Powerball, homelessness and having enough

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about “how much is enough,” mostly in the context of my little PR and marketing firm. As I complete my first year of business and reflect on lessons learned from this experiment I call JMC, my thoughts inevitably turn towards measuring its success, and that in turn leads to dollars and cents.

I set relatively low (and I thought attainable) revenue goals for JMC in its first year of existence. After all, I thought, “You’re just getting started, you have no clients and it’s a down economy. So, for Pete’s sake, go easy on yourself.” As it turns out, I will probably fall short of those goals, although that shortfall in itself is a lesson in timing and some unrealistic expectations.

What would you do if you suddenly won $588 million?

What would you do if you suddenly won $588 million?

This question of “how much is enough,” especially in the hyper-affluent Fairfax County where I live, took on a new twist last night. These last few years, I have volunteered to spend the night with our homeless population as part of my church’s  hypothermia program. Each time I do it, I go home with new insights and newfound respect for a group of people I didn’t think I had much in common with.

Last year, I went home and wrote “Black Friday, business plans and the homeless.” This year, the topic of “how much is enough” weighed on me again as I drove home—but in a new light. On these long nights, we often have homeless guests who want to stay up. They can’t sleep on the hard floor, they have insomnia, they need company—whatever the reason, they become welcome conversation partners.

Last night, one of our guests steered the topic to the record $588 million Powerball jackpot and what he would do if he won all of that money. This led to a lot of joking about sudden wealth, but then the conversation turned serious when he asked about five of us sitting together what we would do.

Most of us answered that we would pay off fairly modest debts like a mortgage and take care of family members, but no one talked of wildly extravagant spending. In fact, most talked about the good they could do for others with all of the money. Then we asked what he would do. This was a young man, and I half expected an answer that involved the purchase of an expensive car or travel to exotic places—in short, all the trappings of a jet-set life.

So imagine my surprise when he shared his desire to start an organization that would help the homeless out of poverty. He talked about establishing a place where the homeless could stay temporarily, get job skills and find work, learn self-reliance and how to make better life choices. It was obvious our friend had done some heavy thinking.

When I think about my own life, I realize that I have always enjoyed what you might call an abundance of sufficiency. In other words, I have always had enough. There were certainly times in my life when I thought I wasn’t paid enough, didn’t have all the material possessions that I wanted or hadn’t earned the success I coveted, but those were the “extras.” I’ve never gone without the “basics”—food, clothing, shelter, healthcare, transportation. I’ve always found the money to pay for those things that really mattered to me or my family. I may have sweated tuition payments, house payments and car payments—but somehow they always got paid.

So what is enough? And how do we know when we’ve attained it? And, more importantly, when do we stop chasing those things we really don’t need or can’t afford?

Perhaps we know it when we hear a homeless man talk about the good he would do for others with $588 million.

While at times this past year, in my belt-tightening to make up for lost income, I’ve felt I’m the Prince of Austerity, deep down inside I know that I will be provided for, one way or another. I have what I need, and that’s enough.

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6 Responses to Powerball, homelessness and having enough

  1. Alan Hahn says:

    Some good thoughts Jay. The topic of money is frequently mentioned in the Bible for a reason. Devoting our life to money and “stuff”; rather than people and things less temporal, can leave us unsatisfied. However, I do believe we are created to work, to discover, and to achieve. Achieving wealth (difficult to define) without being overcome with greed is a challenge in a society of relative abundance. Though I wonder if some of the younger folks, such as the young man you mention, are getting it better than our generation.

  2. Pat Sherfey says:

    As always, your words have a way of putting everything in perspective. We are all truly blessed, and I thank God for our abundance. Our small setbacks and difficulties are nothing compared to what our hypothermia guests deal with. I too feel humbled by their stories and thoughts on life It is good to have them there to remind us of how much we have. Thank you, Jay, for your words of wisdom. You have reminded us that everything we have is a gift from God. God is good ALL the time.

  3. So happy to have discovered your blog and this thoughtful and touching post. It sounds like you have an abundance of heart, which is what really matters. Congratulations on your first year of business!

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