Meet Paul, 55, Tampa…
My father picked up Dr. Carter by the lapels of his jacket, and raised him a foot off the ground, and slammed him against the Dr.’s shiny new Thunderbird convertible, and screamed “if you ever step foot on my property again, or ask me or my family for money, I will kill you”. He then turned to me and said, “Rich people think they are better than we are. If you ever doubt this, remember this moment.” I was 7 years old.
This was the ending of a story that had begun several months earlier. My mother, pregnant with her 6th child, had gone to the hospital to deliver. During the birthing process, she said, “Something is wrong, please call the Doctor.” The Doctor never came. We later learned that the he was on the golf course participating in a tournament and couldn’t be reached. Eventually word got to the Dr., who then came to the hospital just in time to pronounce my baby brother dead.
Several months later, this same Dr. had come to our farm, in an attempt to collect his bill for my brothers birthing expenses. The impact on me of witnessing my father’s interaction with the Dr. that day had a profound effect on my life from that point on. I was determined to never ever be like “rich people,” or to have enough to appear rich to anyone else. Though I am a highly trained professional myself, I always undercharged for my services. Any money I did earn, I spent, mostly on others. I turned down promotions that would make me “the boss.” In order to meet my family’s needs, I overworked. I lost my marriage because I was never home. I always carried a huge debt load. I felt as long as I owed people money, no one would ever be able to say I was rich. Looking back, maybe the most important person I needed to say that to, was myself.
Claiming Financial Health
In the three years since I began looking at my relationship with money, I find myself out of debt. I’ve realized there is a place between wealth and poverty. I don’t have to be perpetually poor to be a good person. I learned that I could accumulate some money for my future without betraying some of the very basic beliefs I have about the human condition and about life in general. I learned that there are people of means, who do wonderful things with the money that has been entrusted to them–counterbalancing the old “Rich people are selfish, bad people,” money script.
Now I can catch myself and say, “Well yes, there are rich people who are crooks, just as there are middle class and poor people, who are crooks.”
The most freeing part has been to have that conversation with myself; and to be conscious about it. To be able to accept that those old money scripts about the rich and the poor may have been true for me when I was growing up, but I’m an adult now. I am no longer in abject poverty. I am not poor-I am a responsible person. To be a good steward of what I have been given, I need to walk more in the middle ground, to be conscious of what I am doing so I can be content with what I have.
Looking back, the most surprising part of all of this is how unconsciously I operated. I mean I did what I did, but I didn’t think about it at all. I didn’t make any financial decision consciously. The primary thing that has changed for me is that now I make decisions about money at a very conscious level. What are our overall plans for the year? What are we going to do with and for the kids? How will that fit within our budget? How does that fit with the bigger picture.