Choosing sufficiency even when the money is flowing out

My spouse was venting to me today about fighting losing battles over thousands of dollars with various adversaries – a rental car company that refuses to let us out a reservation we didn’t know we made, an incompetent insurance agent that locked us into a premium plan we didn’t want, and a landlord that won’t refund us any money for our shower being out of order for a month.

Well, I said to her, if it makes you feel any better, that money is peanuts compared to what we’ve lost in our investment portfolio over the past few weeks.

Only a few months ago, we had reached a major milestone – our second FI target, a figure that would have been able to sustain our family of four at a comfortable standard of  living provided we did some modest belt-tightening.

We were still reaching even higher for our third FI target, a figure that would have enabled us to continue living the way we are now with plenty of travel and occasional spending splurges. But in the past few weeks, the number at the top of my Personal Capital page has tumbled down to well below that second milestone. And God only knows where it will end…

Of course this is terribly painful to watch. But it hasn’t devastated me as much as it would have in an earlier life.

Partly, this is because I’ve known that the market was going to blow up at some point. History says that even a diversified stock/bond portfolio can experience a -40% drawdown in any given year. We’re nowhere near that yet, but it could very well happen.

Partly, this is because I’d like to think I’ve gotten older and wiser and I recognize that my Personal Capital number is of no value when compared to the real treasures of my life: my kids, my spouse, our health, our family and friends. I’m also aware of the fact that by sheer luck, I’ve been born into the right circumstances to put me in the top 0.14% (according to the Global Rich List) wealthiest people in the world. Even if I lost half of my wealth, I’d still be the top 0.26%. So I hardly deserve to even think “woe is me.”

And partly, this is because I’ve been actively trying to choose an attitude of sufficiency. Sufficiency is indeed a choice. Lynn Twist writes in her book “The Soul of Money”:

By sufficiency, I don’t mean a quantity of anything. Sufficiency isn’t two steps up from poverty or one step short of abundance. It isn’t a measure of barely enough or more than enough. Sufficiency isn’t an amount at all. It is an experience, a context we generate, a declaration, a knowing that there is enough, and that we are enough.

Sufficiency resides inside of each of us, and we can call it forward. It is a consciousness, an attention, an intentional choosing of the way we think about our circumstances.

Sufficiency is not a message about simplicity or about cutting back and lowering expectations. Sufficiency doesn’t mean we shouldn’t strive or aspire. Sufficiency is an act of generating, distinguishing, making known to ourselves the power and presence of our existing resources, and our inner resources. Sufficiency is a context we bring forth from within that reminds us that if we look around us and within ourselves, we will find what we need. There is always enough.

I suggest there is enough in nature, in human nature, and in the relationships we share with one another to have a prosperous, fulfilling life, no matter who you are or where you are in the spectrum of resources. I suggest that if you are willing to let go, let go of the chase to acquire or accumulate always more and let go of that way of perceiving the world, then you can take all that energy and attention and invest it in what you have. When you do that you will find unimagined treasures, and wealth of surprising and even stunning depth and diversity.

What a concept! And what a relief! Watching hundreds of thousands of dollars drain out of our nest egg is still painful, but I’m beginning to understand what Twist is talking about when she compares money to water. Money is meant to flow in and out of our lives. Even if we tried our damnedest, we can’t hold it in should the market forces go against us.  We also shouldn’t let it stagnate by trying so hard to protect it that we don’t spend any away. Our responsibility is to steward this force as best we can and use it to support our deepest values.

I’m also realizing that financial wealth is only one measure of success. Of course, I’ve always known that in my mind. Yet living in a society where money is the ultimate scorecard, it’s hard to know that in my heart. Watching my mom struggle to figure out her livelihood in her sixties has been an eyeopener. Financially, she’s set. But her livelihood, defined as a means to support a life of purpose, has never been more in question as she faces a potential divorce. Financial security is only a means, never an end.

On my bathroom mirror, I’ve taped a postcard that says “I have enough, I do enough, I am enough.” I know I won’t always feel that way, but I will declare sufficiency.

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