As a lover of lists, I have done much brainstorming and categorizing of my priorities at various points in time. Though the specific order has changed a bit in time, near the top of any list of priorities I have ever made is free time. Relationships. Nature. Creating. Never under any circumstances has money been anywhere on any priority list, let alone near the top.
It wasn’t until the last few months, however, that I clarified what that meant for me in no uncertain terms, and it’s as simple as this: money is never ever worth more than my time and energy. This came to a head a couple of months ago in a silly misunderstanding with my taxes that involved an incorrectly filled out form (my fault), almost an hour on hold on the phone, and enough mailings back and forth between the IRS and myself that I started wondering if they messed things up on purpose once in a while just to give someone a job. In the end I very clearly realized that I would rather pay the extra money the government insisted I owed even though I knew they were wrong than spend even another minute thinking or worrying about the sheer ridiculousness of the situation. Because my mental energy is more valuable than money.
This shouldn’t be a groundbreaking idea, and for many groups of people throughout time it wouldn’t be. However, in our present world that is thwarted by the financial crisis yet can’t seem to see that a rethinking of systems and a re-valuing of people and culture rather than GDP would make great strides toward building a happy, healthy, sustainable future, the idea that time and energy are more valuable than money is preposterous. The monetary unit is everything and nothing at once, a measurement of worth that has almost no real connection to the contentment and viability of our lives.
I know I am enormously privileged to be able to feel this way; I am not in debt, am relatively healthy, and am educated enough to find a job and be reasonably respected in society. But does that mean that the worth of those in debt (not by choice), those that are sick, and those that are uneducated must be measured by a financial stick? That to me is what is preposterous.
I’ve shared one of my favorite organizations that is redefining worth and priorities and viability in a new, non-monetary way in previous posts, and will here again; the Center for the New American Dream. While my personal reprioritization is important, we must collectively redefine the priorities of our society in order to affect real change, and the New American Dream is doing just that.
(Full disclosure: in the situation with the IRS they ended up not only paying back the money I sent them, but sending another check for the money I thought they owed me once I reconfigured my taxes. Sometimes the universe does reward those who know what’s important to them!)