A Million Dollar “Gift”

I was just on the phone with my good friend “John” (we’ll just call him that for this post). I was complaining, venting about how hard life can be at times and he asked me simply, without hesitation:  “If a million dollars landed on your doorstep, what would you do?”

We’ve all had this dream at one point or another, right?  The conversation is usually with one of my girlfriends as we finish off our typical weekly catch up call where they’ve complained about their husband or kids (or both) and I’ve complained about work, a date or my latest frustration, my neighbors. And as we finish off our chit-chat we remind each other to get our lotto tickets because “…you never know…” and “…hey, you can’t win if you don’t play.”  (That last one is my favorite).  But yeah, we’ve all had that dream, Am’I’Right?

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But today was a different.  This friend of mine is actually wealthy.  He’s in a position to drop bank and not think twice about it. I’m not sure if he’s the “million dollar” kind of bank or not, but he has “bank dropping” abilities nonetheless.  So interestingly the question sounded different coming from him.  It felt like a real question. I hesitated. I had no quick witted funny-isms, no:  “Gurl, we’d be killing it on a sandy beach somewhere watching some half – naked man serving us drinks” – no:  “Gurl first stop, Rodeo!” (It’s a Pretty Women thing).  I had nothing. I was stunned. Into silence. Rare.

Truth is, no one “needs” a million dollars especially if they didn’t earn it.  I calculated that if I could make $200K a year for the next 50 years, I’d be tre cool with that “tiny” amount (she said sarcastically)!  Interestingly enough $200K for 50 years is only $10 Million dollars. I say “only” because those lottery grabs are always so much more than that.  Truly, no one needs that much unearned money EVER!  Even the ultra-wealthy like Warren Buffett and Bill Gates give their excess money away because at some point it just makes sense to share it.  Seriously, how many homes, cars and shoes does one person need?  No, for real?

I honestly don’t need a million dollars dropped on my doorstep. But when I heard Donald Trump say:

“…it has not been easy for me and you know I started off in Brooklyn. My father gave me a small loan of a million dollars. I came into Manhattan and I had to pay him back, I had to pay him back with interest…”.  

I lost my dang-on mind! Even as I write that quote I cringe. There’s an actual sensation in my chest that feels like somethings burrowing deep into my being as I hear it, read it, write it. It bothers me so much.  I know I’m not alone in this.  But, I have finally figured out why.

People think they want loads of money.  People think they need lots of money.  A lot of dumb people think money can buy them happiness (yeah, my apologies for using the word “dumb” here but it really is dumb to think money can buy you happiness).  Money can provide choices. But choices are abundant even when you’re poor.  So, having money can sometimes give you too many choices and become a burden and lead you down the wrong path (Uhem, “Elephant” man bones, Michael Jackson…Google it. An extreme example, but you get the point).

What people actually want in life is security.  That’s a very different thing than loads of money but people confuse it all the time. It’s why I hate that quote from Donald Trump so much.  He doesn’t understand the security he has….

Let me explain.

Money is a vehicle that allows for security, but make no mistake about it – security is a thing, and it hasn’t always been about about money for most of us.

I’ve wanted security my entire life.  And security comes in different forms throughout our lives.  You can see the joy in children who have parents – they may have very little money-wise or a lot of money, but if a young child has love, money is generally not even a thing.  It’s not even part of the conversation.  Think about it this way:  do you remember the first time when you realized you were poor?  Or, do you remember the first time you noticed you were rich? Do you remember whenever you found out that there was a status associated with how much money your family had or didn’t have?  Before that time, all you knew was (hopefully) the joy and happiness of being a child.

I remembered when I fully understood we didn’t have money. It was when my mama bought me boots.  I wanted to march in parades. I was part of an organization that marched in a lot of local events and I didn’t have the right real boots to wear. And one day she used the money that should have been used to pay for heat to buy me the boots I had wanted so badly and for so long.  She traded a utility bill payment to give her little girl a Christmas gift Santa had forgotten to give her.  We went without heat in the middle of winter.  And yet, despite our actual poverty, I always felt secure as a little kid. I knew even then, mama would take care of me, would take care of everything. But seeing her trade heat for a gift, was a realization I hadn’t comprehended fully till that moment. Yeah, we were poor.

As we get older that sense of security becomes our own responsibility. If you’re lucky, you’ve made some choices that maybe provided for some shared responsibility with a husband or wife – or maybe you’ve been able to get a great job with a 401K and good benefits. Maybe you’ve saved a bit, made good investments, and have a cushion of some sort. But see, security now becomes about how much money you have in the bank – and less about your mom or your dad providing that basic sense of safety.  But that oblivious sense of security – that blanket kind of comfort, that sense of well-being you had as a child that was all encompassing and about your safety, security and nurturing, is now all on you. And a lot of it is about how much money you have.  If you don’t have tons of money, then you do what you can to give your family and friends that sense of security and safety anyways.  And even if everyone else believes you’re doing okay, maybe the fact is, you live in that place where fulfilling your personal dreams and ambitions take a back seat to making money every day for your family or just to make ends meet. Taking care of your basic needs is priority numero uno.

Truth is, most people live paycheck to paycheck. There’s not a lot of time for being “creative” or “starting a business” when the fundamentals of living haven’t been met.  A lot of real honest hard-working people, who have done everything right don’t have much more than a couple of months or so savings to make it through if they lose their job (or, if they work for the government and there’s a shutdown – uhem).  It’s been estimated that 40% of people don’t have enough for a $400 emergency.  Rack it up to a $500 emergency and I bet it’s even more people! Fact is, you can make all the right choices in life and still lose everything because financial security is elusive to most regular folk.  It’s hard to dig yourself out of whatever hole you may be in trying to make a better life for yourself , your family (school loans, medical debt, etc.) and still save such an abundance of money (or credit) that you can live through any other financial emergency crisis that may occur AND fulfill some life long dream. I love that line about “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps”. I always counter with, “It’s much easier when you’re born with boots that have them bootstraps to pull on. I’m still walking around barefoot trying to find my way into the damn boot store.”

When someone like Donald Trump talks about it being so hard for him – maybe it was. I mean, everything is relative I do suppose so maybe for HIM it was difficult.  His world is so different from mine, so maybe it was hard for him to deal with receiving such a gift from his father. What angers me about the statement is his inability to understand how insulting it is to those of us who would give anything to have half the advantages he’s had in his life AND get an offer of any kind of loan or gift to make our dreams come true.

The security aspect is so important.  It’s the part that people of such wealth and privilege like Donald Trump don’t understand.  If I had the security of knowing my rent would be paid, my student loans would be paid, my taxes would be paid, my gas bill would be paid, my electricity bill would be paid, my health insurance would be paid, my car payment would be paid, my auto insurance would be paid, my phone bill would be paid, my AAA membership would be paid, my gym membership would be paid, my groceries would be paid, my dental bill – paid, my eye doctor – paid, contributions to a retirement plan or knowing that I would be taken care of in my old age… If I knew all those things – that all those basic necessities would be paid regularly and on time and I didn’t have to ever worry about them, then yes, I could see how being laden with a million-dollar loan might feel a little difficult.

You see, because if all those basic necessities were paid and I was given a ton of money on top of all of that, I’d actually have to use that money to do something amazing and brilliant and I’d have an enormous amount of pressure to succeed.  Maybe that’d be scary.  To have no excuses? To have no worries of how to pay the rent?  To not be able to bitch and moan about how hard life is to make ends meet?  Maybe, that’d be scary.   But hell, I’d take that challenge every day of the week and twice on Sundays. I’m pretty sure most of my friends reading this post, would too. Wow, how to succeed when all you have is a million dollars and your dream.  Talk about First World Problems.  It took me ten years to complete and publish my first book. You know why? It wasn’t because I write slow.  It wasn’t because it was a complicated idea or I didn’t have a plan – NO. I wrote the book fairly quickly.  But I had to worry about all the other priorities that came first. And no, I didn’t have extra money readily available for an editor, for a book cover “designer” and blah, blah, blah. Basically, it took me ten years to write my first book because I had to do things like pay the rent.

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I’m not saying it’d be easy, but yeah, go ahead Universe, bring it! I dare you.

I don’t “need” a million dollars to fall into my lap. But if it did, I’d pay all my bills for a year, and then go from there fulfilling the next steps of my dream. Because what I really want in life, what we all need in life, is a sense of security. A solid foundation to start from.  Then, on top of that, I’d take the opportunity to soar. That wouldn’t scare me at all. And I promise, at the very least, I’d  pay it back…with interest.

 

xo,

Carmen

 

Somewhere Between Rich and Poor

It’s raining.  It’s been raining for a while actually.  Don’t get me wrong, it’s beautiful, but sad bitmoji1646363289nonetheless. There’s a grey-ness to it all, a coldness. And yet, I welcome it. Somehow I see it as tears from heaven, if you believe in that kind of thing…

I work for this organization that does amazing things in the world. And it has the potential to do so much more. I’ve known this organization for years and although it never has paid very much, I’ve always loved the work.  My feeling is, if at the end of the day, you’re going to have to do something for a living, especially if it’s not your innate passion – like being a dancer, actor, writer or a painter — then you want to work with people who are at least doing some good in the world, right?  That should be an easy compromise.   And for me, if I’m not working as an artist on a given day and being paid for it, then being part of this organization is the blessing – to do work that helps someone else…to make a real difference in the world. Easy choice.

I think that’s why I ultimately left my job at a once cool start-up company many years ago. I loved the people, but at the end of the day – I hated that I was pouring my heart and soul into what was basically selling products.  Don’t get me wrong, there was much artistry to what these creative people were doing, but for me, it didn’t make sense.  Especially when things started going south with the partners – the owners — why would I ever want to dedicate my talent, sweat and tears to selling products?  When the time came for me to walk away – it actually wasn’t that hard to do.  Financially it killed me, but I just quit.  And it was the right thing to do. No regrets.

This time, things are so different.  This organization that I have the privilege of working for now is actually changing people’s lives. It makes a difference in the world.  And even though there are a lot of the problems happening, again, with the “owners”, it seems to still be worthy of all my efforts – my sweat and my tears – maybe even more so. Every time a delicate painful issue arises, I feel even more compelled to do the very best I can to make sure we continue to do the good work.  It seems odd to me, because you’d think I’d just want to quit and move on… but no. It makes me even more committed to stay, to figure it out, to help in any way I can.  It’s odd, and I guess I’m just trying to understand why…

I’ve worked for so many people – so many wealthy individuals – and for the most part, wealthy people are not any different from poor people.  They’ve all got problems.  I’m 100% positive I would never trade my life for any of the wealthy people I’ve ever known.  Not one.

See, the problems of rich people are just as real.  Surely, poor people – in this generalized example – tend to have an over-arching problem of never having enough money to do anything. And everything they try to do is usually about trying to pay a bill. It’s a horrible cycle. Living paycheck to paycheck.  Rich people don’t get that. Even poor people that become rich, forget that – because it’s an easy thing to forget. And the thing about poor people is, when you get that extra money from a bonus, or an unexpected financial gift that lets you pay up your bills on-time or ahead of schedule, ohhhhhhh, that feeling is priceless, right?  I mean, there is a cleanliness to it that is hard to explain.  A burden jumps off your shoulders that you didn’t even realize was sitting there.  Rich people don’t get that because the sheer aspect of financial security makes it difficult to comprehend.  If you hadn’t had to think about how your rent or mortgage is going to be paid, then you can’t feel that burden. If you don’t have to save money to buy a pair of jeans, then you don’t know the inner negotiating and anxiety that comes with having to choose between paying your gas bill or fudging it for the month and spending that money at Target instead simply because you’ve worn your one pair of jeans so much that they’re falling apart in the crotch.

But the rich – their burden seems worse to me.   Again, I’m totally generalizing here  –  but the rich walk around in constant thought that someone is trying to screw them over.  Rich people never seem to feel completely settled.  Trust is a coveted process and never fully practiced or embraced because they believe everyone has to prove themselves first – over and over again. Everything is about THEM. Their vulnerability, their money, their lives, their self-preservation. They are always the first to scream that they are NOT about their money at all. And they always claim NOT to be THAT rich.  Cracks me up.  But sadly they always think  someone wants something from them.  There’s a fear of some entity that’s going to try and steal from them.  It’s sad.  They’re not positive of who their friends are. They think its other rich people who “understand” them – but nine times out of ten, their friends are just as skittish about trust and friendship as they are.  So the rich pay therapists, and massage therapists, and psychics, and go on ridiculous shopping sprees and visit all sorts of doctors, spas, etc., — all because of feeling unsettled. It’s a different kind of anxiety than the poor feel, but anxiety nonetheless.  The rich, in my experience,  try to feel better by hiring lawyers and doctors who will tell them that they are fine – and the more they cost, the better because, well, if the “BEST” are telling you what you need to hear, then it must be right.   And look, I’m not even saying that all these doctors and lawyers are being abusive and sucking money from these people – truth is, a lot of these people are so fragile, they need to hear some sort of comfort, some information from somewhere…  And this tends to be one place where rich people get that from. It’s a vicious circle.

Poor people don’t have that luxury – to go find some professional to walk them through something.  Poor people can’t go to a doctor on a whim because they’re feeling bad and need someone to talk too, because the co-payment alone may be $90 and not in their budget for the month. That’s grocery money. So, poor people have to trust their friends, their family,  their co-workers,  right off the bat.  And in order to trust people, you have to get good at reading people, at intuition. At understanding who is screwing you over for money, and who is actually doing the work and deserving of your hard-earned pennies.  You don’t have money to waste, so the minute you realize you are being snowed, you walk away and find someone else.

Surely money gives you choices – but from my experience, sometimes having all that choice, leaves you less inclined to be wise.  It reminds me of going to a restaurant like the Cheesecake Factory whose menu is so large that it’s just too much to deal with. Most times I hate going there, unless I’m going just for some actual cheesecake.  But sometimes, when you have all that choice, it’s hard to be wise and choose accordingly.  I think of Michael Jackson too – he had so much money, so many choices – – and with all those choices he became unwise. Purchasing items that seemed ridiculous, just because he could.  I loved Michael Jackson’s music and performance – don’t get me wrong.  He was brilliant. But, clearly he chose badly. And in a lot of ways, I get it. It makes complete sense to me.

Please know, I’m not saying it’s better to be poor.  But what I am saying is that it’s not better to be rich either.  Now, I can’t claim to have ever been rich. But, I’ve had more money than I’ve ever needed at one point in my life – and I tell people all the time, it was the worst time in my life. Not because I had so much money, but because I was so unhappy. I was living a life that wasn’t authentically me.  Now, it wouldn’t have mattered if I was making $10 an hour or $1M a year, it was clearly the wrong job, the wrong place and the wrong time – and had little to do with money. But, for the purposes of this discussion, I remember what it was like not to have to question buying a new pair of jeans that cost $400. Yes, I said, $400.  I still own the Jimmy Choo shoes I bought back then – my Jimmy Choo boots cost $1000 and were fitted precisely to fit me and only me.  There was a freedom in having the bills paid and never having to worry about how the mortgage was going to be paid that month and every month after that. But with that kind of money also came something I never expected:  the insecurity of why people were being nice to me, or questioning why I was getting such incredible service… I specifically remember getting on a plane and being treated like I was a Queen.  The overwhelming kindness and people willing to jump at anything I may have said… of course, I was flying First Class.  The comfort was one thing – you paid for that, but the way people treated you just because you had money… that’s why rich folk get confused.  Truth is, people – good decent people, especially flight attendants – will treat everyone that way.  With Kindness.  And in coach you do get that sometimes…. Not the comfort, but yes, the best flight attendants are the best for a reason. But imagine, being treated that way ALL. THE. TIME. Every day.  It no longer is special, it becomes your new normal.  And “normal” gets old real fast. Basically, you realize people are kissing your ass, not because they are kind good people, but only because you have money and they HAVE to be nice to you. Yeah, it’s like that…and you can easily see why you’d start questioning everyone’s motives, right?

But rich people get that treatment – all the time.  Even when they don’t deserve it. They can bitch and moan and people servicing them will still treat them like the kings and queens they believe themselves to be.  Again, poor people don’t get that privilege. We are grateful when we meet other kind souls who work for a living and treat us like kings and queens, but we also understand when that same flight attendant is having a bad day and is just going through the motions – because we get that they’re working just trying to make a living too… and yet, at some point, no matter how bad their day is, they still have to go up to first class and keep on shining.

I guess all this to say, I’m grateful.  My dream of course, is to make enough money as an artist/creative entity every day and be able to live a comfortable and fulfilling life by telling stories, sharing Carmenisms and changing the world all on my own. But, in the meantime, I’m okay. Happy really. I would never want to have so much money again at the expense of my sanity, and I certainly never want to hate what I do for a living.  So, all and all, I’m okay. Maybe more than okay. This too shall pass…

It stopped raining.  But there’s a heavy tint of lingering grey – it may rain again.  I hope so. For now, everything is so quiet, so still. I have to admit, I love it.

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*The term “poor” here is simply defined as those living paycheck to paycheck. There is no doubt that “poor” in relative terms can and does mean something quite different in our world and this author knows the difference.

*Image used/created on App Bitmoji