Thursday, May 7, 2009

Lessons Learned (1): Giving Away Money is Complicated

[Seeing as next month is the one-year anniversary of Adventures in Voluntary Simplicity I thought I would share with you certain “lessons” I have learned regarding this peculiar, yet rewarding endeavor called blogging. I want to distinguish this exercise from something else that is in the works: an attempt to articulate what I have learned since I decided to embrace voluntary simplicity/simple living. I'll work on the latter as I continue my trip across America.]

While I am still blown away by the response this blog continues to generate, nothing quite prepared me for the response to my Let's Start a Revolution!!!!!!!! post. To recap, at some point last year I finalized a pretty conservative budget going forward, taking into account all the obvious contingencies. I then realized that I had some cash left over. I didn't feel right keeping it. I also didn't feel right expanding my budget. Ultimately, I decided that the thing to do was to give it away. And so I did. That's when the fun/insanity/surprises started.

The first thing I noticed was the incredible response from many readers who absolutely “got” the post. Many suggested that I send donations to particular charities and causes and though I had distributed most of the cash by the time I blogged about it, I did take certain suggestions to heart. Many others commented or emailed me directly about similar efforts here in the U.S., and as far away as the U.K. and Australia.

Then came a small flood of emails asking for financial assistance. This was the most difficult, unintended consequence of this post. Telling absolute strangers that I couldn't send them any money, even though they clearly NEEDED assistance for their very survival, was the hardest thing I ever did in connection with this blog.

And when the media got wind of the post things got a little weird. A couple of hundred emails, comments, and press mentions later the message underlying the post became superfluous. Suddenly, and depending on the audience, Jack became the asshole hippy; the savior of the legal profession; the life-coach guru; the confused rich lawyer in need of assuaging some deep-seeded guilt; the guy know had figured “it” out, and on and on and on...


What this post taught me is that most people, most of the time, see only what they want to see. It is hard (or inconvenient?) to dig deeper to uncover the essence of a person, let alone a blog post.

All I can tell you is that I am a person who now has enough money to live on for the rest of his life. It might not be much to a lot of people. It is probably a small fortune to many others. But it is enough for me. And that is what is important.

I will leave you with an excerpt of an email I got from an immigrant bus driver who tracked me down after he found one of my envelopes in his bus:

“...I thank you from the bottom of [sic] heart. The day I saw you I was so sad about my job, my family and my life. When I saw the money I smiled and knew that there was [sic] good people in the world. I will always remember it...”

I always intended to put together a video capturing this renegade money giveaway, much as I did when I burned my law degree, but I never really had the time. Plus, with youtube silencing any videos set to music it felt a little pointless to bother with any real editing. It's not the same, but here's some raw footage of me traveling to NYC, Boston and Philly as I dropped off some envelopes.

Take care everyone,


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