Voluntary poverty, have no fear.

“Damn! It’s freezing out here!

Less than an inch thick of corrugated cartoon insulated my body from the pavement. There’s about a foot of ceiling overhang sheltering us from the foggy sky. I was oblivious to passers by and vehicles traversing the street.  D2 to K2 mountain traverse (Philippines 2nd and 4th highest peaks) is a tiring feat for weekend hikers like me. So post climb, I really didn’t care if I’m sleeping on a pavement.

“Well, what the heck. I’m too numb and tired to feel cold”.

Why didn’t I get a decent hotel room I can afford that time? Most of my climbing buddies are expense savvy vagabonds who’d rather spend on travels than a decent hotel room. The social decorum among climbers is that we go where the pack goes. So I go where they go. Even sleeping on pavements.

Looking back now, my reasons for “trying out the pavement instead of the decent hotel room” goes beyond the group’s social decorum. I was re learning a habit I learned growing up which faded when I already afford decent hotel rooms.

Being comfortable with discomfort.

I slept on a folding bed at inside a bus terminal because I can’t afford a hotel room. I rode crappy inter island sea vessels because I can’t afford a ticket for a commercial plane. I can survive a day on a single pande sal and a cup of 3 in 1 coffee. In early med school, I live in a 2 x 4 meters room with 3 double decker bunk bed. Your bunk bed is your study table, eating table and your sleeping space. Military bunks are way better.  I once thought I couldn’t go home to Tandang Sora QC after wasting the last peso in my pocket, but did so by walking from Taft Avenue Manila all the way to our apartment. I collapsed in exhaustion but I did survive.

Losing a job? I applied as a part time bank teller and a fast food service crew but was rejected. Overqualified. I had to quit a job and was literally jobless for a year. Well, I didn’t die either. Yeah, I was rock bottom broke but I did survived. Poverty made me fearless in the past. I fear nothing because I could only go up from the abyss of poverty.  Back then, the rock bottom is my trampoline to success.

Until I got comfortable with comfort.

When the time came I can afford decent hotel rooms, I worked like a cog on a wheel to maintain my ability to afford a decent hotel room. No, I’m consumed by it. Then life choices became so much more complicated.

The fear of going broke and the world will end.

This is the kind of fear that consumes me now more than ever. That fear that if we don’t work hard to protect our “comfortable life” today, we go broke and die. Even if that “comfortable life” does not in any way contribute to productive, of true value gains to our life.  Worse,  that comfortable life clouded our path to finding something, someone of value to us.

My personal experience could only vouch for me. I did hit rock bottom before and I was ok. No decent hotel room? Sure, I can sleep on a pavement. No taxi? Sure I can hike! I went broke but the world didn’t end. That’s not so surprising, right?

Finding a way to combat fear.

Maybe it took me some time to look back at my past experiences to find a way of combating fear. A way that I’ve unconsciously tested by in the past. Something to anchor my profound curiosity for experimenting on life hacks to achieve goals of value.  I need a strategy to optimize my decision making process and get rid of fear that is consuming me. I had to actively re create or maybe simulate what worked for me in the past and regain habits that brought me to something of value.

Voluntary poverty.

Voluntary poverty or some call it, “simplicity” is an “optimisation” strategy wherein you actively get rid of options that are not of real value to you to un-complicate many decision making process. Central to this is knowing what is of true value to you to remove unnecessary choices in the equation. This optimisation reduces the chances of you being stuck in the decision making process and actually make a decision.

Many of us are often caught in that decision making process trap. A good practical example is choosing what clothes to wear. Did you know that a human being spend some 15-20 minutes choosing what to wear each day? Imagine what you can do with that 15 minutes each day to be productive. Talk to family, meditate, journal, read 2 pages of a book. What a time saver right?

Most of the people I admire, or people I consider successful practice voluntary poverty or simplicity. Steve Jobs,  Mark Zuckerberg,  AJ  Jacobs, Kevin Kelly (co founded Wired magazine) all who despite their vast capacity to indulge in their money, chose to live a life of simplicity and converted the time they earned to build something productive.

Wait.  “Voluntary poverty” is NOT an excuse to waste money on something that do not give you true value or a profound sense personal fulfilment. Spending all your money on vices that does not in any way help achieve productive goals is not optimising. It’s pure time, money wasting. You can only do voluntary poverty when you have unscrewed what you value and your priorities are clearcut. Or at least you’re trying to.

Another important component here is that you are able to convert those saved time, effort, or money to something of value to you.

So why I am saying this loud? That practicing voluntary poverty is a way of optimising ourselves and combating fear??

First, I believe voluntary poverty could save me valuable amounts of time, effort, and money I can use to fuel more productive goals in life. Second,  I should not be afraid of going broke whenever I embark on something to improve myself. I’d go for it and see how deep the rabbit hole goes. I have been to rock bottom before I did ok. Why should I be afraid now?

I shouldn’t be. Poverty made me fearless.

“So, concerning the things we pursue, and for which we vigorously exert ourselves, we owe this consideration- either there is nothing useful in them, or most aren’t useful. Some of them are superfluous, while others aren’t worth that much. But we don’t discern this and see them as free, when they cost us dearly.” -Seneca, Moral Letters, 42.6 as quoted by Ryan Holiday in The Daily Stoic.