“This will sound mad” I said. “But I’ve decided to choose poverty.”
I was in a mastermind call with three colleagues. The point of the mastermind group is to become successful in business.
“Yes it does a bit” said one. That’s fair enough. I asked for that.
Self employment is a precarious life. There were times I’ve done well. Other times saw the money vanish.
I’ve told a few people now that I am planning to switch to a poverty existence. Only one has made supportive noises. Most have looked either perplexed or worried.
This isn’t a decision made of privilege. Although of course it is. Poverty for me in the UK is a world away from poverty in other parts of the world.
But I’m not a City stockbroker making a lifestyle choice. I’m not someone who you would regard as successful if you only judged me financially.
The lifestyle guru who spurns the City will likely have a fat pension waiting for him. I’ve seen those blogs. They walk the tightrope. Yet have immense financial security already sorted should it not work out.
For most of the last few years I’ve been working hard to secure a different financial outcome for myself.
It didn’t work out so well, and I didn’t enjoy most of it. When we work to an external goal, we end up doing stuff we don’t like in the hope that something good will come of it.
Or we end up disliking the stuff we used to enjoy because now it is a means to some blasted end.
I’ve been running hard away from poverty.
But what if I didn’t? What if I let myself get caught? What would happen?
I fled poverty because I feared the impact on my happiness. Yet my happiness was taking a beating anyhow.
I didn’t realise it, but I based my thinking on an implicit formula. Poverty equals misery, while wealth equals contentment.
But is that even true?
The polling organisation Gallup has been asking British people the same question for years. “How happy would you say you are?”
In 1957 over half the population (52%) said they were “very happy”.
Almost 50 years later in 2006, the BBC conducted a similar survey. Only 36% declared themself “very happy”.
What had happened within half a century to impact happiness in such a big way?
Here’s one thing that happened. We became three times wealthier.
The people of 1957 had a third of the wealth, but were a lot happier for it.
What happened to the formula of “wealthy equals happy”?
Might it be that I could choose to live a poverty existence and still be okay?
I was listening to an audio book by the late psychotherapist Marshall Rosenberg. He describes how he purposely lived in poverty to avoid paying taxes during the Vietnam War.
He worked and earned as normal. Yet he gave lots away to charity. When it came to taxation, he had insufficient income left to be eligible to pay tax.
It meant he had to live in poverty for the duration of the war. But his principles were so steadfast about depriving the war of his money, that he did it.
We live in a society where the concept of “enough” is not at the forefront of our minds. Instead, we follow the mantra of more. We assume such plenty of everything that we treat resources as never ending.
Maybe the concept of enough is some kind of law of the universe. When we breach it, there are ill effects.
If we spend too much we get debt and become trapped into wage slavery. If we eat too much we get overweight and our bodies get sick. If we own too much, we get homes filled with clutter and a monthly bill from a storage depot. If we waste water, we get water crises. If we over use antibiotics, the bacteria become resistant to it.
There are no such results when we just take enough -when we meet our simplest needs.
So I am slashing my spending. I am choosing to live on a poverty budget. I am cutting my food spending to the essentials. I am selling my car, which I don’t use often. I am unsubscribing from services that I don’t need, and finding free ways to achieve the same thing.
I feared poverty. It chased me like Tom chases Jerry. But I lacked Jerry’s wit and mischief. Jerry wasn’t that scared of Tom. Jerry enjoyed the chance to make Tom look a fool or to get him into trouble with the humans.
The prospect of poverty was far scarier for me than Tom was for Jerry.
Yet now I am embracing it. I am taking the empowered position to live it by choice. If it arrives, as is possible, I will already be there. I will face no tremors from that earthquake. When poverty comes, my life will not change.
I recall the aftermath of the 2008 financial crash. Someone asked me how I was coping with it. I joked that it hadn’t affected me much as I was skint anyway.
I can have poverty enforced on me by circumstance. Or I can choose it myself and take some power over it. I can come to terms with it. Find a way to live within it. And then be fearless.
I chatted with a creative friend who is doing well in his business. He told me something interesting. When one project does well enough to cover the potential losses of another, he is able to take more risks with it. Then finds that he ends up making more money as a result.
Fear screws us. Take away the fear and we become invincible. Maybe living this worst case scenario will make me invincible too. What do I have to fear? I can shine at my brightest. I can live without compromise.
And maybe shining so bright will attract good stuff as a side effect? Who knows. That’s my secret belief. Don’t tell anyone I said so.
But if not, who cares. My biggest dream is to do the work I love. To spend my life being me. My dreams are not fancy holidays or material things. My dream is to live a life of fully expressing myself before I die. Enjoying the gift of each moment, and the following of each curiosity within me.
My parents generation were three times poorer yet tons happier than the people of today. Why can’t I be the same?
Bronnie Ware is a nurse who has documented the top regrets of the dying. Guess what the top regret is:
“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself.”
“I wish I hadn’t worked so hard.”
Guess what’s not on that list: I wish I’d gone to the office more. I wish I’d seen my friends less. I wish I’d buried my passions. I wish I’d had more stuff.
Doing the work I love is non negotiable for me. I’m not giving it up no matter what.
I’ll give up other things instead. That’s how negotiations work. That’s ok.
I’ll trade material wealth. I trade those things that, in truth, are more than I need – more than enough.
I am Goldilocks. With just enough porridge. On a bed that is just the right size. With a guitar – and a notepad. And little else. Just freedom.