“The forces of late capitalism continually tell us that we need more—more stuff, more money, more approval, more comfort, more entertainment. The dissatisfaction it breeds is profound. It infects people with a compulsion to acquire that delivers them into the cruel, humiliating bondage of debt. So gratitude is liberating. It is subversive. It helps us realize that we are sufficient, and that realization frees us.” Joanna Macy in World as Lover, World as Self
My tagline for this blog is “a voluntary return to simpler living.” I’ve managed with a lot less stuff and $ before, which adds to my optimism that I can make the big shift that I’m planning in two years. But previously, it didn’t feel like a choice.
At 35, I left my job as a vegetarian cook to go to an IT college. One of my co-workers, a similar age, was leaving the restaurant around the same time to “go back to the land.” He noted how we were going in opposite directions. We really were.
Living off the grid was the last thing I wanted then. I finally wanted to grow up and get my share. I knew more $ wouldn’t buy happiness. I was already happy. But there were a lot of grown-up things I felt I was denying myself: vacations, retirement savings, a non-rented home, medical insurance.
Seven years later, I had an average salary and all of those things on my list. And, for the first time in my life, I also shared a large amount of growing consumer debt. That brought unhappiness.
When I got my corporate job offer, I saw it as a way out. And it was. Within a year I was out of debt and out of an unhealthy relationship.
I ended up staying in the job a lot longer than I expected. I thought it was to make up for lost time accumulating retirement savings. Now, I don’t think it was the “golden handcuffs.” I think I stayed because the insecure and unconfident child wanted to prove some things to herself. And she did.
Yes, I got a little distracted and turned aside from social issues that once were important to me. But not so distracted that I couldn’t laugh at the irony of driving to my job and singing out loud to Ani DiFranco’s Not a Pretty Girl: “generally my generation wouldn’t be caught dead working for the man … trouble is you got to have yourself an alternate plan.”
I admire young people who determine for themselves how to create a simple and impactful life – I couldn’t figure it out. I went back to school because I wanted security. My current corporate job didn’t give me that – but it gave me the means to become confident and emotionally independent. Maturity, healthy friendships, and my meditation practice also have contributed to the feeling of security I now have. And that feeling – that I could not buy with a salary and took me a long time to grasp – allows me to decide that back is my new forward.
IT = Information Technology
Not a Pretty Girl by Ani DiFranco
World as Lover, World as Self: Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal by Joanna Macy