Money, Scarcity, & Separation
The time has come for me to make a clean break from scarcity. In this probably-too-longwinded piece, I want to explain how I’m doing that and why I think it matters.
Lately, I’ve come to several sobering realizations:
Deep down, I’m not interested in making money… period. When I finally let myself be honest, I realized I simply don’t give a shit. Money and traditional work are a nuisance that constantly interrupts my flow. No matter how “not ok” it is to have this as my truth, it’s the truth. I want to be left alone, and I want to do important work that won’t necessarily generate much profit (and god damnit, I’m not backing down this time!)
As someone with a very sensitive system, I simply don’t have the stamina for a traditional ‘career-driven’ life. Regardless of what my mind wants, my body gives a HARD no when I start going down that path.
My drive for “success” was mostly a program that said “being self-sufficient and independent makes you awesome and dependence is lame.” It said that only when I achieved financial success would I be “allowed” back into society (allowed to have real human connection).
And the final nail in the coffin: Whenever I try to make Exist Better into more of a “business” or work more “strategically,” I completely lose sight of what I’m doing. It annihilates my creativity and waters down my message. I start hating it, I get tired, I forget the point of it. The more profit-driven Exist Better becomes, the more its purpose disappears: It becomes the very thing it was created to subvert.
Not wanting to participate in the financial system, not wanting to ‘stimulate the economy’ seems wrong at first glance. To not want to work constantly and generate profit [for someone else, who, let’s face it, is usually an asshole] instantly gets you labeled as lazy and worthless, a deadbeat, a bad citizen.
But let’s be real, we’re not usually talking about genuine contribution - We’re talking about enslavement. This is brainwashing. Hell, I’d even say it’s a human rights crisis. Much of the modern workforce is employed by people they don’t like doing things they don’t want to do, but they can’t stop because they need food and shelter (this, by the way, is disorganized attachment). And it’s the norm in the richest, most ‘civilized’ nation in the world.
Is this really all that advanced?
“How can you have dignity in labor if you personally believe your job shouldn’t really exist?”
Academic, David Graeber details how a shocking majority of today’s jobs consist of admin work - paper pushers who are secretly embarrassed of how little meaningful work they do. He knows, because he’s talked to hundreds, if not thousands of them. We are literally creating fake jobs just for the sake of it.
Things are F#*&ed (But Choice Still Exists)
Despite our awareness that corruption abounds and things aren’t as they should be, a sense of helplessness often prevails - There’s no other option.
I started reading Sacred Economics by Charles Eisenstein, and all of my exhaustion and intense resistance to profit-earning suddenly made sense.
The book documents the dysfunction in the US economic system so clearly that once you see it, you can’t unsee it. Even conscious investing is somewhat predatorial.
Now let’s come to terms with some collective things:
The vast majority of America’s economic activity is destroying the planet. Literally.
All of the land people are profiting off, ruining, & even charging rent for is stolen. Literally.
Nearly everything that was once free/shared in community is now sold (eg. water, childcare, creative work, healing arts, counseling, etc)
Philosophers of the past predicted an ‘age of leisure’ in which our advanced technology would allow us to work less. Instead? People work 40+ hour weeks and still feel it isn’t enough.
Most people don’t even bother trying to live the lives they want or give their gifts to the world because they “can’t afford to.” People don’t even feel able to guide the direction of their lives.
I could go on, but I think you get the gist - Something has gone wrong. This is not the natural trajectory of human life. This is not how it ‘had to be.’
Now before I start sounding like an angry protester railing against the government, let’s pause. I’ve critiqued modern liberalism/protest culture in the past – It’s not my cup of tea. But neither is denial. We have to stop internalizing this as our fault because that is exactly how you stay ensnared in scarcity and financial shame.
We are all victims of this cancerous economic model [some more than others] because it denies what humans actually need to thrive. Even those who inherit wealth and don’t have to worry as much are often crippled by guilt. Even rich people live in terror of losing their fortune. No one gets out alive.
But choice still exists. Every day, we are opting in or out of dysfunction. Every day we’re in relationship with the system, either letting it throw us around like ragdolls or standing in self-respect.
Whether it’s choosing not to shop at destructive companies, looking for a job that doesn’t dehumanize you, raising your children to be healthy and un-brainwashed, or quitting mindless shopping because you feel you don’t have enough - everything counts.
Let’s not forget that the very first, most necessary step in this process is self-allegiance - loyalty to your values and boundaries. If you’re not careful, you become part of the ecology that is being destroyed.
The dilemma most people raise at this point is, “Ok great, but I need to make money. I’m just one person – no one else is doing anything to change it.”
Of course. Don’t strip naked and run out into the woods and try to live off nuts and seeds. But at the same time, don’t let the apathetic masses lure you into their cult of complacency. Change only occurs from the bottom up, not the top down. No savior is coming, which is why I’m not thrilled about most protests - They ask perpetrators to change. This is about as effective as asking an abuser to please stop abusing. The question itself reveals who we believe is in control.
Reclaim your dignity in any way that is possible today, and again tomorrow. Because the truth is, regular people dictate the economy, not the 5 billionaires everyone loves to complain about.
This financial system requires each individual to start learning & exercising their own boundaries. This is a two-part process:
Stop letting yourself be taken advantage of. Stop selling your soul for money.
Start giving, sharing, or otherwise refusing to live in scarcity.
In other words, stop centering money as the god of your life.
But What’s the Alternative?
“The gift economy represents a shift from consumption to contribution, transaction to trust, scarcity to abundance, and isolation to community.” - Charles Eisenstein
If turning everything into a commodity is the problem, the solution is to go against what we’ve been taught, which is that good citizens stimulate the economy. We begin to explore that which we are “not allowed” or “can’t afford” to explore. Things like:
our own creative pursuits and hobbies
community & socialization (whether in person or online)
personal goals that seem impossible, but might be possible
charity or giving things away for free, if you are in a position to do so
Oh and my personal favorite, striking up conversations with strangers. To be honest, I don’t consciously practice this, but it is the ultimate de-programming hack, and it’s incredibly easy to do. Especially in commerce-driven cities, people are rude, suspicious, anxious, and always in a rush. Everyone is time-poor and any action that has no logical benefit is considered superfluous.
In an enslaved, profit-driven world, being friendly and carefree is a weapon [The book Outliers, tells the story of a secret group of saboteurs who used comedic stunts to disrupt a totalitarian regime - If they can do it, anyone can do it].
Basically, we begin to behave as if scarcity is not real and freedom is. We begin to do things that make no logical sense in the context of the system, but free us from its shackles. We stop trying to ‘get ahead’ or ‘get more done’ and realize this is just how we were programmed to be machines instead of people.
This is what many would call ‘following your inner child’ or living like a kid again. But these things are actually just inherent to being a human being. We’re simply taught that they’re pointless or impossible once we’re sucked into the rat race.
So what’s the alternative?
While I can't possibly explain in full detail here, the Gift Economy is the replacement system outlined in Sacred Economics. It's about de-commodifying ourselves, our things, and our work and instead leaning into gift giving (yes, that means giving things away for free). This works because in an age of scarcity, generosity is not only counterintuitive, it's revolutionary.
It rights the wrongs of the current system [built on the foundation of human separation] and brings us back in connection with ourselves and each other. While we are still far away from this model, there are little ways to start experimenting with it now.
I’m Putting My [Lack of] Money Where My Mouth Is
“Direct action is, ultimately, the defiant insistence on acting as if one is already free.” - David Graeber
And so it begins - my own experiment with the Gift Economy model. Ideally, I’d like to somehow bring these practices into both Exist Better and my real life.
First, I’m going to start looking at things differently. Rather than inviting people into a business transaction, I'm inviting them into a relationship. Rather than charging for everything, I'm brainstorming what I can create and offer for free. I already know that this will: ⦁ greatly diminish my scarcity complex and un-enslave my creative impulse ⦁ end the belief that Exist Better is only valid if it fits the capitalist model of success (to "de-commodify" my work) ⦁ eliminate the nagging sense that I am profiting off people’s pain or lower socioeconomic status
encourage others to take responsibility for their own gifting and decide if and how to return the favor based on their own income level and gratitude for the service
On the surface, not much changes. For example, in the Gift Economy, someone can still 'gift' a service and receive a donation (because the receiver chose to give somethin in return). For that reason, some would say that all of this is just a marketing gimmick. Or they might say that it’s all semantics and you might as well shut up and charge people like normal.
But to me, that sounds a lot like the voice of the system (nothing you do matters, just put your head down and work, idiot!)
When I started exploring this mode of being, I could feel the relief almost immediately - like a preview of what it would be like to truly live in a society like this, a place where people give their gifts freely and can trust that they’ll be taken care of in various ways too.
Freedom and gratitude increase, scarcity and stinginess decrease. It’s not about how much you earn or how much you sacrifice. It’s about freeing yourself from dysfunction and taking yourself out of the chain of exploitation. People have to begin opting into something newer and better, no matter how awkward or confusing it is in the beginning.
Compliance to dysfunction is not a virtue.
From a shadow work perspective, there is no virtue in pretending you don’t like receiving gifts or money. Before writing this I considered how some people will undoubtedly insist I’m trying to get attention for being virtuous (by announcing I want to give things away for free), but then I thought, “Well, yea. I do like attention.” Ha! When I was a kid I’d run up and down the sofa singing into a hairbrush. No one ever told me, “Shut up, you’re just looking for attention.”
Basically, I don’t believe in excess humility or making sure my self-serving motives aren’t showing. Of course I want money, I want attention, I want everyone to love what I’m doing and think it’s so cool (I’m also an Enneagram 4 – We were basically born to smoke cigarettes in leather jackets and hope everyone notices).
To deny that we want money, gifts, or attention is to deny we have egos, and that in itself is self-righteous.
The Problem with Deserving
There’s been a lot of talk about “charging what they’re worth” in the entrepreneurial world.
I’m all about the movement from self-hate to self-worth, but eventually we need to come to a more mature understanding. Mostly, we need to realize that we don’t exist in a vacuum – There are others, and we, to some extent, have a responsibility to them.
So for example, if I’m going to ‘charge what I’m worth,’ I might decide I’m worth ten grand (lol). Does that mean people can and will pay that to spend time with me? ….The concept falls apart immediately.
Not to mention, you’re a person. You don’t have a price tag because you’re not a commodity. You’re not a bottle of Alka-Seltzer. But in our economic system, people ARE commodities, or they’re trying to be.
For example, I saw a website a few weeks ago with various B-list (C-list? D-list?) celebrities charging for things like Twitter follows, Skype calls, and other vague interactions with their “fans.” Most of them I didn’t even recognize, let alone want a weird conversation on Skype. But the prices were high. You might say these people were charging what they’re worth. In a pride-based consumer culture, that’s a lot of cash!
This is the embodiment of what has best been described as ‘late stage capitalism.’ The bizarre and undignified commoditization of everything, almost none of which is useful or valuable.
Whether capitalism is really ending like everyone says is questionable. It really depends on what choices the majority make. It depends on what will win the battle: actions toward scarcity or actions toward liberation. Most people say they want change, but extremely few are willing to part with the promise of steady heaps of cash.. and you can barely blame them.
After all, I’m writing this to inspire a change. But if you read this and go quit your job tomorrow, I’m not gonna be there to pay your rent. I’m encouraging you to take steps in the right direction, away from enslavement and commodifying your labor, but each person has to figure out how they can do that. The world isn't exactly blossoming with opportunities to live without heavy dependence on money - even going off grid to escape requires a heap of cash.
Deserving is a social construct that goes hand-in-hand with scarcity.
If you’re wondering, what do I really deserve?” I’ll save you some time: Everything. You deserve a million dollars, thousands of adoring fans, support, freedom, the best slurpees from 7-11, everything.
Does that mean what you deserve will be handed to you on a silver platter? Probably not.
Does not having what you deserve mean you’re not working hard enough? Nope.
Does it mean you should strategically position yourself in a way where you can manipulate others to get what you deserve? No!
You’ll know you’re in the right places with the right people when you are mostly getting what you deserve naturally. Where you feel mostly taken care of. Oh, and it’s dependent on what others have the capacity to give, so chill out on all the slurpees.
Why Healers Probably Shouldn’t Be Making Bank off Your Trauma
“When what we offer is sacred, the only honorable way to offer it is as a gift."
Eisenstein says some bold things about the healing world, which pumps out graduates of various schools year-round. Many of these graduates expect to earn a living charging $100 bucks a pop from as many 1-1 sessions they can cram into their calendar, he says, but the market is oversaturated.
I'm basically one of these people, so I harbor no judgement. But it's definitely not ideal.
The longer I tried to force 'getting lots of clients', the more fake it felt. It’s not that getting money in exchange for healing work is unethical, especially in a world that requires dollars for survival. It’s just that when you turn your gifts into a commodity that needs to pay your bills, it changes the energy of what you’re doing – There’s no way around it. It becomes a hustle.
You begin to blur the lines between changing the system and serving it. For example, if someone has a lot of trauma from growing up poor in an abusive environment, and I (with less trauma and less poverty) force them to pay me $200 for a 1-hour conversation that couldn’t possibly be enough to fix their entire situation, I become a capitalist, profiting off the pain of others.
To get them back at that same high price point, I’ll have to behave like a used car salesman, poking pain points, reminding them that their life sucks and mine doesn’t (this is Instagram in a nutshell, by the way).
That is seriously dicey territory for people doing counseling, coaching, healing arts, etc.
People have real trauma - Their lives are not gold mining opportunities.
I thought about it a lot, and unfortunately it doesn't seem feasible for me to do this work fully in the Gift Economy at this time (that might change - I would honestly love to go 100%. This would mean all 1-1 work is given as a gift, and the practitioner fully lives off of what clients decide to give back).
But right now, I can certainly do the next best thing: Keep my living expenses super low so I can afford to charge reasonable rates, offer payment plans, and talk with clients ahead of time to make sure paying for my sessions won't destabilize them).
I believe pay-what-you-can and sliding scale business models are a way to ease into a Gift Economy. These transaction feel different for both parties, as a bit of humanity is brought into them. We go from strict transactions to cooperative relationships.
While money is still exchanging hands, the coercion is removed. Prices aren't defined by the practitioner's drive to grow and scale into some giant, generic healing assembly line.
Some might say, “Ok, I get it. But not everyone can be trusted to give back or be grateful for what they receive. If you give things away for free, people will take advantage. They'll make a fool out of you!"
But What About Boundaries?
Does this mean that transitioning to a Gift Economy dooms us to poverty, self-sacrifice, and dealing with people who mooch?
Not really. That’s actually already the current system. Plus, several people and businesses have already shown that it’s possible to make a livable wage while operating in the gift.
Gifting doesn’t mean that you’re not allowed to have boundaries. It doesn’t mean you have to spend time on people who don’t appreciate you and never give back. According to Eisenstein, these people were actually ostracized in traditional gifting cultures.
Because there are still so many living in scarcity (real or imagined), it’s simply the truth that some people want everything for free – they want to take advantage of others and hoard what they have (a response to scarcity). In the Gift Economy, these are people you can simply choose to avoid as an act of self-respect and self-protection. You don’t welcome people into your circle if they feel threatening. This rule still applies in the Gift Economy.
Having to put up with disrespectful people and not being allowed to have boundaries is a huge part of the traditional workplace. Just look at office workers who hate their boss who makes them work overtime, or food service workers who have to directly take shit from the public for no reason at all.
We already have a serious boundaries problem in the current system – gifting isn’t likely to make it much worse.
Money vs Creation
People say, “money makes the world go round.” But when we zoom in closer at the things that have actually changed and benefited society, human creativity is actually at the heart of it. This includes science and invention, which are often considered logical, non-creative fields.
Capitalism prizes the opposite of creativity: uniformity, rigid structures, doing things the same way every time, and discouraging curiosity and uniqueness. All of these qualities are great in factories, but they deaden the human spirit.
Over time, we came to see people who embodied creative characteristics as unintelligent, problematic, childish, or incompetent. Why? Because those qualities don’t generate wealth - They simply benefit individuals and their communities, for free.
Natural medicine helps people heal and can be grown in one’s backyard, but the medical institution insists it’s useless. Similarly, creativity and community are the ultimate competitors of the financial system - they render it unnecessary.
We forgot to separate our own worth from monetary value, and so capitalism has slowly been internalized. This is what leads to the infamous, soul-crushing inner dialogues like:
I want to ____ but I can’t because I don’t have money. I want to ____ but I can’t because I have to work.
(Takes a 5 minute break) I really should be working right now.
We don’t need bosses to whip us into shape - We do it to ourselves.
Yes, you may have to work. Yes, you need enough money to cover your expenses. But this simple fact doesn’t disqualify you from a life worth living - It doesn’t exempt you from being allowed to try. Rather than your job or income level being the centerpiece of your life, let what you want take precedent. Your life isn't just an afterthought to your job or income.
Money Grows on Trees
“The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something we make and could just as easily make differently.” - David Graeber
I always thought it was peculiar that people would say, “Money doesn’t grow on trees.”
I’d think, “It’s paper… It's literally a tree.” (apparently it’s made of cotton, so it grows on.. shrubs? same thing)
In our hectic day-to-day lives, we often forget about what money really is, where it comes from.
Money is printed.
If you think about that long enough, some cognitive dissonance should start to set in. If people are just printing money, why do some children have to starve? Couldn’t we just pause operations one day and print some for them – as a one-time emergency thing?
I get that things are not nearly as simple as they sound, but that “it’s complicated” mindset provides the perfect excuse to sit back and tolerate everything.
Life’s only complicated because we made it complicated. It’s only complicated because conquering the world instead of communing with it is complicated.
“You can not overestimate the unimportance of practically everything.” - John Maxwell
A little while back, I stopped paying my student loans. Not to make some profound political statement, but because I suspected the money wasn’t going anywhere useful. I may be wrong, but I’d rather sacrifice “good credit” (another construct that is somewhat comical these days with inflation and wages as they are) and spend that money meeting my own needs, buying things for my immediate family, or donating it when I see someone doing something awesome.
I’d rather the overrun volunteer dog rescue in Venezuela get my student loan money than some nameless, mysterious entity. And since I can’t afford to do both without chaining myself to a 9-5, dog rescue it is.
Ideally, we’d have no debt, or we’d pay our debts. Ideally, we’d have 6 figures in savings. But these are not ideal times. When you’re trying to find a way to live by your values sometime before you’re dead, you start to realize that a lot of these things just don’t make the cut – They don’t matter enough. We don’t have time to worry about them and live a life worth living at the same time.
It’s easier to see this from an entrepreneurial perspective, as business owners actually create what they offer (eg. a baker, a graphic designer). But it's even true for traditional workers. You are doing things that ensure the sustainability of a company. If you and everyone else quit, money would stop flowing there.
If you can start training yourself to see money as something you create, it will help move you away from scarcity and into choice. Choice consciousness is simply the constant awareness that outside of societal constructs, you are technically, unabashedly free - and maybe you should start acting like it.
You are not an indentured servant out in nature. You don’t owe the earth rent for existing. We simply feel that way because immense pressure has been put on us by a flawed, man-made system of artificial scarcity. The only reprieve most people get is a vacation, and more and more workers are skipping those altogether.
You never have enough, and it’s somehow all your fault.
In shifting this mindset, we start small. For example, if you find a dime on the ground, you just made money. If a friend buys you a drink, in a sense, you just made money. From there, you can start to grow it. Maybe you create something you’re proud of and sell it. Maybe you give away a bunch of your old stuff you don't want for free. Maybe you join a co-op and save money on food while supporting local farmers.
These little activities are the seeds of the Gift Economy. They’re not silly or meaningless. They help us mentally un-couple work from money and see that abundance can be created outside of the traditional job market.
While not everyone needs to be an entrepreneur, we can all start to remember that we create money. In that sense, we create abundance. That doesn’t just mean selling things. You could even bring these concepts into the workplace and test them out - Employers are more aware than ever that professionals are fed up, and desperate efforts to “retain more talent” show that they’re open to change.. because they have to be :)
Your community can also become a source of abundance, though most of us are living far from a communal lifestyle right now (eg. When was the last time you borrowed sugar from the neighbors?)
Baby steps will bring us back to feeling like we are in charge. Even as the economic system seems to hold metaphorical guns to our heads, it relies just as much on us as we do on it.
But How Do You Receive?
“If right investing uses money as gift to support the creation of a more beautiful world, then right livelihood accepts that gift as it does that work.”
Ok, so we’re finally getting to the explanation. How do we start operating in a gift economy while money, scarcity, and isolation are still the norm?
Obviously we’re still largely dependent on the US dollar, so gifts that come in that form will have to be prioritized in many cases. That doesn’t necessarily invalidate efforts toward a gift economy.
Here are some ideas I’m brainstorming for Exist Better. If this platform grows big enough, it's possible I could run fully in the Gift Economy with things like:
Random donations through Ko-fi
Receiving gifts after 1-1 meetings (much like the typical model, only I don't require a specific amount)
Receiving help from others who offer services, gifts, collaborations, etc. in non-monetary ways (I'm already exchanging services in this way with someone in another country!)
Donations during or after livestreams
It seems like a stretch, but just thinking about these things has already changed me for the better. I've started to make the energetic shift from “I do what I have to" to “I do what I want to.” I've felt more in flow, less frantic and rushed, like I have to earn money or else.
For me, this will also be an experiment to see if and how living from a place of assumed abundance creates more abundance - both social and financial. Honestly, I'd love for the Gift Economy to "work" in a practical sense. I'd love to be a part of the community of creators who are a bit more privileged and thus opting into this model to show the world it's possible.
Lastly and most importantly, a gift economy is about removing barriers to connection. It is about undoing the damage of today's culture of isolation that has become "normal" to us.
So here's to an experiment, and an attempt to tip the scales back toward balance, community, & dignity instead of scarcity, exploitation, and fear... I'll let you know how it goes.
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