For Richer or PoorerA friend of mine used to feel he was mistreated at his job, but he stuck it out for years. And when he no longer worked for that employer, he decided to take some money out of his IRA to go have an adventure. My friend knew he would pay a penalty for taking money out early, and he didn’t mind that. His rationale was, “The bulk of the money put into that account came from my employer, so I’m spending their money to do something I’ve been wanting to do for a long time.” And with that, he hiked the Appalachian Trail.

Now depending on who you ask, this was either poor planning or a brilliant idea. Remember the story of the ant and the grasshopper, where the ant worked all summer long and the grasshopper lived it up, and then in the winter, the ant had enough to eat while the grasshopper lamented that storing up for lean times was the way to go all along? The ants of the world (as opposed to the grasshoppers) would tell you that what my friend did was the worst idea ever, that he should be saving for his future, for his retirement, and healthcare costs alone in retirement can add up to hundreds of thousands of dollars. As a former ant myself, I understand the thinking. But the ant in the story worked so hard all summer that he didn’t even have time to chat because he was so busy stocking up for winter, which makes the whole ant/grasshopper story sound as if the only way to prosper is to sacrifice.

Ask any dreaming artist or any hardworking artist out there and we’ll all tell you my friend’s plan was brilliant. That IRA bought him unrivaled life experience, and in our line of work, these are our riches. Our riches are the experiences that help us make art. We capture time, place, and emotion so well in our work because we’ve been there, done that. It’s not grasshopper, and it’s not ant. It’s somewhere in between. So when rational thought says, “Can’t afford it,” the artist brain says, “I can’t afford not to try.” And we know that disaster may strike, that we’ll be financially behind our peers, that we’ll pay penalties, and we’re willing to take that on, because the life experience of fully knowing the now is worth it every time.

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Jody Brown is the author of Upside Down Kingdom, and is a multi-blogger, poet, and traveler. Her current writing projects, including her daily blog endeavor, #Project365, can be found at JodyBrown.com/writing. 

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