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Money, Empowerment and Progressive Business

by Kate McNulty

We, all of us who identify with and who have aligned ourselves with the real, physical world: it is time to hold on tight in our hearts to what and whom we love, and to push as hard as we can . . . for the life of the land and air and water and soil and trees and fish and birds and frogs and slugs and salamanders and all others who give us life . . . Because someday, sooner or later—and by now, rather much sooner than later—we’re going to win. Derrick Jensen, What We Leave Behind

Since you’re reading this article, you’re probably already interested in using your talents well and providing some form of service to the planet. As Jensen expresses, you may be feeling some sense of urgency about this. Whether you’re thinking about starting a business, already have one and want to keep it thriving, or are just a person spinning around on this beautiful planet and wondering what you can do to keep it turning, on some level, every day, you are dealing with money.

Although this year has been filled with financial upset, entrepreneurs with progressive and innovative ideas are finding that economic conditions are actually incredibly promising right now. Given the current state of the global economy, that may sound improbable. However, for decades, the progressive community has been researching and experimenting with ideas that have only recently become compelling and relevant to mainstream culture.

Businesses that improve the quality of life, health and wellness for people and other living beings are proliferating. Enterprises that cultivate the education and talents of our citizens are proving to be an investment in everybody’s future. Companies that attend to the restoration and care of homes and neighborhoods while respecting the planetary environment offer us real security, as opposed to the fascistic brand of Homeland Security.

Yes, industrial capitalism can be a destructive force in the world, and most advertising touting “green values” and “eco-magination” is merely a sham. Still, at least the culture is beginning to show some glimmer of recognition that prosperity isn’t measured solely by material wealth anymore. It’s becoming fashionable to acknowledge that an excess of consumer goods actually reflects a neurotic state of hoarding, a form of excessive anxiety about not having enough. The country’s economic focus is finally turning toward some holistic values. Consider the following trends:

  • Developing wiser means of raising food
  • Building transportation and communication systems that allow us the benefits of global connections, while minimizing environmental damage
  • Rebuilding the physical and civic structures that have been neglected for the last several decades: bridges, public works and water systems, and community gathering places
  • Recognizing that “health is wealth,” and that a lot of Americans are teetering on collapse
  • Prioritizing the existence of other species, as well as human life.

In this economic climate, the products, services and information that counteract the popular cultural poisons of over-consumption and vanity are finding increased demand. So, if you long to use your abilities to help others to achieve health, to properly tend to the earth and its creatures, or to develop the social and environmental innovations the 21st century demands, then you’re poised to succeed.

Perils on the Path
Yet how many visionaries, bold thinkers and inventive geniuses are ensnared in a web of their own limitations? Think of your own social circle. How many of your friends have brains aplenty and talent to spare, but nevertheless get bogged down in such pitfalls as:

  • Self-doubt
  • Existential despair
  • Interpersonal dramas
  • Financial hassles
  • Feeling stuck in unrewarding job
  • Unhealthy habits

Although a desire for personal fulfillment and prosperity is healthy, many wrestle with the meaning and place of money in their life. People in our culture are riddled with fear and anxiety about wealth and security, whether they are rich, poor or somewhere in between.

It’s crucial that progressive business owners or start-up entrepreneurs come to grips with money in an effective fashion. Too often the relationship we have with money takes place in the realm of the imagination. Fantasizing about what life will be like when you strike it rich, the generous acts you can engage in, the way you can make a difference can be comforting. There is no doubt that visualization and focusing on a goal is essential, and can bring about remarkable results. However, the imagined satisfaction of buying things, going places and achieving desires may also disengage us from our own internal power to make things happen.

On the other hand, fearing that we can’t be, do or have what we long for until we somehow amass enough money can derail the force of our own creative capacity. Thinking this way also carries the risk of exempting us from responsibility for the events in our own lives. And when it’s a matter of bad luck, or a lack of opportunities, or we’ve been affected by forces beyond our control, then it seems our life is taken out of our own hands. Inarguably, many people are experiencing very real misfortune because so few jobs offer security or adequate access to basic health care.

Whatever’s going on, whether in our lives or in our heads, the fact remains that if we don’t get our money trip together, our hopes and dreams slip beyond our grasp.

The subject of making and managing money often arouses a deep emotional void that we can feel, even if we don’t quite understand where it comes from. For instance, the thought of making a living independently can feel a lot like running a circus act without a net—scary. So maybe we tell ourselves we’re lucky to have the job we have, even though it’s a dead end and we feel stuck in it; or we need the health or retirement benefits for security; or we’re just not organized enough to run our own business.

How about you? What do you tell yourself? Have you reached a point in life where you’ve experienced enough pain about money? Are you ready to deal with the joy and risk-taking of independence, and the choices that come with possessing some wealth? You may find that all that is required is to see and do things somewhat differently. After all, with the turmoil and instability that exist in today’s job market, now may be the time to go for your dream and bring to fruition the business that’s been in your mind’s eye. In the end, fulfillment comes ultimately from how much we let ourselves live and feel, not from what we have.

Navigating the Path Toward Economic Interdependence
Western culture values expansiveness, speed and aggressive energy. This makes it difficult for us to appreciate the potential and opportunity arising in a more fiscally constricted climate. However, just as a painter can work creatively within the limited dimensions of a canvas, an entrepreneur can work especially well in restricted circumstances. My own example serves: When I first decided to start a business more than 10 years ago, I had very little money. My children were quite young, and since I was raising them by myself, I had to create a business with a schedule that would accommodate their needs. I was employed as a hospital social worker at the time, and decided to open a private psychotherapy practice.

My first step was to get business cards. I remember having a conversation with a friend of mine who was a nurse, and explaining how anxious I was about spending what seemed like a lot of money on these cards. In a friendly way, he laughed about my worries. His family was originally from the Philippines, and his point of view was: “I can see you’re going to do fine in business, because you have the immigrant’s hunger. You’re not going to let anything stand in your way. You have to make this happen, so it will.”

There is always room in the marketplace for good ideas. Whether we are in a boom or bust economy, there are problems to be solved. This means that new ideas are needed everywhere. And on the personal side, playing it safe is sometimes the most dangerous thing you can do. As Paul Graham, a software professional, puts it in his blog You Weren’t Meant to Have a Boss, “A normal job may be as bad for us intellectually as white flour or sugar is for us physically . . . In an artificial world, only extremists live naturally.”

Independent entrepreneurs who offer ideas for healthful living in harmony with the natural world have an unbeatable advantage: integrity. While national and global financial systems are falling apart, new seedlings are peeking out, with individuals and communities taking matters into their own hands. Personal responsibility, once the mantra of wealthy Republicans, is now manifesting itself full force among people of ordinary means, as neighborhoods get together for barter events, farmers markets and garden seed and clothing exchanges.

Future generations are facing an inheritance of crushing debt, environmental damage and a dead-end job market. How can we reverse these disheartening trends to create a landscape of promise and abundance instead? With a focus on building sustainable wealth in local communities and ecosystems, citizens everywhere are putting their heads together to figure this out. All these endeavors involve managing money and taking stewardship of resources.

Resolving Loose Ends with Money
Moving toward financial freedom happens through a simple series of small steps. They may be tedious and boring steps, the path may be winding and thick with brambles, but with a methodical and deliberate attitude, any financial snarl can be untangled.

  • Take inventory: Who do you owe? Who owes you? Are you involved in any disputes?
  • Prioritize: Which debts, owed or uncollected, carry the most expensive consequences? This may mean expensive in terms of interest rates, or potential harm to your financial future, or your relationships.
  • List the actions you intend to take: You may schedule a series of follow-up emails, an afternoon of Internet research on bills owed, or outreach efforts to friends.

Whatever your plan, as you carry out these actions you will feel positive about coming to grips with your current money picture and making small steps forward. You must liberate your mind and energy from negative feelings lingering from the past, and minimize confusion about the present. This effort is also a step toward bringing your spiritual self together with the material world. As with any other practice, this ritual works most effectively when you engage in it on a regular basis.

Bringing Together the Sacred and the Mundane
Many wisdom traditions characterize the person who does spiritual work and then enters the marketplace as the one who is doing the most advanced form of practice. The world of work is associated with aggressive, controlling energy. In contrast, we think of the spiritual realm as fluid, transcendent and effortless. The person who attempts the integration of these heals the rift between the spiritual world and the world of commerce.

Genpo Roshi of Big Mind Institute illustrates this concept by teaching the ways the Marketplace Mind and the Spiritual Mind each contain both the undeveloped and the more mature parts of the Self.

The voice of the undeveloped Marketplace Mind sounds like this:

  • It’s all about winning.
  • You have to protect yourself.
  • Work is exhausting, it’s dog-eat-dog.
  • Those people who think about spiritual stuff aren’t getting anything done, it’s a waste of time.
  • They’re just a bunch of navel-gazers.

Then there is the undeveloped Spiritual Mind:

  • Work and business are shallow.
  • Nothing material matters; people who think it does are misguided, and driven by greed.
  • You can’t be truly spiritual and be wealthy.
  • Money is just ego and it’s all an illusion anyway.
  • Once I have evolved enough, my business will grow.
  • I’m too spiritual to bother with worldly things.

Now the mature Spiritual Mind brings these opposing thoughts together, and this is indeed advanced spiritual practice:

  • All activities can have value and provide learning experiences.
  • People who are engaged in day-to-day commerce and worldly activities can still be deeply engaged in spiritual practices
  • There is nothing to distance yourself from, or disown.
  • The mind lives in a state of spaciousness and unity, whatever you are doing; it is vast, and nothing is compartmentalized.

The mature Marketplace Mind says:

  • There’s enough to go around, and room for everyone.
  • Business is like a game or a puzzle; it’s fun to play.
  • The right people will find each other, there’s no need for pressure or domination.
  • Everything you need is available, and you can grow through the learning you do in your work.

People who are able to regard money with this sort of unattached, generous attitude can manage their lives capably, make the best career decisions for themselves, and possess many strengths they can contribute to the community.

Even though the old-school, industrial capitalist economy seems to be collapsing around us (and taking many human beings down with it), smart, progressive entrepreneurs with a mature understanding of the power and pitfalls of money recognize that the decline of old systems inevitably provides countless opportunities to create newer, more humane enterprises, focused on doing well by improving the lives of those around us. This requires recognizing that true prosperity is a way of life, not just a number on a bank statement.

Kate McNulty is a Business Coach who lives with her two teenagers in SE Portland. She helps entrepreneurs who have Green Living values to grow their businesses fast. She works with people around the world and has built two viable businesses in the last 10 years.

Her mission is to use the wealth-building secrets of rich Republicans to supply progressive entrepreneurs with the resources to effect positive social change. Contact her at Kate@SmallBusinessMoneyTree.com or (503) 312-6788.

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