What would I do if I won a million dollars?

snap the whip
snap the whip

“Snap The Whip” by Winslow Homer, 1836-1910

Do you ever feel like you’re always on the end of a snap-the-whip line?

Never quite up at the front, seemingly always on the receiving end of excessive momentum where tiny movements and moments are made huge and overpowering by the time it gets to where you’re at.

Money snaps the whip.

The curse of money is enslavement, debt, greed, and the easy justification of any behavior. The blessing of money is rest, both physical and mental. Time is money.

Unless you are enslaved by it, money gives you more time. No, the clock doesn’t add extra hours, but the hours are yours to do as you’d like. Without money, your time is not your own. For most of the human existence in this world, their time is not their own.

When people are asked what they’d do if they won a million dollars, there are usually grandiose plans and extravagant purchases and a life made bigger and I think they must be fools. A million dollars would allow me to make my life smaller.

“If I had a million dollars and continued to live exactly as I do now,” I told my friend, “I’d never have to work again. I probably would work some, but I would have the weight of having to work removed.”

If I had a million dollars (the stand-in amount for “more money than I’ll ever see at once”), I tell myself I’d:

Tip foolishly large amounts
Read more, and late into the evening
Go out for wandering walks that end in sketching and writing
Paint more
Stop reading fine print
Savor simple things
Enjoy a warm bed on a cold morning, no rush
Anonymously give money to people in need
Stay up late when creativity strikes
Drink tea and read the paper in the morning
Have a garden with vegetables and flowers and herbs
Go to the library for no apparent reason
Go to the gym mid-morning after the rush, and take my time
Curl up with cocoa and a mystery on a cold winter day
Send anonymous checks to people in a financial tough spot
Play my violin and piano and clarinet during the day, for hours
Bake bread and desserts and give to friends
Volunteer to help at my favorite organizations
Live where there is less noise, maybe a small cabin away from town
Not worry that bills won’t get paid
Fill all of my blank journals with crazy ideas and strange sketches
Stop weighing every moment and every thing in terms of a monetary value or cost
Dance around my apartment to Tony Bennet and Rosemary Clooney records
Give more money to my favorite charities
Rent an office and put my name on the door and use it purely to play office
Write letters on paper and mail to my entire address book
Buy a new outfit for fun, not because my jeans wore out and need replacing
Create and write and draw for the joy of it, regardless of monetary value
Stop the freelance jobs that I don’t love doing
Generously help my family when they need money
Sit in silence and just think about various things
Finish sewing and art projects I’ve started
Keep the computer turned off for days
Take random road trips just because
Read the Wall Street Journal in its entirety, taking up several hours
Look out the window and observe for hours
Enjoy time out with friends without a running checkbook balance in my head
Attend all interesting local conferences and events, even during the day
Go exploring with a camera
Work for fun, and for principle, not for obligation
Write and blog for no one but myself
Get lost in a bookstore for hours, no guilt

Nearly all of these have no unaffordable price tag. They do not require much money to accomplish. Most are choices I could make every day. But they are all things that require time.

I’ve chosen to use my time to earn more money, and squeezed these other things out. I cannot justify frittering away time on purely pleasurable things when I have never been a high earner and am only getting older with a reduced opportunity to earn. I never know when the income may stop coming.

“Hey, God, I’d like to sit here more and just be silent before you, but I gotta get to work on a design. She needs it by tomorrow. You understand,” I think, and soon a life is frittered away.

Not having a lot of money (or coming from a history of it) causes you to live in fear, dread, and desperation. You would do anything to put distance between yourself and a have-nothing existence. These are not emotions that promote enjoyment of life. Instead, they turn every waking moment into either working or guilt. Either you’re earning money or feeling guilty that you’re not being productive.

So I’m up late and up early, tired and burned out, trying to earn and save and plan for the worst. Every moment is working, the computer burning my eyes and wearing out my hands and making me loathe it.

This is not unique to me. I am not special. There is no shortage of weary people working working working every moment of the day, burning through the time allotted to them on this earth. I envy those who don’t have much, even less than me, and seem to be able to leisurely get through life, claiming their time as their own. How do they pay their bills? How do they pay their way? How do they save?

How do they quiet the fearful thoughts that say things like “you have to pay rent or you’ll have no place to live!” or “you’d better save up just in case, because no one is going to help you!”

With a million dollars, I’d cease striving. I’d slow down. I’d return to analog. I’d stop trying to change the world, and just try to change my small world and affect the people in it. I’d stop pushing myself to bring “110%” to the day, disguised as excellence and good character and good old fashioned American drive, when all it really is, is poor choices.

As it is, the closest I can get to having a million dollars isn’t close at all.

Money has enslaved me because I let it and am too afraid to stop what I’m doing. I must be responsible. I must pay my way. I must be productive. No one else is going to help me. I am on my own in this world. I am capable. I must work, and work readily, when I can.

At least it doesn’t own me with debt. Living below my means, without debt, is as close as I can come to having a million dollars. So I’ve mastered my debt, but I’d now like to master my time.

I don’t want to feel like money is up at the front of the line, snapping the whip with worry and “what if” and sending me reeling and tumbling across the landscape of my life’s timeline.

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