Prioritizing what is essential
Q: How do you know when you have enough?
Disco Dialogues is a newsletter and interview series where Kinnari and Mitali engage in deliberate dialogue aimed to spark inner growth. Our posts start with a question to encourage reflection on topics ranging from creativity, courage and curiosity to self-care and relationships. The hope is that by sharing the dialogues that we have with ourselves and with each other, we can start meaningful conversations within our community.
I've been reading two books in parallel over the past couple of weeks - Letters from a Stoic by Seneca and Psychology of Money by Morgan Housel. Both books go into the idea of defining for ourselves what is enough and being happy with that. Going into the holiday season where I’m surrounded by family and a plethora of material gifts it feels appropriate to think about enoughness. In Letters from a Stoic, Seneca writes:
"It is not the man who has too little who is poor, but the one who hankers after more.
...You ask what is the proper limit to a person’s wealth? First, having what is essential, and second, having what is enough."
In Psychology of Money, Morgan Housel states - "The hardest financial skill is getting the goalpost to stop moving." This has made me think about both what is essential and what is enough. What is essential comes down to the basics defined in foundational two layers of Maslow's hierarchy of needs - physiological and safety needs. For me, having a peaceful state of mind, healthy children, a loving partner, a few good friendships and a joyful home are also essential.
What constitutes “enough” has a higher degree of variability across each of us. One of the things on top of my list of “enough”, is financial security. But any desire that I have to make “more” money is rooted first in ensuring my family’s security and wellbeing and secondly in having control over my own time. I want to be in a position where I can choose to spend time in whatever way I choose, like quitting my job to either choose a riskier job or pursuing non-lucrative passion projects. It has been important to understand these motivators as they drive my future decisions around career, finances and lifestyle.
“Independence, at any income level, is driven by your savings rate. And past a certain level of income your savings rate is driven by your ability to keep your lifestyle expectations from running away.
….Wealth is the nice cars not purchased. The diamonds not bought. The watches not worn, the clothes forgone and the first-class upgrade declined. Wealth is financial assets that haven’t yet been converted into the stuff you see.”
- Morgan Housel
"To make money they didn’t have and didn’t need, they risked what they did have and did need. And that’s foolish. It is just plain foolish. If you risk something that is important to you for something that is unimportant to you, it just does not make any sense. There is no reason to risk what you have and need for what you don’t have and don’t need." - Warren Buffet
Reading Psychology of Money has also made me think about how I view risk. While I’m still building for the future, what I have today, at this moment, feels like it is “enough”. And yet in the past couple of years my partner and I have made some riskier investments, taking on additional stress when it was not needed. Of course taking some amount of risk with our money is beneficial and can help make leaps in future financial security. The question then is how much risk can we want to take on? Housel’s advice to take a balanced approach seems sound - “I think of my own money as barbelled. I take risks with one portion and am terrified with the other. This is not inconsistent, but the psychology of money would lead you to believe that it is. I just want to ensure I can remain standing long enough for my risks to pay off. You have to survive to succeed. To repeat a point we’ve made a few times in this book: The ability to do what you want, when you want, for as long as you want, has an infinite ROI.”
The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas can often induce a sense of not having enough - not having enough stuff, not having enough time.
Not Enough Stuff
Our cultural model of consumerism is great at creating feelings of scarcity through media and advertising. At this time of the year, we are bombarded with marketing promotions everywhere, targeted to make us think we need to buy more stuff during the crazy sales - both for ourselves and as gifts for our loved ones.
I tried my best this year to not get sucked into these feelings. It was hard to not get lured by all the discounts for things I don’t really need so I chose to not open emails or texts from my favorite brands the week before Thanksgiving. When it came time to buy gifts for my family, I chose to go to vintage and used stores to find deals. It felt satisfying to put existing goods back into the cycle of use instead of buying new things. This year I got more joy from gifting shared experiences to friends where we could enjoy moments of laughter together instead of buying them the latest coveted item that everyone was talking about on Insta.
This article by Gretchen Rubin on “everyday luxuries” inspired me to consider gifting my loved ones some simple joys in life. I thought it was an ingenious way of making my loved ones feel cared for and content with their present lives. She has a great list of ideas - a modest splurge like getting a barista to make your coffee or attending a live concert or play can help us appreciate the amazing city that we live in. Expressing my love by performing an act of service like preparing a gourmet cheese platter or spending quality time by the fire with a glass of wine or hot chocolate can bring more joy to my partner’s day than a material gift.
Not Enough Time
Time seems to fly in the last four weeks of the year as we rush to get end of year plans done at work, end of year errands like doctor visits or donations along with squeezing in numerous social commitments to connect with friends, family and colleagues.
Slowing down and feeling like I have enough time for the important things in life is an everyday choice. I made an effort during November to be very conscious each day on what was a priority for my time. I started to feel a sense of accomplishment if I got that one thing done - a solo walk, a cold water dip, working on my vision for 2024 with a friend, grabbing lunch with a fellow entrepreneur who I haven't connected with in years. By choosing to be fully present in that moment and savoring the connection I was making - whether with nature, another human being, or myself - I started to feel more at ease with my time.
When I felt myself getting caught up in the frenzy of time, I also started to practice self compassion by noticing and changing my inner dialogue - You are doing your best, Every parent has been here before and you will get through this as well. You make wise choices. By choosing to self regulate my emotions, I was able to show up as a calm parent, partner and friend. I felt less rushed doing my daily chores and instead found myself enjoying the dinner time meal prep and cooking. I was less flustered with the never-ending list of end of year tasks and instead time seemed to stretch to fill my needs. I was able to give my kids more of my attention when they needed it with end of term projects.
As we enter the holiday season, take the opportunity to think carefully about where to spend your money and time. Be intentional about how you put your resources to use to generate joy for those around you. Sometimes that might be the coolest toy for your 11 year old and sometimes that might be an act of service for a loved one. Choose wisely.