A different kind of Accounting

Life, reduced to numbers. Bleah.

I am doing accounting and record keeping work this morning. It’s one of the banes of my existence.

I work freelance, a patchwork existence that includes consulting, coaching, writing, art and part time pastor. It works for me. It pays the bills. And it’s always interesting, with new challenges every day that range from high tech to high touch. It allows me to be one of that last of the great generalists. It allows me to do all the things in life that feed my spirit and keeps me energized. I am never bored. I end my days (most days) feeling good about what I’ve done. I am very blessed.

And then there is accounting. I hate doing accounting.

I hate the start brutality of it. Everything I do, reduced to numbers. Stark. Hard. Cold numbers.

It’s not that it’s hard. It’s not. There is software and services that make it all pretty easy, actually. Mind numbing, but easy. Plug in the invoices and credit card statements, assign every number a category and bada bing bada boom, it all falls into the right column, tells me how much tax I owe the state, how much I have to set aside for income taxes, and what I have left. It tells me how much of my income comes from this activity and that activity.

No, it’s not hard. It’s pretty boring, truth be told.

But I hate that final step when it tells me how much each activity has made me. Because it’s always unbalanced,

Don’t get me wrong, I love all my work. I am lucky that way. But some things I love more than others. Writing, art and ministry are my faves. They feed my spirit in a way nothing else does. If I were to break down my activities by which are closest to who I am, those three things would make up about 75%. But they account for maybe 10-15% of my income each month.

When you have to do an accounting, and all those cold hard numbers stare you in the face. And, because we’re all wired to give so much creedance and so much importance to the money, there’s this temptation to devalue the things that don’t bring in the cash. That’s what I often tell my clients. We poke around and figure out where the profit is – and do more of that. It’s math, we tell ourselves, nothing more

The problem, of course, is that we can’t reduce our spirits to math. And if we chip away too much of what feeds our spirits in favor of the math, something that can’t be measured, but is still very important (VERY important) is often thrown away. We ignore it at our peril. I’ve done it. I’ve suffered the results. I’ve seen others do it, and they too have suffered the results. I’ve come to think of it as a law of the universe. Feed your spirit, or else.

Or else we will dry up. Or else we will come apart. Or else we are destined to be miserable. Or else…… trust me on this, there a long list of “or elses” and they are all bad. They all drain us. They all chip away at the best of us and replaces it with something cold, heartless and broken.

It’s hard. giving the things that feed our spirits their due. Our word, for the most part, does not recognize that part of us as important. We live in a science and math-based world. If we can’t measure it, if we can’t count it and show it in the proper column, it’s not important. We measure our success by our cars, our houses, our bank accounts. It’s what TV tells us. It’s what splashy ads in magazines tell us. (confession time, I love ads for fashion and luxury items.). It’s what society tells us. We’re bombarded with some one else’s idea of success. Most of us buy in.

Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m all for making money, and if you can make a lot of it, sing alleluia and pass the pearls. See you on the French Riviera.

Just be sure to count the cost. And I am not talking dollars and cents.

I have been what is now called a “life coach” for a pretty long time now. I’ve worked with executives, project managers, pastors, artists, salesmen – people of all stripes. Most of them come to me because they want to have more success. And most of the time that idea of success translated into money.

At least at first.

But as we got to know each other, something else emerges. There is an emptiness. There is something missing. They want more in their lives and that something more, as it turns out to be something that never appears on a ledger sheet. I can help them make changes that will bring them more income, but until we find and act on that thing that feeds their spirit too, they never find the joy in life that was missing.

It’s hard to give time and work to something that in the ledger sheet, can’t be counted, that can’t even be measured properly. It takes a discipline, or if not a discipline, a faith, to act on this unseen thing and trust that when you find it and weave it into your life, it will make all your life better. Dramatically better. But in my own life, and in the life of so many I have encountered and worked with, it was not until we began to give that unmeasurable stuff real value (time + energy + investment = value), that their lives (and mine) becomes what we want it to be. We become fulfilled, and somehow ( I don’t pretend to know how), things seem to conspire to make the other, measurable stuff work out for us.

A lot of people try to make sense of this. Advocates of what we in Christian circles call “prosperity Christianity” call it God at work. People invested in the “Law of Attraction” call it “the universe”. There are more theories and books and programs on this idea than you can shake the proverbial stick at. I don’t know what makes it work. I just know it does.

Now, I am not saying chuck your day job and join an art commune or some such foolishness. But I am saying that we have to recognize and feed what feeds our spirit. We have to find a place on our personal ledger books of time and energy to do things that feed our souls, or run the risk of loving the best of ourselves. Because we can come back from almost losing our souls, but the truth is, some people neglect the things that nourish them until they dry up and there is no coming back.

Our world is full of those broken people. I was nearly one of them for a time, so close to the point of no return.

I guess what I am saying is don’t dismiss the things that feed your spirit. Whatever it is – spiritual practice, art, music, quality conversations, encouragement – whatever it is, do it and do as much of it at it takes for you to feel whole. In my case, the things that feed my spirit only bring in 10% – 20% of my income. But I probably give between a thirds to a half of my time to them. Why? Because the energy they give me, the strength they give me, makes the other 80% strong, better and more joyful. Your mix may be different, but trust me, what we get out of acting on faith and giving time and energy to what feeds our spirit makes the rest of our lives more productive, and more profitable.

I am sure some psychologist could tell you why. I only know it’s so. Even if there is no column to put it in.

Back to my accounting.

Be well. Travel wisely,

Tom

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