Many fine and knowledgable personal finance bloggers extoll the virtues of tracking of your net worth. Some do it monthly. Some do it quarterly. But, they do it, and it seems to be an important piece of their financial lives. For the last year, on the fifteenth of every month, I’ve logged into various checking, savings, and investment accounts, and entered my numbers into an Excel spreadsheet of my own design. I have seen my net worth grow, and for that I’m grateful.
I have seen my net worth grow because I am focused on growing my net worth. I’m so focused on it that I will open up that Excel spreadsheet on days that are not the fifteenth of the month and stare at the numbers, hoping that my attention to them will make them grow. You know, like plants.
Net worth numbers do not grow like plants.
When I’m staring at the spreadsheet, I am not always in a calm, easygoing state of mind. Frankly, I feel anxious. On good days, I can look at the spreadsheet and feel gratitude and awe. On other days, I will half focus on my work and half focus on, “Oh my God how on Earth can I make more money so I can make my net worth grow!?!?” Split focus is not a good frame of mind. Split focus does not do much for either task that you’re concentrating on.
Lately, one of the tasks that I’ve been concentrating on is an anthology that I’m editing for a publisher in the Midwest. The anthology focuses on work from my current city, a subject that I have been interested in for years. Many years ago, before I was a personal finance blogger, I spent a lot of time writing about, reading about, and talking about place – as a concept, as distinct locations, as areas that consume and produce their own culture, and as areas that some people feel suited for and some do not. I moved around a lot, because I wanted to experience what it was like to live in different places. I traveled so I could experience other places, no matter how briefly.
I’m also involved in a project for an arts organization. That project focuses on place. It focuses on the Midwest, in particular. I feel suited to run that project. It seems to be a perfect addition to my body of work.
I’ve said the phrase, “Body of work,” to myself and to friends, a lot over the last few days. I’ve been outlining the projects on my plate in the upcoming year, and I’m seeing a pattern. I’m proud of what is blossoming. I’m eager to pursue these endeavors. They will, in a sense, complete me.
Fulfilling work is an incredible thing to have in your life. I’ve known people who manage to get paid for work that fulfills them, and I’ve known people who pursue projects outside the confines of their day jobs in order to do work that completes them, in a sense.
A few months ago, my best friend mentioned my personal finance writing and said, “I just think of this incredible body of work that you’ve amassed over the last few years.” I certainly had never thought of it as such. It felt so removed from creative writing about place. When she said it, I had just announced a blogging break. I took a break from blogging, but not from tracking my net worth.
Which made me think about what I was blogging for. What was I writing for? What was I tracking my net worth for?
What you focus on grows. My net worth did grow over the last year, but so did my anxiety about it not growing quickly enough. I think it’s time to shift my focus, then, and instead track and grow my body of work.
“Well, won’t you just develop anxiety about not growing your body of work quickly enough?” you might ask. To that, I have to answer, “Maybe.” But, it’s time. One of the best things about being debt free is that all my brain space, creative energy, and time is not spent trying to get out of debt. I’m not worried about it. That is an incredible kind of freedom, and one that begs to be exercised. There is brain space to be filled. I want to fill it with my creative projects.
My creative projects are not worthless. I do believe that if you focus on growing your body of work, then you are also growing your capacity to earn money. The projects may not be profitable right away, or ever, but the relationships I’m making and the work itself have an un-calculable value. I could not track those in a spreadsheet. I wouldn’t want to.
I want to do good work, regardless of what it adds to my net worth spreadsheet. Therefore, for the next whole year, I’m not entering numbers into a spreadsheet. I’m automating a lot. I’m concentrating on not spending much. Whatever is left over in my checking account at the end of the month, I’ll move to savings. I’m not abandoning the growth of my net worth, I’m just not babysitting it constantly.
I do think it is important to track your net worth for a while. It does help you get a sense of where your money goes and where you stand in the national averages. But don’t let it preoccupy you. Don’t let it take up valuable brain space. Instead, create your important work. Whether or not it ever makes you money, it has deep, true, meaningful worth. And so do you.
Here’s to growing our bodies of work in the upcoming year.