What if money didn’t matter?

There is a video that is making its rounds on Facebook at the moment http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8nif01WZ9aI

It asks the question ‘what would you do if money didn’t matter?’ Having posted it on my own Facebook page I began to think about the things that get in the way of daring to following our passions. My initial response was based on my experience of leaving my chemistry career behind following my first postdoctoral research fellowship. I worked in a retreat centre for four years. Now that I have returned to chemistry those years have become the ‘hidden years’. More importantly though, I know without doubt, that if I was faced with exactly the same choice now I would find it more difficult to make.

I would find it more difficult because I have more to lose now. I have begun the painstaking process of building my chemistry career. Slowly beginning to publish my own work, slowly gathering experience in postgraduate supervision, slowly becoming known in that microcosm of society. When I chose to walk away 10 years ago, I had nothing of that. I had not yet grown into being a chemist, I was still just doing chemistry. It wasn’t really a part of my identity. Beyond that I have a mortgage now, I am paying into a pension fund and those kinds of financial considerations are not trivial. I can no longer carry all my possessions in a single backpack. Choosing to leave all this behind feels less simple.

For others, the choice may be further complicated by having dependents. People who rely on their capacity to earn within a particular financial bracket; people who will be emotionally impacted by choosing a path which appears to be substantially less certain. So for those who are older, it is more complicated.

But then it occurred to me that one of the joys of getting a little older is that it begins to matter less what other people may think. I have certainly begun to realise that other people really don’t care what I do (unless it is food for serious gossip). My good friends don’t treat me any differently now that I am an academic, than when I was a spiritual director or a teacher. When we are younger we tend to be far more invested in what people think. Whether it is to comply with expectations or to react against them is irrelevant, the presence of the ‘expectations’ still have a substantial influence on what we choose.

The point is this, there is never really a time where making the choice to follow one’s passion is easy. It will always require a leap of faith. The only thing which steadies the heart is the recognition that to choose anything else would be to fail to truly live. Following one’s passion may not be a straight line, it may end up leading one right back to where one began. The destination is far less important than being able to look myself in mirror each day and to say I believe that I am where I am meant to be for today.

Regardless of the challenges involved in making these kinds of choices, the benefit of pursuing one’s passion seems to far outweigh the pain involved. I am privileged to know a fair number of people who have had the courage to take the leap of following that deep inner call (after a sensible period of soul searching to determine if this is actually the pearl of great price!). Most of them have struggled a fair bit along the way, but there is not one among them who seriously regrets making that choice.



What is your simple idea?

Yesterday I came across an article which described the origins of Equal Education, an organisation which advocated for quality and equality in the South African educational system. The organisation began in 2008 with a vision to repair the broken windows in a high school in Khayelitsha. The idea was simple: In the winter the Cape gets cold, wet and windy and surely being able to close the windows would make the learning environment both more pleasant and more productive. Today Equal Education is beginning to have an impact on the schooling experience of children around the country. Thousands of people have participated in their marches and other awareness raising activities. And all this began with a simple idea – fixing windows in a poor school.

Clearly this idea caught the imagination of many in the community. Doubtless this was a combination of dynamic leadership, answering a real need, and a willingness to take the first step, and the second, and the third. It isn’t just about the idea, it is also about the implementation. Nonetheless, I would be surprised if those who showed up to fix the windows in that school realised that they were helping to get the ball rolling for an organisation which may well go on to be a significant agent of change in South Africa.

I know that I am often overwhelmed by the sheer magnitude of the problems in our country. My daily commute takes me from the southern suburbs of Cape Town to the beauty of Stellenbosch, right past the abject poverty of Langa, Gugulethu and Khayelitsha. It is impossible to ignore the terrible tensions we face with such disparity of wealth. Even as I craft these sentences I find a slow paralysis creeping into my thoughts. The problem is totally beyond my capacity to solve.

But the origins of Equal Education give me hope. Perhaps there is a simple idea; some small project that I can begin. That project may not grow as Equal Education has done, it may well be more along the lines of the starfish principle (From the parable of the person standing on the beach covered in stranded starfish, throwing back one at a time. It makes no real difference to the whole population, but it makes the world of difference for the starfish is thrown back into the sea). Something much more modest. But if we all search for the simple idea and try to put that into action maybe, just maybe things can change.

So… what is your simple idea?