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If you strike out on your own, it becomes impossible not to get obsessed with it. I’ve written about how as liberating as quitting your day job can be, after the rush wears off, concerns and fears about earning enough money can begin to take over, overshadowing the joys of creative expression and freedom from meaningless work.

It’s an ongoing process, but my philosophy about money breaks down into two, seemingly contradictory mindsets, both of which are supported by a rethink of what ‘wealth’ means. Here’s how that breaks down:

  1. Being realistic and down-to-earth about money. Magical thinking, mantras and enthusiasm don’t pay the bills.
  2. Resisting falling into a state of obsession, stress, concern and worry about money, rather than staying focused on bringing, heart, sweat, authenticity and joy to your work. Stressing constantly about money just pushes it away.
  3. Understanding the difference between wealth and money.

Let me get into details on each of these points.

1. Being realistic about money
The credit and housing crisis in the US is an excellent example about how too much optimism, magical thinking and not enough clear-eyed realism about money can get us in to trouble. I’ve written about how I got my financial house in order before I quit my day job, in spite of that, I found myself in a squeeze last summer.

Financial projections, profit and loss calculations, minimizing costs and figuring out ways to maximize revenues are a simple fact of life if you’ve decided to live by your own lights. Not being serious about these things, I believe, shows the universe that you are not being serious about your endeavors, and it responds accordingly.

It’s also important to hold two contradictory impulses in my mind at the same time: to set achievable financial goals, and understand that being realistic doesn’t shut out more.

It’s easy to get swayed by programs, posts and podcasts about getting your business to multiple six or seven figures. Maybe I’ll get my business there one day, but right now my goal is simply to get to the corporate salary I was making at my day job. Not super sexy, but very comfortable, and it doesn’t sound absurd when I tell my friends (a good litmus test).

2. Not worrying about money or letting it become the central focus
This is exceedingly hard to do, and feels like it is in direct opposition with point one. I believe that we live in both a material and a spiritual world. Point one adheres to the rules of the material world; point two follows the accords of the metaphysical world, which operates on energy. I try to follow the rules of both as I understand them.

I feel that on the spiritual plane, ‘investment and savings’ are created by doing honest work, overcoming resistance, showing up each day and approaching my work in a spirit of service. So far this has resulted in a consistent payoff on the material plane. The two are intertwined.

When work stops feeling invigorating or fun and I get overly focused on what will sell rather than doing good work, I know I’m getting off track. I was lucky to meet a fellow stationery designer at the Hive conference earlier this year who reminded me “You know that when you really design something with conviction, those always turn out to be your best sellers” So true. Stay focused on the work and bringing as much fun and joy to it as you can.

3. Understanding the difference between wealth and money
Right after our wedding, my husband and I were reveling in the joy of how grateful we were to have so many wonderful friends and family. “That’s wealth” my husband said matter-of-factly. It was such a simple statement, but a touchstone I continually remind myself of to stay centered.

Here is what wealth means to me: knowing that my time belongs to me, creative freedom, being surrounded by beauty in my everyday life, feeling safe and secure, spending time with friends and family, eating good food, the ability to travel and confidence in my own ability to deal with whatever life brings.

I freelanced earlier this year. I was making a lot of money while doing it, but I had to spend my days in soul-less office park, doing what felt like meaningless work. My time belonged to someone else, our domestic rhythm got all messed up and I was tired and resentful. Despite the money, my life felt constricted and poor.

Studies have shown that once your basic needs are met, pretty much after $75,000 money has little if any impact on happiness. I’m not suggesting that the path to financial happiness lies in frugality and knowing that the best things in life are free, but rather getting clear on what it is that you really need, while also appreciating the the things that make life rich.

Keeping focus on the non-financial joys help keep the faith to keep going when life feels lean, and help us to remember what makes live worth living when times are fat.

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