Archives for the month of: February, 2013

I have a degree in theater and I’m an insurance agent. I have a friend who has a degree in opera performance and she’s a bookkeeper. I have a friend who went to seminary and is a developer of e-content for a big business (and, yes, I’m still pretty sure that’s not a real thing). My man went to school for classical guitar, and he’s done everything from computer programming to day labor.

There are things we love, and there are things we do. Some people get to do the things they love and they make money at it, and I have absolutely no resentment toward them.

I do, however, resent the people who “sell” their knowledge, based on their experience and the experiences of similarly “successful” people around them, as though if you will just follow in their footsteps, you will have the same kind of success as they do.

Last week, James had me listen to a marketing coach conference call with him, and what struck me about it was that the guy conducting the call obviously LOVED marketing. He was energized by calls from people posing a problem he could solve. He answered questions they didn’t even ask, because his brain was further down the road than theirs were.

Apparently, he’d said early on in the call that his dad had kind of ruined him by saying that, to make money, you have to work hard. His point was that he was not working very hard, and all you have to do is find something people need, have passion for it, develop great ad copy, and the money rolls in.

This is the same basic idea in “The 4-Hour Workweek” and many other paid subscription services for breaking into the internet market or sales or fill in the blank.

This fails on a couple of levels.

The first is that this guy was conducing a conference call after hours, and my guess is that he actually *does* put in a lot of time and effort; he’s just not up to his elbows in insulation or sewage. But I’m not a sales person, and to hawk myself and my program the way he encourages would make me exhausted and I’d throw in the towel pretty quickly, even if the money were rolling in.

Some people have a marketing mentality, and others have a really great idea about which they are passionate. I think you have to be one of those two things for his program to have a a chance of working.

Kind of like when I used to sell stuff on eBay. I knew what would sell well for kids whose parents were going to Disney World because that’s what I researched and loved. I could find things out in the wild and sell them on eBay because I knew my market and loved it. I could not have had the same success with electronics because I don’t care enough to put in any research or pretend to care about what I was selling.

The second is that no single person’s (or dozen or hundreds of people’s) individual experience is a blueprint for what will happen for others, even if they follow “the program” exactly. You can try, but you might not be as charismatic. You might not meet the right person at the right time. You might not be good-looking or have rich parents (which, statistically, is the biggest predictor for financial success).

James has a book called “Fooled by Randomness” that goes into great detail about the part that circumstance or luck or chance or whatever you want to call it plays into everyone’s lives.

I’ve grown very tired of the arrogance of people who happen to be making money doing that they love asserting that if everyone else will only do the things they did, we, too, could be spending our vacations in the Antilles, phoning it in two hours a day, instead of clocking in like a schmuck for eight to ten hours a day.

Do I believe that we’re meant to work in cubes, under fluorescent lighting, devoting the main portion of our existence to eeking out a living? Nope. Is that the reality that most of us will live in? Yep.

Here’s why: Because while some people may just live to tend to lawns or see children learn (neither of which I understand, but it takes all kinds), probably no one grows up dreaming of putting the lids onto ice cream cartons at the Blue Bell factory. Yet there is a demand for that particular job to be filled, and someone does it.

When I was discussing this whole thing with a friend, he brought up that he was thinking of buying Jon Acuff’s newish book, Start (subtitled: “How to punch fear in the face, escape average, and do work that matters”). This is a follow-up to his book Quitter, in which he details how he “cultivated” his dream job.

This is a one-time purchase, not a subscription, but it still chafes at me a little bit. He is a Christian, and I know that he loves Jesus and means well, but it seems that he’s selling the same thing that everyone else is: discontent with your job.

“Does what makes you money leave you feeling hollow? You don’t have to do it!” Well, you know what? Maybe you DO. Jon Acuff is male, white, relatively good-looking, very charismatic, and he used to be pretty funny (how I miss “Stuff Christians Like” circa 2009). All of these things undoubtedly helped him along his path. Your path will not be his path.

He is going to be in Austin next month. Here is the blog post announcing early bird registration. It sounds just like the secular marketing coach stuff, but with Jesus! Not a fan.

I believe in keeping an eye out for and exploring every opportunity to find fulfillment in how you spend your time. But every single one of these “programs,” which seems, on the surface, to be selling dreams is actually selling a lack of contentment.

“You’re not as happy/rich/fulfilled as you could be, and I’m going to show you how to get there!”

You can’t promise that! And how dare you imply that someone who has a crappy job is somehow “wasting time”? Maybe that crappy job keeps her home with her kids when they’re out of school, and that is her priority, not being rich or starting a business that would require her whole life for three or four (or twenty) years. Maybe that crappy job has benefits that have helped him care for his wife, who has cancer.

Just because I don’t walk away from my job at the end of the day feeling like I changed the world, this does not mean that my life is without deep meaning or significance. Just because I can’t afford to vacation two months out of the year doesn’t mean that I’m doing something wrong, or inefficient, or “less than.”

To turn Acuff’s term around on him and hit him with a Jesus Juke, what about Colossians 3:23?

I have made a lot of decisions to support my lifestyle, and this includes having a job I’m VERY fortunate to have in, yep, insurance.

You know what my low-income job provides me that I value more than money? (By the way, I have been offered more hours than I work on a couple of occasions, so it’s not like “the man” is keeping me down; these are choices I am making.) Flexibility. I can go serve at a food bank. I can take off in the middle of the day to take D on a field trip. (Within reason, after having made sure it doesn’t inconvenience my employers.) I can homeschool.

I choose to find meaning in my live outside of my vocation, and I believe with all of my heart that that is what the majority of people MUST do.

At lunch today, I met with some people to collaborate on a visual art project for which not only will I not be paid, but I will actually spend some money on supplies to create. But you know what? I’m excited! I’ve never done anything like that before. I will probably never be paid to create visual art (or write, or purvey chocolate, or any other in a long list of “dream” jobs), but I think that I can manage to eek out some significance in this project, anyway.

So how about a reality check program? You send me $15 and I tell you to do whatever you want in your free time, and maybe try to balance unwinding with service and loving on your friends and family. I promise no results. How’s that?

Dreams are good, but have your own. Don’t buy someone else’s.


Now we’re going back to the beginning of the MRI story. Spoiler alert, I suppose… You know how it turns out.

A couple of weeks ago, I’d priced MRIs. They’re a couple thousand dollars. X-rays are less expensive, but I don’t feel like that is something I need, and it’s still not cheap.

I had posted the question to my Facebook friends about affordable imagining, and a friend mentioned Volunteer Healthcare Clinic. I looked it up and found that they see patients on Tuesday and Thursday nights, and that their requirements are that you have no form of healthcare whatsoever, make 200% the federal poverty guidelines or below, present a photo ID, and have proof of county residence.


From what I read, the doors opened at 5 and they started seeing patients at six, after which time no new patients were admitted. I left my sister’s at around 5 and see, with hindsight, that showing up at 5 would be a good idea if you were actually sick. I look pretty healthy, so probably would have been shoved to the back in triage, anyway.

I got to the facility at 5:15ish and had to park two blocks away. When I walked in, a gentleman was conducting an orientation of sorts. He directed me to a place where I could grab a ticket, then he continued explaining, in both English and Spanish, that all services were being provided by volunteers: the administrators, pharmacy, doctors, intake, nurses, etc. They would treat the client with respect and expected the same in return. He talked through what would happen and what wouldn’t happen there at the clinic.

He mentioned, for instance, that they do not have care for expectant mothers. They had a dermatologist there for that night. He said that they had vouchers for an eye exam and free glasses, but specified that you had to ask for the voucher when you were being checked in. Then he asked if anyone there had used an eyewear voucher before, and three people had. He asked them to hold up their glasses. He asked them, “Did you have to pay for them?” Everyone indicated no, they were complementary. “So you got them for free? It worked?” They all confirmed it. You could tell that some people might be nervous about whether they’d be baited-and-switched. That others had already blazed this trail and not been “taken” seemed to soothe them. The same spiel happened when they talked about orders for x-rays and flu shots.

A bit before six, we all lined up outside, in order of our ticket numbers, to be checked in. A cold front had blown in, and we all stood shivering in the beautiful, flaming Austin sunset, as rain begin to pelt us. We were allowed to queue up near the building to avoid getting wet, but the whole check-in took fewer than fifteen minutes.

A gentleman asked to see my photo ID, and asked why I was there. When I explained, he seemed a little put out. “Are you experiencing pain NOW?” he asked. It was with extreme self-restraint that I answered calmly, “All of the time. Yes.”

I was given a number and went back in the big room to sit down… or, in my case, stand up.

The clinic asks for a donation of $5, but most of the people I saw were giving $10-20.

Those with children were allowed to go first, regardless of when they arrived. One boy apparently had whooping cough (something I’m sure I shouldn’t have heard, but which I will explain later), and it was a school night, after all.

Everyone was called back to get paperwork handled in order of our numbers. My number had been assigned as 27/adult (this was after 11 or so kids), so after an hour, when we were only on 9/adult, I knew I’d be there a while.

As I watched, though, I noticed that people were being processed and seen and sent to the lab and pharmacy as they could. Finally, after over an hour, I went to the back to start my paperwork. I was asked questions about my income, and where I would have gone for heath care if the clinic hadn’t been available.

When that was finished, I was sent back out to wait for the next step.

At just before 8:00 PM, or more than two and a half hours after I’d gotten there, I was sent in to be weighed (I closed my eyes and asked her not to say it out loud) and measured… and decided to ignore that I’ve apparently shrunk one inch since I was measured for my high school senior cap and gown.

Then I was sent back out to wait for triage.

I went back to be interviewed by a nursing student from UT. She was very attentive and pleasant, nearly three hours in, even though I did chuckle when she asked me how to spell “sciatica.”

She took my temperature (which was “normal,” which is high for me) and my blood pressure (which was “low,” which is normal for me), then, you guessed it: sent me back out to wait.

There was a line of five seats along a narrow hall in the back of the building, and I’d learned that this was the waiting area for seeing the doctor.

Gradually, everyone else was called back, even people who’d been assigned numbers behind me. I got it by then: I had no overt illness, and could wait. No problem. I had taken, “The Real History of Chocolate” to read (again) and was engaged in any number of fascinating text conversations to pass the time.

I watched clients hanging out at the lab in back of the room. When the lab techs weren’t working, they would talk with the patients. When the admin who was taking “donations” was not busy, she just sat and talked with whomever might come to share a bench with her.

The idea of mutual respect in my head from the orientation leader’s explanation, I saw it. I especially saw it when, shortly after 9:00 PM, I was finally called back to the “the doctor will see you now… almost” chair line.

While I waited, a group (made up largely of UT med students) of volunteers was standing around the corner chatting. That’s when I heard about the sick kid’s diagnosis. They were also talking about putting together a 20,000-piece puzzle. They were enjoying each other, and had nothing else to do for the night. They were basically waiting for me to leave. And they sounded a lot less tired than I was, making plans to go out afterward.

Dr. Gonzales called me into his office, the last patient of the evening. What I’m about to tell you might cause you a great deal of shock, but it’s the honest truth: This man, this doctor, this gentleman who could have been at home but had chosen to donate his time and experience to help me and people like me… He LISTENED to me. He asked what was wrong, and before he tried to tell me what he thought, he LISTENED to the words coming out of my mouth. He was positive about my chiropractor. He agreed with everything she’d told me, and was surprised himself that the month of adjustments hadn’t helped yet.

He felt my back and said it did seem uneven (not surprising since he had me bend over and I can only do that if I bend my left knee significantly), but that he didn’t feel anything that concerned him. He thinks the wonky sacrum is the most likely reason my nerves are shot and I’m in so much pain. He agreed that a bulged disc might be the cause, also, but that the odd thing there is that typically, if that happens, it hurts for six weeks or so and then scars over and the pain subsides. He said that sometimes it will last as long as eight weeks, which is around how long I’ve been in this extremely severe pain.

The doctor said he was not at all concerned that I might have a tumor or anything more serious, but that, to rule it out, he’d be glad to order blood work (to check for infections and cell count) and an MRI.

I almost cried.

The nurse who’d triaged me had suggested an x-ray, and I didn’t want to be a choosy beggar, so I wasn’t going to say anything if that’s how the visit went.

But do you know what?

The doctor listened to me. I think he could tell what I wanted and he met that need. I was extremely grateful.

After he sent me off, I went into the lab to have blood drawn. Another volunteer was turning off the lights in the main room. I literally closed the place down.

I left at a bit before 10:00, thanking everyone who was still hanging out.

Fortunately, the rain had quickly visited and moved on, because that two blocks was much more nicely traversed in the cool, still evening than it would have been in a cold soaking-to-the-bone rain.

As I processed this visit on my drive, I realized that I’d basically been paid (or granted?) $500 an hour to sit in that clinic. No imaging centers use a sliding scale. Having now gone through the MRI, I can more appreciate why it’s so expensive, and would not want to save money by finding a cut-rate operation.

Another friend here in town said that this is one thing he loves about Austin: That there are people here who have the means to make a difference, and they do. They’re not just bleeding-hearts, they are actual do-gooders.

Adding up all of the donations from that night doesn’t come close to making a dent in the free service I received. I’m grateful to the benefactors who support Volunteer Healthcare Clinic, and to every single person who works hard to make the services available.