I am the sky. Not the money bird.

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Whoa, I needed this read. Super powerful.

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.

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13 thoughts on “I am the sky. Not the money bird.

  1. The Green Swan

    I love the analogy, I’ve never heard of that before. I think it is a good perspective to have on life and to enjoy the experiences as they pass by. And I totally agree that money doesn’t shape us or who we want to be. But the analogy seems to be sort of a passive view on life too, and I kind of like the idea of shaping my own experiences (financial related and non-financial) and actively navigating to them. Thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      I can see that. The whole living in the moment aspect of Buddhism can feel kind of passive and at odds with our American sensibilities. My life is a blend of the two most of the time. 🙂 Take action on the things you can control, but be at peace with the things you can’t–and don’t let them define you.

  2. Done by Forty

    I’d never heard of that phrase, but I like it. I have a hard time with meditation, and maybe even that phrase, since I have control issues…and the idea of just “being” instead of acting is very hard for me to get comfortable with. But that’s probably more on me than anything.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Letting go and just being is a hard thing to do. We’re encourage so heavily to always be in action. Those moments of just being, though, can really replenish us. If we’re not sitting there the whole time freaking out about how we should be doing something. :p It’s an art that takes practice, but I swear it’s well worth it.

  3. Jana @ Jana Says

    The emergency fund is essential. And I’m glad you included skill building even while employed full-time. It’s so crucial to keep skills sharp, and even acquire skills outside of your field, because you never know what can happen. Those extra skills can come in handy with income during times of unemployment.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Absolutely! I experienced a little bit of a career shift and was so glad I had them. Within your career path they’re good for lateral moves, but if you’re looking at doing things as a hobby, they can still prove super useful.

  4. Fruclassity (Ruth)

    The irony here is that if you don’t manage your money proactively, in preparation for the storms, your life really will feel like it’s all about money. – and your self-concept will be tied up in it. The proactive prep offers that “sky” freedom – even when income flow is lower.

    1. femmefrugality Post author

      Truth. But I think that it’s in those moments of deepest financial despair that we most need to remember that we are not our financial problems. Should we work to solve them? Absolutely. But we should not allow them to control us to the point of paralysis or worse.

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