We need to change the definition of “rich”
I went to a party Saturday night with other folks from my work. One person I’d never met before asked me how long I had been working for the College. I explained that I had started as an adjunct in 1999, and it was only three years ago that I got the full-time position. She smiled and said that I was so lucky to have joined the rarified ranks of full-timers, and that after this year, I would then have tenure and wasn’t that terrific? Tenure means you will have that same job for the rest of your working life. I know I am supposed to think that sounds wonderful. To me, it scares me. In fact, it has scared me so much, I told her, that I had just turned in my letter announcing my early retirement.
“Oh, you must be rich. Quitting your job and taking off to go sailing? Even after thirty years, I could never afford to do that.”
Rich, me? I have to laugh. And I am laughing because yes, I do feel rich these days — but it is not because of an abundance of money.
I feel rich when I take off on my bike to do the bike/bus thing to work. I love riding along the riverfront saying good morning to the joggers and dog walkers, smelling the coffee brewing in the homes I pass.
I feel rich when I sit on the warm brick in my little courtyard and stroke the head of my old dog as he sleeps in the sun.
I feel rich when I’m sitting in the cockpit of my friend Bruce’s boat and we hear the soft exhale of a manatee surfacing just under the transom.
I feel rich when I take the time to sit and listen to a friend tell me about her father who is dying.
I feel rich when I share a meal with my son and I see the excitement in his eyes as he spins his dreams for the future.
When I wake up in my boat’s forepeak berth and listen to the mockingbirds’ songs or the rumble of an early boat making its way down river, I feel so much lighter and happier and yes, richer, than I could ever feel awaking in a heavily mortgaged 5-bedroom home. The very idea makes me shudder. And now that the seasonal liveaboard slip rent is too high in my Lauderdale marina, and I’ve moved into this little efficiency apartment to save for my cruising kitty, I’m having a blast exploring my new neighborhood on foot and by bike.
Wealth is a relative concept. If your income is over six figures and your spending is that or more, then you are broke, regardless of your high salary. But in our crazy consumer society, that form of broke has become the model of success, and people who don’t aspire to spend voraciously are sometimes seen as morally inferior. In the past few weeks, I’ve had lots of people from hair stylists to veterinarians go out of their way to let me know they think I’m cheap because I haven’t ordered up every single option on the menu. Choosing simplicity sometimes means choosing a lonesome path. But it feels right for me, right for the planet.
Lest I give the wrong impression here, I am intimately aware that sailboats are very expensive — both to buy and to maintain. And there are plenty of those six-figure earners out there cruising on six-figure boats, eating out at restaurants, staying in marinas, and generally spending in a week what I expect to live on for a month or more. The best way to keep maintenance expenses down on a boat, however, is to simplify. The bigger the boat and the more systems you have on board, the more there is that can break and the more likely it is that you will be spending money. While I like to dream of a bigger boat with a nice office/writing space, in reality, my 33-foot 1989 Caliber is just the right size and vintage boat for my budget. I don’t have as much comfort or room, but because I don’t have a generator, fancy electronics, marine air conditioning, etc., I don’t have to spend as much time maintaining the boat, either.
The fact is, we have a finite amount of time on this earth and the older I get the more that fact becomes achingly apparent. Literally. And it takes up so much of that time to make the money that the average American thinks is necessary to live a middle class lifestyle. I have made a conscious decision to enjoy my life more by being willing to spend and consume less. In other words, I am “rich” because I am willing to be “poor.”