I don’t consider myself materialistic.
I don’t own very much, and much of what I do own I’ve bought on sale or second-hand, or even found on the side of the road. I often talk about spirituality and our deeper purpose in life, which I believe has nothing to do with money. But I’ve noticed lately that part of me at least, seems to care about money.
I started a new job a few months ago. My goal was to enroll in a PhD program and the only way to do that was to work part-time. During the job interview, I was told that there was a possibility for part-time work. I wasn’t even that sure about taking the job because I didn’t know what this possibility was, but the salary on the contract made my eyes light up. Compared to what a lot of other people make it’s not that much, but compared to the salary I expected to make in life, it was pretty good. I took the job.
Soon enough I started rethinking everything.
“Maybe I shouldn’t even do a PhD. The salary and holidays are amazing!” These thoughts made me question myself. “But what is my goal in life? Is it just to make a lot of money and live a comfortable life?” No, I remembered. This made me re-evaluate everything and question my deeper motives and ultimate purpose.
Sooner than I had expected, I was told that I could work part-time. Now my resolve would be tested. After a bit more questioning I did decide to take the part-time offer and I was finally able to start my PhD. I had a clear direction and knew how I was going to get there. I felt incredibly grateful that I had been given this opportunity. But then other voices started to make me question my decision.
It’s amazing how powerful other people’s opinions are, even when they are not setting out to be persuasive. In conversations with people about my plans, they would ask how I would survive on part-time work (I also have a wife and son to support), or whether going part-time was my choice or if it was simply an unfortunate work cut. No one directly questioned my plans but the subtle doubts that came from people’s comments and questions made me doubt myself. But why?
I think it is the power of conformity. Yes, I have my own beliefs about life, but when faced with the movement of the herd, the urge to follow is sometimes irresistible. And to walk your own way can make one feel incredibly insecure.
It is so normal to invest your energy into a career and a house. Along with this is the belief that these things are inherently valuable and necessary goals. A person derives a sense of worth from pursuing these material things.
Just recently I made the change to part-time and have enrolled in a PhD program. Doubt lingers despite the fact that I feel confirmed in my decision. On my days off, I walk down the street and see how few people there are out and about. They are all at work, and a part of me wonders, should I be at work too?
There’s a feeling that everyone else is out there doing what they are supposed to be doing, but I’m not. I’m not participating in that collective movement of getting up, going to work, coming home.
Another part of me starts to calculate how much money I could be making if I were working full-time, or how much money I am losing by being at home. At these times I almost feel foolish, as though I was stupid enough to miss out on the opportunity to make more money.
Then I come back to myself, my core values, and purpose in life. I forget that there are things that give me purpose: writing, music, spiritual conversation, reflection and if I work full-time, I don’t have the time or energy to do those things. That’s just me and I know myself. I value time over money, which means working part-time is perfect. When I do go to work, I actually have more energy to devote to it. I feel much less oppressed by that work.
The thing is: I have to constantly look at my values, goals, purpose, and not concern myself with what others choose to value and devote their time to. I have to live my life.
So many of us live in a materialistic society that makes us want what it has. The urge to follow and pursue money and things is irresistible. We have to look deep inside to see what we truly want, and not let others steal our resolve to pursue that.
Author: Peter Gyulay
Apprentice Editor: Josette Myers; Editor: Travis May