My wife and I started our business at exactly the wrong time. Although we established it in 1967, we opened our first brick and mortar operation in 1972.
Within a year, the “big recession” of ’73 began.
Some of you might remember when you had to wait in line for hours to get gas for your car? Well, while trying to do some business in Miami, we ended up sleeping with our one-year-old son in the car all night at a gas station because we couldn’t find gas anywhere and couldn’t afford a motel.
Within another two years, we found ourselves on the brink of bankruptcy, filing a Chapter 11 action for protection. By grace and mercy, we worked our way through it, and survived to continue in business. During this time, we lived the kind of stories that most people only read about in books. But these experiences give me the right to speak about the high cost of being poor.
Struggling to Make Ends Meet
And we were poor. We were trying to present a solid front, while on the inside we were in a constant panic, always hyperventilating, always struggling; not to eat, but simply to breathe.
Desperate for change, we moved to Tampa. We had a flea-bag apartment there, but no electricity. So we borrowed power from a neighbor by running an extension cord to our home for a light and a television.
We purchased a new car in 1972, but keeping the payments up during a deepening recession was overwhelming, even for the relatively small payment of around $79. In 1972, that was a small fortune.
One day, while in the middle of a sale presentation to two of my best clients, a smug young man wearing a suit and tie burst into my office and, in front of my two buyers, announced that he was there to repossess my car. There were no words left in me.
They took our car, and without honor or dignity. At the time, that left us with two bicycles. We used to wait until our son was asleep, then ask a neighbor to watch him so we could take our bikes and backpacks three miles to the grocery store, where we spent an average of about $15 dollars worth of food for a day or two. That is, until the day our bicycles were stolen. Then we had to walk.
Is this for real? Yes. This is exactly what happened to us.
Being Poor Is Expensive
Poverty breeds stress. Stress destroys one’s body, and sickness is expensive. More expenses, more doctor bills, more poverty.
It’s the poor who tend to get hit with the most charges too. Poor people are usually asked to make higher down payments, are charged the highest interest rates and often get hit with every added fee a finance company can think of.
The big banks thrive on the fees of the poor — those who are like we were — for the sake of a two-cent overdraft. And we had to pay. And pay. To the bank, the overdraft charge was simply one more addition to their bottom line, one more notch for their shareholders to enjoy. For us, it was dinner. Or not. How many times did my wife and I eat the rice to give our kids the meat and veggies? The NSF fee was around ten dollars. But, so was dinner.
Our society will beat you up and beat you down. Meanwhile, our business was suffering more than ever, as the cost of being poor began escalating into the “intangibles” that actually were not so intangible after all. Every day we saw our business losses mount due to our obvious “lack of success,” as well as our lack of expectation for it.
But that’s where we found our greatest lesson: We didn’t have a clue what we are really worth, either in business or in life. Like most people, we were working far below our calling and potential. We were settling for “halfsies.” That is, half of what we’re worth, half of what we could do, and half of what we are gifted for.
Poverty sucks, but what it sucks is the very life out of one’s soul. Poverty steals our expectations. Poverty pushes us to desperation.
The Importance of Perseverance and Vision
The only thing we could do was persevere. If there are ever words to write on our tombstones, let them be “I didn’t quit.”
If we had anything going for us, it was a vision for the goal of succeeding in the art business. God said it first: Without a vision, the people perish. So we paid the bank fees. We paid the doctors. And we paid the interest rates. But we kept going.
Nor was credit the answer. Living on credit is like living on borrowed time: one day, we run out of both. So, we had to make some choices: buy everything with cash or go totally broke. We decided to cut up our credit cards. If we didn’t have the money, we didn’t buy. Even for larger purchases it was cash or nothing. We also bartered lots of great deals for food, gas, clothes and, later, even a decent car. A trade saved us from being evicted from our flea-bag apartment.
Over time we gradually began to see our lives change simply because of this: we were given a brain, an active imagination and some nerve to ask for what we needed, in exchange for what we had in our hands.
Even today, we still don’t use credit cards. If we can’t afford something, we either do without, or look at what we have in our hands to exchange. But, I must say that, since we made some of these life choices, we have lived better and are in greater comfort and security than we have ever in our previous years, and my wife and I both appreciate the security we have now.
What Do You Have In Your Hands?
In the past, everything used to be “money, money, money.” Now it’s, “What do I have in my hands?” Now it’s, “What am I worth?” Now it’s, “Will what I have benefit the other guy, so we can both win?”
The world of business is structured in such a way that it tells you what you are worth, usually in the form of a paycheck; but if you believe that, you will never rise above your station.
I never knew what I was worth until I asked. Over the course of my 70 years, I discovered that I am worth a great deal; much more than the world system tells me I am.
And here is something amazing: If I am fair with people and ask an honest exchange for value, most of the time they say “yes.” Sometimes it is money. Sometimes it’s goods or services. But the more I ask, the more I discover that I have many things in my hands. The more I use them, the more things I discover. It’s like a revelation of abundance that was always in my hands, but I was too preoccupied with money to see them.
So, let me ask you one more time: “What do you have in your hands?” If it’s only poverty, perhaps you should take another serious look at them.
About the Author
Gayle Tate is the founding owner and director of G. B. Tate & Sons Fine Art. His services include authentication and appraisal of fine art, and he has worked with federal authorities and art insurance companies to solve and prevent art fraud issues and theft in the marketplace. You are invited to visit his web site at http://www.gbtate.com.
Photo Credit: CoreForce
(This is an updated version of an article originally published on May 25, 2011.)