For some, the connection between financial wealth and a rich spiritual life is anything but obvious. Cultural beliefs seem to tell us that the two states are mutually exclusive, or at the very least incompatible with each other.
We often accept lower salaried jobs in order to ‘do good’ and live out our passion. We volunteer to support our favorite causes. Some go to the extreme – and attempt to live without money or many of the other common resources the rest of us depend on – in order to live a more spiritually awakened life and embrace an environmentally-friendly lifestyle. In the hippie community, we idolize those people who have gone to such extreme measures to work towards creating a new society: one founded upon higher ideals rather than a competitive economic system.
However, if you’re not living the eco-friendly, commune lifestyle, but instead belong to a capitalist society of the 21st century, you likely know the shame and guilt that results from a sub-par cash flow. When the amount of money you earn, or the balance of your bank account, is insufficient – leaving you to struggle to cover your most basic expenses or other components of your desired lifestyle – it can be difficult not to internalize your external financial situation. Having lost one’s fortune, or struggling to ever make one in the first place, can be a demoralizing, painful experience in a hyper-competitive, dollar-worshipping world.
What is money anyway? It is easy to understand currency as a way to assign a numerical value to things that we deem, well, valuable. We place a higher value on, for example, a brand new $50,000 car, than we do on a used vehicle priced at only $1,000. We live in a world which encourages us to buy and spend money on every corner. Advertisements and shops surround us in our daily life; they are unavoidable. We have been trained to constantly assess the worth of this item over that, this brand over the other, etc. The most powerful people in the pyramid of society are those that can afford whatever products, services, or life experiences they want and the masses aspire – and work tirelessly – to gain this fundamental financial freedom.
One of the most natural human tendencies, it would seem, is to compare. We compare apples at the supermarket in order to find the most delicious fruit. We compare all of our options, which are seemingly infinite in the free market societies that reign. Worst of all, in large part thanks to our egos, we commit the most fatal error: we compare ourselves to those around us.
Through such thinking patterns, which I would argue are unconscious, and can be corrected through spiritual practices such as meditation – we give ourselves permission to see ourselves as better than others, in some cases. This ego boost can come in various outfits – maybe it’s having the healthiest groceries at the supermarket checkout (I am certainly guilty of feeling smug in this scenario). For others, it might be being able to buy a shiny, brand new status symbol – a car, new pair of Nikes, or expensive watch. These things make us feel better about ourselves and boost our confidence.
When we compare ourselves to others, however, more often than not, we end up assessing our successes (or lack of) side by side to those around us who we deem to be more successful. This leads to feelings of unworthiness, loss of self-esteem, etc. – I don’t have to go into much detail here, I think you get my drift. We’ve all experienced the twinge of pain that comes when we realize we are earning less money than our friends or neighbors; when that certain coworker always seems to be a few steps ahead, or when we cannot afford the goods and luxuries that seem to come so easily to others.
As a 20-something trying to establish a career and start a new life in a foreign country, I can attest to these feelings of unworthiness. As a recent graduate, I recognize, of course, my privilege, but also feel the immense burden of what this privilege demands of me. At this point in my life, having been given so many opportunities, with so many resources at my disposal, it is time to make it big or go home sorry (and the second option is NOT an option).
From the United States to Germany, and now to Austria, I have observed an increase in the quality of life and standard of living in each country respectively. Life is good in America; but it’s even better in Germany (especially in Bavaria, the richest state in the country); and Austrians seem to be even better off. I am incredibly grateful to have the chance to make it here – to begin a new life in Austria, one of the world’s safest countries and certainly most socially responsible economies. Here, everyone enjoys a minimum of 25 days of paid leave per year, generous maternity and paternity benefits, a state-mandated summer and winter bonus for all employed workers, a virtually crimeless society, a huge network of social resources, access to affordable, high-quality education, comprehensive health insurance, etc. etc.
I could go on and on!
Because the citizens here enjoy such a high quality of life, many can afford things that I, in my student years, or simply as an American with a modest background, haven’t managed to afford just yet. Vacations to exotic locations every year for example – wouldn’t that be nice! These are the kind of luxuries, many Austrians take for granted.
The months between finishing university and beginning my first ‘real job’ have been, in many ways, the toughest times in my life. They have also been the most incredible times of my life. Thanks to the support I’ve received from family and loved ones, I’ve been able to travel, to experience life in Austria with my boyfriend, to go for ice cream and dinner and even the Opera once in a while. I have truly never lived such a good life.
And at the same time, I have truly never been so broke!
The transition from living in Germany to living in Austria has meant difficulties in gaining access to the labor market. What I had hoped would be a seamless transition from intern to employee became a 4-month-long nightmare of (gasp!) NOT working and endlessly hunting for jobs that would enable me to receive an Austrian visa. As a person who has been working ever since the age of 15, this period of unemployment shook my world and seriously wounded my self-esteem.
Living with so little money to your name, in a society where everyone seems to have their s*** together, can feel belittling and humiliating. I remember one time when I was completing my internship, I came home after a long and exhausting week of working in Vienna. I wanted nothing more than to go home and straight to bed, to forget the stress of the work week. I quickly left the train station, getting on the usual subway that would take me home, without realizing that my monthly subway pass had expired and it was time to buy a new one. When the woman on the train asked for my ticket, she issued me a 60 euro “Schwarzfahrer” ticket – a fee for riding the subway illegally. It was only a 5-minute ride. Upon receiving the ticket, I promptly broke down and started openly crying in the crowded public train – dismayed and devastated at the fact that I was working 50 hour weeks – yet still didn’t even have enough money to pay for this ticket – which was an innocent mistake. It could have happened to anyone, I reasoned, and most of the Austrians on this train would have no problem paying a 60€ train fee.
The gloom I experienced then stemmed from a fear-based belief that despite my hard work and achievements, I didn’t belong here. Maybe I would never be good enough to fit into the high-class, sophisticated Austrian society. If I do not have the money that one needs to survive and thrive here – to live like a normal person here – maybe I am not worthy of being here at all.
Thoughts like these drove me to equate my personal, intrinsic worthiness with the amount of money I had to my name. Which, if you think about it, is downright crazy in and of itself. We all go through periods of time when we have less money than other times. However, who we are, our intrinsic value as a person, is not affected by these temporary hard times. Who we are is not changed by our financial standing!
So what then, does your bank account balance say about you?
When you have no money to your name or find yourself in debt, it’s easy to take this apparent lack of value and apply it to yourself. STOP! Don’t do it. Remember that you are intrinsically worthy. You were put into this world for a reason. You have something special to give, something of value to contribute to society – the question is not a matter of your worthiness. I believe we were all born with intrinsic worth and value. We all have immense potential to defy expectations and make our wildest dreams come true.
The real question then, is what value are you contributing to society? Are you actively helping others, sharing your wisdom, skills, competencies and knowledge with the world in a proactive and helpful way? Are you giving the special strengths that only you have to give? Are you adding value to the world?
When our income does not match up with the income we desire, we do not need to change ourselves – we need to change how we add value.
The money you receive is not a reflection of your value – but rather how much value you are contributing to society.
I cannot take credit for this idea, which saved me at a time when I let my self-confidence and sense of self-worth sink through the floor. Looking for my first ‘real job’ was a process that took more than a year, and after sending out 60+ applications and receiving rejection after rejection, I felt that I had hit rock bottom. When I found what I thought at the time to be the perfect position for me – and interviewed twice with the company only to be told there were other more experienced candidates out there – I wanted to curl up into the fetal position and never try again.
But I got up, and tried again, and eventually landed an amazing position at a company that I am thrilled to be able to work for. I realized that the job that I had thought was right for me, wasn’t right at all, and in fact, there were better ways that I would be able to add value in the world and make my contribution.
The video below is Kate Northrup’s 2012 talk in the Wanderlust Speakeasy Lecture Series. Entitled, “It’s Spiritual to be Rich”, Northrup shares her inspiring story of going from financial havoc to financial health and wealth, and gives practical advice and important wisdom on how spirituality relates to your financial wellbeing. She taught me the lesson, that my income is a reflection of the value that I am adding to society and NOT a reflection of my inherent worth. Since adopting this new perspective I will never turn back – feelings of low self-worth are not worth investing my energy into. Instead, I’ll invest my time and energy into contributing my skills to create something of value in the world.
People like Jim Carrey, Oprah, and Tony Robbins have attributed their financial wealth and success to their spiritual perspectives, and I can’t help but see the direct connection myself between my mental and spiritual outlook on life and my successes. For example, after meditating on unlocking my potential one day, I received two interview invitations the next day! Coincidence or some kind of spiritual law of cause and effect? You decide.
Watch Kate Northrup’s talk below if you could use a pick me up or some compassionate advice about how to improve your confidence – and financial situation.
Wishing you all the best for your journey,