else?

Maybe this: for someone else to know that someone else knows. And to help keep accounts honest, so that when better times return, no one can paint me as a magician. This is part of the record: sometimes I made hugely wrong decisions, and the consequences of them reverberated long and deep, and being me hurt. And I was forced back, and am forced back, time and again, to the question, "How do I use what I have to deliver value for others?"

And answers come, but compared to the urgency and certainty of my financial distress, they all seem so slow and uncertain. I can make five or 50 prospecting calls for Legal Shield; how long will it take to get paid? I can create and assemble marketing materials for Homewood Capital Partners; how long will it take to get paid? I can knock on doors to sell Homewood Nation sponsorships; how long will it take to get paid?

I have crafted all of this uncertainty, staking all on the belief that if I press forward in each arena, I will indeed get paid in each. And however much time may seem to be an enemy now, now is not the time to grow slack, to lower my arms or to slump my shoulders. Now is the time to take a deep breath - perhaps even to take a nap - and remind myself that before and after and beyond all of this, my life is hidden with Christ, in whom I am seated at the right hand of the Father in the heavenly realms. And to press forward with the energy and the confidence that flow from that position.

But not at 10:56 pm :)

Tomorrow, forward!

And don't make it more difficult than it already is.
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Six weeks after writing all that, here's my takeaway: for me, being broke engenders stupidity, expressed in behaviors that only make things worse. As it happens, this is confirmed by a recently-published book, "Scarcity: Why Having So Little Means So Much." In it, authors Sendhil Mullainathan and Eldar Shafir examine how the perception of scarcity affects our thinking:

"When we function under scarcity, we deal with problems differently because we are preoccupied by scarcity, because our minds constantly return to it, we have less mind to give to the rest of life. The experience of scarcity reduces one's bandwidth, or mental capacity. Being poor will reduce bandwidth, and the poor make bad decisions."
Yep, that's my experience. What's yours? Share in the comments below.
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