Last month I wrote a piece about how vulnerable I felt when an individual asked whether I made revenue as a writer. It exposed places of doubt, uncertainty and feelings of restlessness, but it pushed me to think about an important question: What currency do I value?
In my twenties, I equated earning money with success. My Asian background lended to this thinking. I lost count the number of times my father conveyed his story about only having $7.00 in his pocket when he immigrated to the United States from India. In the late 1960’s, he became the only man in his hometown of Dwarka to leave and embark on a journey to Dallas – all in the pursuit of a better life. This life meant pursuing an education and career opportunities that would lead to a comfortable lifestyle. For my father it meant working hard and never giving into laziness. The reward for this labor translated into making money to provide security for his family.
I took the lessons I learned from my father and snagged my first job at 16. I worked through college, graduate and law school. When I graduated from law school and earned my first “real” paycheck, I equated the numbers on the piece of the paper as a welcome of sorts, a feeling I had arrived. Money became a dominant currency. This perspective fueled an ambition to say one day, “I earn six figures.” Ultimately I learned the emptiness of this statement. As a lawyer, I worked endless hours, panicked at inopportune times while my blood pressure raced as I lived the “American Dream.” In my late twenties, I learned money wasn’t the only currency that possessed an intrinsic value.
When my father became sick, my viewpoint on money altered dramatically. No amount of money would fix him. Revenue did help him receive treatments, but cash would not stop the cancer from moving through his veins. After he died, I asked, “What was the point of my ambition? What currency mattered the most?”
I am not dismissing money as important – I understand its value and know it affords visible and invisible luxuries. In midlife, though, I’ve learned to value other currencies. Since pursuing my writing, people have reached out to me, strangers as well as friends. I’ve had conversations with people I don’t know about difficulties they faced when losing a parent. It floors me. Every. Single. Time. A stranger will reveal his or her vulnerabilities, cry and say, “I chose to tell you because you get it. No one in my life understands my grief, but you do.” How do I quantify this praise? I can’t. Because it is invaluable. Others have expressed they’ve thought about their life differently because of something I’ve written. I get it. There are writers and artists I adore who do that to me too. All of the writing which impacts me, takes residence and alters my outlook for the better. Sometimes it feels uncomfortable and there are pains, contemplation and tears, but I’ve learned a truth about myself and the world.
There is currency we may dismiss because it is always present. Since my father’s passing and watching friends and family lose their ability to move, I don’t undervalue the currency of possessing the ability to breathe, walk, run and live my life. Youth is type of currency, but when you witness illness in your loved ones, you realize good health is the ultimate liquid gold.
When the individual asked me about revenue and writing, how could I convey my innermost thoughts to him? That money isn’t the only currency in which we measure our worth. That our salaries and vehicles and homes and jewelry and purses and shoes aren’t the only ways to say we exist. That what you earn doesn’t make you more or less of a person. I wanted to tell him all of the currencies we dismiss – we all have these places where the emotional revenue feels bigger, safer and offers comfort.
In retrospect, I am grateful he posed the question. It’s led to a reflection. Experiencing an uncomfortable feeling is an invaluable currency too.
Image: Concurrent Currency by Thomas Hawk via Flickr.
Rudri great great piece I loved the honesty. There are numerous people in my family with diseases that will take their lives eventually and I have learned to value the simple things breathing, walking, sitting still. When I get asked if I want to make money off my writing I say sure I do but I want to touch someone with my words a lot more. Building a community where people see they are more alike than different and empowering, motivating and inspiring women and men is more of my payoff than a check. Stay blessed xo 🙂
Thanks, Mari. Knowing that helping someone with your words is always comforting. Ultimately, connection is what we remember and that (in my opinion) is a better measure for revenue.
Oh, I’m so with you. I would never say money wasn’t important either but this line – ” No amount of money would fix him.”
Oh, I know that will.
And no amount will fix ME, without much more important things at hand.
What a piece, Rudri!
Thanks, Tamara. When you realize that money is never a cure all you focus on those things that give you a lingering peace and happiness. I appreciate your thoughts and sorry for the delay in my response.
I know exactly how you feel Rudri. Strangely, I can’t even blame my parents, as they weren’t particularly money focused. We never had much money, and it was a struggle to afford the basics sometimes, but I never felt we were poor. Still, I find this tendency within myself to value my contribution to our household in terms of money. For a while I tried to monetise my writing skills, but I found this terribly soul destroying – it turns out that I can only write for myself: who knew? SO I write for the joy of it, and I do other work that takes me out into the world and gives me life and experiences to write about, and I feel good about that 🙂
When I left my legal job, I did feel the pressure of leaving a lucrative salary behind. However, I wasn’t living the life I envisioned – it was plagued with stress and anxiety.
I am glad that you’ve found a path for your creative outlet. As you said, you can do both and carve out the life that works for you.
Happy Thanksgiving and I apologize for the delay in my response.
An honest and reflective piece. Too much value is placed on monetary currency. Society and media as well ingrain this in us. When my father was diagnosed with incurable cancer and given a short time to live, I closed my business and moved in with my parents to help care for him. After his death I had to rebuild my business. I don’t regret this choice…no money could have replaced time I had with him. Also, many partners choose to give up lucrative careers to raise children. To me that is an invaluable currency to them. There is no right or wrong answer for what a family chooses financially/career wise. I’ve known many people with financially lucrative but extremely stressful careers who gave them up to enter fields making less money but also requiring less time and less stress. I honestly don’t think we owe anyone outside of our immediate family unit explanation of earned income or career choice.
Thanks for sharing this personal story, Susan. When I quit my legal job, I spent more moments with my sick father and I am glad we had that time together.
I love what you say about not owing anyone else an explanation of our career choices other than our immediate family. Well said.
I believe that one of the gifts of aging is that we have a deeper capacity to appreciate what is truly valuable. As we go through life experiences, we become more aware of the fleeting nature of life and that if we are indeed interested in evolving and becoming better human beings, we learn to pay more attention to things that are authentically powerful, lasting and life-defining. Thanks for the reflections, Rudri!
Sorry for the delay in my response, Joy. Yes, I think it’s understanding this transient moving of time that compels me to look at what is real and sustaining in my life. Thanks for your insight and hope you had an enjoyable Thanksgiving. xo