Abundance wasn’t a word in my family’s vocabulary growing up. My parents had to feed three kids on one blue-collar income, so our word was more like “need,” as in the kids need shoes again or clothes or we’re out of milk. When I ventured forth into the world, my parents advised me to find a practical vocation, one in constant demand, a nurse, a teacher, a sure thing, no matter what I wanted.
So, it’s funny that abundance was on my mind yesterday as I quietly gathered my belongings and slipped out of a comfortable, stable corporate job that paid well and offered health insurance. I could already hear my mom: You did what? In this economy? In her life, you did what you had to do, any job; you weren’t supposed to like it. The idea still seems right to me; I should feel lucky to have a job. But I quit mine anyway.
Already I feel a deep sense of guilt writing this. My husband was unemployed for a full year until recently. We subsisted on dry beans and lentils and the cheap produce box from Hollygrove. There were months when making rent was a luxury, others when I seriously contemplated residence on a close friend’s front porch. I feel guilt, too, because the current economy necessitates unemployment for some while I elected to quit my job. It feels selfish and reckless.
But quitting that job also immediately felt like shrugging off a fifty-pound bag packed with stones. It also felt like something else: taking a gamble on myself, saying, by my actions in the world, that I don’t have to take the first offer or the surest thing. I don’t have to settle.
I’ve spent so much time governed by fear. Thinking, “Oh, no. That isn’t for people like me,” whatever that may be. A publishing career, a prize, a bikini, whatever. I’ve convinced myself before even trying that I deserve defeat, and therefore cement that outcome. This is a common mentality among those who grow up poor. We internalize cultural assumptions that we have earned poverty and that we deserve it.
I even found these ideas creeping into a conversation with my mother recently. My mom has lived a relatively safe life, not stretching too far or risking too much. After spending almost her entire adult life in the Midwest, she’s decided to pack up the family and head to Florida to be closer to her parents. Immediately, the trained pessimist inside me told her that she wouldn’t like it, she was making a mistake, she shouldn’t leave my adult brother alone in St. Louis, and on and on. In the face of my mother’s act of tremendous bravery, I scattered fear and worry all around her, forcing her to defend her decision when I should have supported her. My mother is leaping, maybe for the first time in her life. There is tremendous beauty in that.
How much of our lives are governed by fear? I feel like we are less so in New Orleans. Perhaps it’s the adversity the city has overcome, instilling confidence that we can survive. Or maybe it’s the tight communities across social structures that act as barriers elsewhere, so that we understand if we face need, we can turn to our neighbors who will always have something extra in a pot or on the grill for us. Whatever it is, abundance seems built into our culture here, and I don’t mean excess. I don’t mean huge houses and expensive cars, although some of us have that, too. I mean abundance, joy, something indefinable that encourages us to leap.
I don’t want to say that any of you should do something as drastic as quitting a perfectly good job, unless it makes you as unhappy as my job made me. But definitely find some place in your life where you’ve been harboring insecurity and fear, telling yourself that something you want isn’t possible—whatever that thing is—and then leap. Think about abundance and its many forms.