The Curse of the Purse

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI love my dad. Although he doesn’t have my strong optimistic streak, he is generally pretty content. The last time we chatted, however, he was a little upset about something, and that something was money. He had recently found out what some oil rig workers made per hour, and was amazed, flabbergasted, and frankly, a little jealous that someone could make so much money. He is a farmer — mostly chickens, a few beef cows — and hasn’t made an hourly wage since he did a little work as a welder, repairing broken cargo carts that they use at the airport to load airplanes. He also worked for many years as a bulk milk truck driver (class 1 license, part-time work), and before buying the farm, he did road construction. He said he made $3.60/hour back in the day, which was a really good wage! These days, though, he sells eggs at the farmer’s market and hay at the auction mart (and privately) and both are prized for their excellent quality. He gets top dollar! But it ain’t no oil worker’s wage. Mind you, he is supposed to be getting ready to retire — it can be a multi-year process for farmers. In any case, he tends to get upset when he hears what some guys are making these days. Big numbers!

I have two friends that have been working 7 days a week, 12-hour days, and their employer is six weeks behind in their pay. Six weeks! That’s quite a while to go without any income; most of us couldn’t even do it. Needless to say, they are getting pretty grumpy about it, and are starting to catch the rarely-spoken-about Northern disease of greed. Okay, so it isn’t just a Northern disease, but it’s getting to the point where they aren’t going to do anything without being paid in advance. I can’t say I exactly blame them… but it does make me revisit the idea I occasionally entertain about how a moneyless society would work.

Money. Why does it matter so much? Why do we use it to define our worth? It absolutely shouldn’t be associated with our worth, but it often is. I see it as simply a more convenient way of exchanging resources than carrying around chickens to trade. So why not go back to chickens? If we did, my dad would be one of the richest guys around! Plus, he also has hay, grain, and all sorts of other very practical, tradeable (and edible) items. But most of us don’t have such things — we are stuck exchanging our talents, skills and/or time (abstract things) for numbers on a piece of paper (or computer screen).

It’s the curse of the purse: we need to work, but it doesn’t go smoothly and we don’t enjoy it. We do it all because we are too wrapped up in the numbers: the money we will make.

dollar signs in eyesWork 18 hours straight? Sure, great overtime! Work 25 days in a row? Awesome, bring it on! Work a job we don’t believe in? Sure, if it pays well! We don’t agree to do these things because we actually want to do them — we do it because we have dollar signs in our eyes. We forget our principles, and what’s important to us. In my personal philosophy, money should enable us to do things we want to do — that’s why we work. But too often, we work to make bigger numbers, to pay off bills or debts for things that we don’t even enjoy. We live beyond our means, and then try to make the means bigger, and as a result, we get grumpy, angry and greedy. It’s the curse of the purse.

Can you believe how much money Bill made last year? It’s insane! Comparing ourselves with others — be they famous, coworkers or friends — is a surefire way to feel dissatisfied. We work harder than Bill. We work longer hours than Bill. We know the job better than he does and have better skills. We should be making more money than Bill! Thinking this way is so unproductive. It would be better if we never knew how much money others made, ’cause when we do, and it can frustrate us to no end. It’s curse of the purse again.

As much as we might like to, we can’t go back to trading chickens. So many of us are stuck in very sedentary, impractical jobs where immaterial things are traded for money. Clicks equal dollars. Information, cents. Trading our days for numbers. Wish we had more. We’re all trying to live with the curse of the purse hanging over us. All we can do is stop being driven by the numbers, and start living life again — doing things we enjoy, both as work and as play. Spending time with ones we love. Appreciating the little things. Spending time in nature. Reconnecting with ourselves.

Wherever or however you do it, if you stop paying so much attention to the numbers on the piece of paper, you won’t be the only one. I’ll be right there with ya.

What’s the Best Super Power?!

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Remember the last post about super powers? (Go read it now if you haven’t yet.) I didn’t tell you what Darren wanted — it’s awesome and totally original. He wanted the power to pull the exact change out of his pocket each and every time he needed to pay for something. We nick-named him “Exact Change Man” and although we laughed a bit at first, it didn’t take long for us to realize the REAL power in this super power.

First of all, no more picking through change or counting cash. You just reach into your pocket and pull out exactly the right amount. You probably got that right off the bat. Doesn’t sound too profound eh? We don’t count cash much anyway, because most of us use debit or credit most of the time. (The other day, I was glad I had cash though, because the interac machine at the gas station in Enterprise was broken. Enterprise is a key gas stop for me on my way to Fort Simpson, and without topping up the tank, I would not make it all the way.)

Okay, getting back to Exact Change Man. What about if you want to buy something really expensive? Reach for your credit card? Nope. Just put your hand in and voilà — you have every dollar you need. Want to buy something else a minute later? Reach in, and presto, instant money. It’s the BEST super power I’ve ever heard of! Over and over again, you can pull out the exact amount you need!

You know, when Law of Attraction enthusiasts go on and on about how you can manifest wealth, I don’t exactly jump up and down. I don’t have a fear of money or success, but money for the sake of money just doesn’t grab me. Reaching into your pocket infinitely to pay for whatever you need at any moment does! I guess for me, wealth is not about money or numbers in a bank account — it is about having the freedom to travel and have really neat experiences because you were at the right place at the right time. In our society, it takes money to travel and do things, so the more you have the more you can do. (I still dream of a money-less society, but more on that another time.)

So ya, I want to be Exact Change Woman. Maybe it’s a silly dream, but hey, don’t they say we should aim for the stars? We won’t exactly reach them but… it just means to dream big.

Fort Simpson Adventure

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Well I didn’t mean to keep you, my blog followers, in the dark, but I have been so busy, I just haven’t had a chance to blog until now. And what have I been busy doing? I have been getting ready to start my new job!

It was a big decision to take this job. I love being self-employed. I have the ultimate time freedom, and it’s allowed me to finish my book, write a paddling guide, edit a friend’s book, and spend an amazing amount of time on the water, (canoeing, kayaking and york boating)! The only drawback is the tradeoff — time freedom for money freedom. Ultimately, I decided I wanted some more money freedom, and that meant looking for work.

I only want to do what I love. So I had to ask myself “what else, besides paddling and writing, do I love?” Knitting came up quickly, but I wouldn’t want to try to make it into a job. Then, one day in December, I woke up with an idea “out of the blue” (the best kind) — I could work at the airport of the Diavik diamond mine! I used to love my job as a Flight Service Specialist, but had no interest in going back to my actual old job, but doing the same thing up north absolutely lit me up inside! So, I applied to Diavik, and then a couple of weeks later, I decided to also apply to ATS Services, the company that takes care of the Community Aerodrome Radio Stations (CARS) in the NWT, Yukon and Nunavut.

I got a call in January that they were very interested in hiring me. Diavik was interested too, and were looking to fill in for someone on sick leave, but ultimately, it didn’t work out. As I waited to hear more from ATS, I waffled back and forth on whether or not to go. Due to my tentativeness, the process went very slowly (the law of attraction at work, as always)! When I finally got clear that yes, I would go, I heard back from the manager. It was official, they wanted to hire me. Then, I waffled again — it was a very big life change! Was going back to a job like failing as an entrepreneur? Or could I keep running my business? What about things I had committed to do? What about living away from Darren — would he and I be okay with it?

On the plus side, I loved the work, the location sounded interesting, and I would, essentially, be paid to write (when it’s not busy, I can work on hobbies). And I love the North!

I couldn’t stand my wavering, so I decided to wait until the final details came in and go with whatever my feelings said at that moment when I got the phone call. When Darren told me that my new boss had called, I was thrilled! My heart thumped with excitement and I was doing a little dance of joy. How could I NOT go? I was so excited! I was moving to Fort Simpson and going back to an old job I loved!!

So, that’s how it all went down. Tomorrow, I will blog more about what the station, the town and airport here at Fort Simpson is like. I leave you with a map to ponder and marvel at! Zoom in to see more.

Balancing Act

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Major intersection in Beijing, after a snowfall

I still think about China sometimes… the friends I made there, what living in Beijing is like… how they can be so happy in such a crowded, busy place! How they can find time to think or have any serenity! They do it, though… not sure if I could!

Life is such a balancing act, isn’t it? I need enough sleep, but not too much. Enough food, but not too much. I definitely need more exercise, and I don’t think I’m in danger of getting too much, but some people are! A little caffeine is great, but some days, coffee makes me jittery. A little sugar is okay… some vitamins… enough free time, enough work…

What about my mental state? I’ve realized that it’s okay if I’m not happy all the time, but I wouldn’t want to be down and out very often either. A person has to think about money sometimes, but if you start to obsess, that’s going to skew your perspective. I like to be positive, but also a bit skeptical of what I hear — it’s easy to go too far and end up a nervous basket case (which sounds so much better than “paranoid freak,” don’t you think?). I don’t even believe the news on TV, because I think it’s usually over-summarized and often has a slant to it. Finding the balance between taking some things seriously and others with a grain of salt is tricky.

Life naturally has good days and bad, happy and sad, easy and hard, and if it didn’t, it would be like living in a monotone world. I think we all naturally need these contrasts; if you’re dissatisfied with your life, perhaps you have too much of something?
You could be stressed because of too much instability, or bored from too much security. It’s good to avoid certain extremes:

Too much instability Too much security
Too much routine Too much adventure
Too much stuff Too much nothing
Too much money Too much debt
Too much work Too much down time
Too much busyness Too much laziness
Too much loneliness Too much togetherness
Too much freedom Too much religion (or too many social expectations)

Look at the table above — what areas do you immediately relate to? If you think to yourself “well, I certainly don’t have too much adventure” then it’s possible you have too much routine. A balance of both makes for an interesting life! Maybe you immediately realize you have too much stuff… have you thought of getting more nothing? Giving things away, and not buying things you really don’t need? If you recognize you have too much of something, rather than simply decreasing it, try increasing whatever’s in the adjacent column. If you realize you don’t have enough of something, try decreasing whatever’s in the adjacent column.

Also, we all need beauty and creativity in our lives! Make sure you have a creative outlet, whether it’s creative cooking, building, a hobby, music or art.

That’s all for now! Okay, one more China pic!

Nope, it's not daytime. That's a huge LED screen! It's showing dolphins jumping out of the ocean, but it also plays a few other videos, like a space voyage! Wow!

How Not to Fix a Problem

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nahani_cover-medWhen I was reading Dick Turner’s book Nahanni, something struck me. He talks a bit about the Natives that he encountered at that time, which was back in the 30’s and 40’s, in the Northwest Territories. He said that they were the most generous people he had ever met, helping anyone who needed it, and that most of them found the white man to be very greedy.
It seems to me that, to a large degree, “white man” just confirmed the Native’s suspicions of greediness when the government started fixing problems by throwing money at them. That’s a typical government response, and they did it large-scale with the First Nations people. Sure, natives received land, but they also received a regular allowance and the ability to make money without paying any taxes. In addition to the usual allowance, the gov’t recently gave out $10-20,000 per person (even babies) to make up for what they did in residential schools. You or I, non-natives, might want a piece of that cash, but does money really make up for the abuse and pain they endured? Nope, not one bit, but that’s the government way, and it proves that they put more value in money than life; they think that giving them more money is the solution. They could have spent the money on large-scale counseling and anti-addiction programs… that would better address the problems they created. But that’s tricky and messy, and this way they can say they’ve done their reparation and wipe their hands. Nice and neat, no follow up required. If First Nations people are the wards of the government, the government seems intent on raising spoiled children.
But is this greed? Giving away money? Well, it’s an indirect sign of greed (and misplaced priorities), kind of like agreeing to treat a friend to lunch, if you don’t have to work. Why not make work wait and put more value in your friend? What about agreeing to work an overtime shift when you had already promised to tutor the neighbour’s kid? How much money is a broken promise worth, and what kind of message does it send to the child? Driving to and fro to go shopping and run errands, but not wanting to use any gas to visit family? But is the solution to buy expensive gifts at Christmas to make up for that nagging guilt from not putting people first? Money is not the solution to problems that aren’t money-based! Greed makes us think that it is, and I think that TV promotes this, so anyone who watches it, no matter what culture they come from, is susceptible. I’ve noticed subtle signs in my own behaviour, like a reluctance to share an idea, because someone else might run with it and make money that I had hoped to make. (Like there aren’t enough ideas/money in the world!) Lately, I’ve been trying to decide what to do with my career — cling to my job as long as I can, because I might make some good money, or should I be letting go and embracing new ideas (that might not be profitable right away).
Thus, this blog’s title emerges: how not to fix a problem. Don’t throw money at it unless your problem is debt. Do spend the time to think about the root of the problem or challenge, and think or talk through the best solution. Don’t be afraid to embrace the “messy” solution. When you catch yourself about to spend money, check if you are trying to solve a problem that money won’t solve. Some people spend compulsively, but they are actually lonely, insecure, or unhappy for some reason. Don’t be afraid to look deeply and see what is true for you. It’s not the capital “T” Truth — it doesn’t define who you are — but it’s where you are right now. Lastly, think about how you’d really like to be, and become it.