Broke vs. Poor and Paying it Forward

So many times in my young, broke life, someone else’s generosity changed the game.

Whether it was a trip or simply a meal out with a friend’s family, or an indulgent meal paid for by an aunt or uncle while I was in college — even the expensive wine and cheeses or celebratory meals my first boss hosted, which I now realize were write-offs that should have been salary! — put a little steel in my spine. It polished my step.

The moments, big and small, exposed me to finer things or let me relax and enjoy in a way that was so hard on my own dime. The warmth to my soul, even now, brought by the gaze and gesture of someone else’s giving, provided a few lessons that I hope never leave me on this money journey.

First. Being broke is barely related to being poor.

No matter how many overdraft charges or late payments I had in my thriftless 20s, I never doubted I’d have enough to eat. I feared making rent, but knew I would never be homeless or put in a compromising position to find a place to stay. And throughout my life I was exposed to riches: amazing arts at the hand of the public programming in SF, home ownership, books on shelves, transit that let me get around, food from every corner of the Earth. Each of these, and especially all of these taken together, make for a very different path. One that points up and has continually boosted me along the way.

The other is the profound gift of extending access.

Access can be to experience or introductions or places or food that sits beyond the reach of another person. Now, as a person of means, I think about that in all kinds of ways. In how and where I spend – on the products of artisans? In small businesses? With women or minority owned establishments?

Sometimes, though not as often as I can. And sometimes (often?) beyond what I need.

But when I consider how much of our culture trains our gaze up – to more and more security, to growing and preserving wealth, to expanding and even exploding expenses – I want to keep track of how high up the pyramid I sit. That even when I felt broke and out of control, I started near its peak and have only climbed. Part of my definition of value is to pay it forward and spread it out.

My goal now is to increase consciousness, so I am not simply spending frivolously or as a quick serotonin hit, but with thought and intention toward these values, and toward more traditional goals.

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