I had planned to officially retire next year. Then my modest financial portfolio went south with the rest of the market, and I pushed the date back one year. The market has rebounded since then, but still I’m leery of walking away from a regular paycheck and “downsizing” my life.
In short, I have become a victim of poverty consciousness.
Poverty consciousness is the belief that there isn’t enough of anything to go around: not enough money, not enough time, not enough planning, leaders, clean air, rest, love – just about anything that you want or think you and others need, or that is important to you.
There’s never a poverty of trouble with poverty consciousness – the trouble that comes from constantly thinking you don’t have enough of something. When you have plenty of trouble, you also have plenty of company, because the thing we desire most of all is someone to tell our troubles to.
It’s incredibly easy to drift into poverty consciousness, especially in a material culture where self-worth and self-validation are often equated with the quantity and quality of consumption. It’s also hugely ironic for someone like myself, who preaches the gospel of a strength-based approach to life and gives speeches on leveraging your assets, and not framing yourself or your community in terms of deficits.
I have no trouble telling others to jump into the water and learn how to swim as you go along. Yet here I am, standing on the shore with one foot tentatively dangling in the current, thinking it might be too cold, too dark, too dangerous to take the plunge into the unknown.
Self-help books and blogs are replete with advice on how to escape poverty consciousness. The psychology of abundance, of spiritual prosperity, strong faith, service to others – it’s all good advice that reminds us we are more than the sum of our material parts in a material world. It may ring hollow for the millions of people around the world who live in crushing conditions of real poverty, but then they don’t read self-help books, surf the Internet, or listen to Dolly Parton’s song, “A Coat of Many Colors,” where she sings “You’re only poor if you want to be.”
Poverty consciousness is not the same thing as poverty, for sure. There is no necessary relationship between consciousness and reality, as thousands of years of delusional thinking will attest.
The real cause of poverty consciousness, I suspect, is poverty of the imagination, our inability to see a future built on anything other than the continuation of our pervasive consumer culture and the dogma of economic reductionism. Consider our schools, which are exhorted to prepare “ready kids, ready graduates, ready workforce.” Once upon a time, schools were in the business of education: unlocking the power of the imagination through inquiry, discovery and exposure to the very best of the sciences, literature and the arts. Today, education is reduced to training: preparing “workers” to take their place in a “global” economy.
From education to training, from life-long students to workers. That’s one example of poverty of the imagination as far as I’m concerned.
In any event, I’ve come to the conclusion that if I wait until I have enough money to retire, I’ll never do it. Looking back, if I had waited until I had a solid plan or could see a clear path to what I was going to do next, I would have missed all the wonderful opportunities, challenges and friends that have come my way.
So I have decided not to retire at all. I’m simply going to resign my current position, then look around and see what’s out there. With any luck, it will be something good. If not, I’ll go with the cards I’m dealt and try to make a game of it.
Most things run down as we grow older, but the imagination doesn’t need to be one of them.
Feedback? Send it my way: Roger.Hughes@slhi.org.
*The Drift reflects the views of the author, and does not represent the official view of SLHI’s Board of Trustees and staff.