Money for Meaning

Money for Meaning

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An Improvised Life (Part 3 of 3: Improvisation as a Life Skill – and Tool to Sock Money Away)

Becoming more comfortable with improvising can lead to greater joy and spontaneity in our lives. Like any muscle, it works better when we use it regularly. This muscle can also atrophy if we always default to “BUT…” whenever we encounter something new and different.  When we allow ourselves to be open to new ideas and new experiences, when we give ourselves permission to say “YES” – and to be comfortable with any outcome as long as we find meaning and joy in the process – we begin to create a life that is deeply aligned with our core values.

We all know what being fully present feels like. When we’re present, we’re not judging our experiences – or ourselves or others – as “good” or “bad”. We’re not trying to control our experience with an iron grip, but allowing ourselves to discover what naturally comes up – allowing our core self to shine through. We connect with the people we love on the deepest level. Improv and parenthood are two of the best training grounds for being present that I have ever found.

When we feel joyful and present in the moment, we let go of the need for distractions. We feel so vibrant and alive in the here and now, so why try to mentally escape anywhere else? Great – but how do we experience this more often? It’s in our power to set the stage. Let’s say we come home tired from work. Maybe our tendency is to sit down and turn on the TV and watch the news. Then we eat some processed food from the microwave, go on social media, and do some online shopping. After doing a few chores, we binge watch our favorite show. What are the chances that we’ll be reenergized and ready to engage in life after that? We may feel more drained and unfulfilled, and wonder where the hours went. Imagine if we took a walk instead, enjoying sunshine, breeze, birds and flowers – or even the aliveness that a winter chill brings? Or if we connected with someone through deep conversation? Or created a meal from scratch using fresh ingredients? Or pursued an interest and created or built something new? How would we feel after that?

For bonus points, we could cut cable and save that monthly payment. Yes, yes, I can already hear: “BUT I watch football on ESPN, “BUT my favorite show is on HBO”, “BUT this is how I decompress/get the news”, “BUT everyone has cable”. If we can go without cable for one month, and replace it with books, walks, conversations, creativity – it’s quite possible we wouldn’t even miss it. A middle-ground option is to replace cable with something like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime. But major kudos if we get rid of the TV altogether!

Improvising in daily life can be a fun challenge and save us money. Whenever we consider buying something to serve a perceived need, we can ask ourselves, “Is there another way I can do this?” We will surprise ourselves with how often the answer is “yes”. Let’s say we want to get fit, and then we receive an ad in the mail for the VersaClimber, like I just did (if you’ve never heard of it, this contraption is a different version of StairMaster). What would be a less expensive alternative? I’ll let you think about this long and hard. That’s right: STAIRS!!! Most of us have some in our house, work or neighborhood. How about stepping up and down from a sturdy stool or chest, or a tree stump in the yard? Walking or running outdoors on inclines? Purposely placing things high and low in our kitchen so that we have to reach and squat? Lifting and carrying our kids? There is an infinite number of alternatives to using the VersaClimber to exercise while “saving floor space”, as the ad said. Ha! Saving it from what, a lack of clutter? From being used effectively?

When we look at the bigger picture of our lives, an improvised life means being willing and able to change direction when the time is right. After finishing my Ph.D., I knew that academic research was not the right path for me. I felt it in every cell in my body. I ended up switching fields entirely and worked a lower-paying job I greatly enjoyed for the next five years. When that job ran its course and my growth started to slow down, I made the decision to leave in order to do projects I find engaging and be with my two young kids. I’m so thankful I made that decision. Rejecting the pull of materialism and embracing happiness that can’t be purchased can give us the flexibility to flow through life instead of getting stuck in order to pay our bills.

Who knows where our paths will lead, or how our interests and passions will change over time? Improv teaches us to be fully present to our life as it unfolds, with all its ups and downs and twists and turns. The more we embrace this way of life, the less desire we have for distractions – especially chasing material status symbols like a McMansion or a luxury car. Those seem like the cheapest of prizes – when love, joy, and fulfillment are waiting for us just on the other side.

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