There’s this Buddhist analogy that’s been heavy on my mind recently. In it, we picture ourselves as a bird, working with or fighting against the winds and storms of circumstance and emotion in our lives. We allow these circumstances to envelop us as we imagine the struggle or ease that the bird experiences is all that there is to this life.
Buddhism argues that we’re not the bird, though. It argues that we are the sky itself. The storms and winds move through us, but we do not need to struggle. We just need to experience. And we don’t need to limit ourselves or our perspectives by taking on the role of the bird, as natural as that may feel.
The Winds of Income
For most of my adult life, I’ve been a freelancer. A lot of people I know are freelancers across many fields. When it comes to income, there are periods where it is the wind behind our backs, helping us glide easier and more freely toward our financial goals.
Then there are the periods where it feels like we’re fighting against the wind—pushing just to find a paycheck.
Want to know something interesting, freelancers? It isn’t just us. While we may fantasize about the steadiness of a bimonthly paycheck, the reality is that even W-2 employees experience periods of wind at their backs and gusts attempting to ground them. This happens because:
- You may get a bonus. Yay!
- Most households are dual-income. One or more partner may have a part-time job either as their primary income or as a second job. The hours at part-time positions are a lot more volatile.
- You may take unpaid time off under the FMLA.
- You may just lose your job. Without multiple clients, this can equate to more of a storm than a gust.
We like to think of income over our lives as a line that continually goes up, up, up. But research shows that this couldn’t be further from the truth. American families’ incomes look more like a roller coaster over the course of their lives than a straight ascent.
That means that it’s very rare for one of us birds to just glide through life.
Preparing for the Storms
Storms will come. Illnesses will happen. Household transportation will need expensive maintenance. Jobs will be lost or hours reduced.
But there are some things we can do to prepare for the storms so our struggles are less strenuous:
- Build an emergency fund.
- Recognize that you’re probably not going to work at the same company for your entire career, despite the dreams our parents had of stability and pensions. Keep your skills sharp and your connections active.
- Get insured.
- Seek out tools that can help you when you’re struggling to make it to the next paycheck.
- When you encounter those times of wind at you back, don’t blow the money. Apply it towards those bigger goals like your emergency fund and retirement accounts. You don’t want to regret wasting your cash when you hear thunder later down the line.
But, seriously. You’re not even the bird.
The constant up and down of managing finances can be exhausting. You should still do it, because you want to limit your suffering as much as possible.
But don’t let it get you so down that you feel like you can’t go on. All storms end, and getting off the ground again is always possible, even if it is extremely hard.
You are the sky, not the bird. Your financial situation may change throughout your life, but it doesn’t define who you are or why you’re here.
Don’t believe me? Check out these three legends who were straight broke. They changed the world without dying millionaires.
Let those storms pass through you and manage your bird, but don’t for a second think that your money is what makes you boundless.