Use It or Lose It
Or, how the 4 of Pentacles calls BS on our incessant saving for a rainy day
Office Hours with The Tarot Professor is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The economy of the United States is built upon the notion that worker bees nationwide will continue to believe the nonsensical myth that if they spend their strongest, healthiest, most vibrant, and most able-bodied years slaving away for capitalists, they will reach the promised land that is “retirement.”
It has never made sense to me why so many baby boomers ate up this highly unlikely promise that at age 65 (or, what is actually nowadays more like 70 or 75), when they finally stop working, they will somehow be in the prime “travel the world and live out all your bucket list fantasies” years of their lives.
There are always exceptions, of course! I know quite a few active, spry, and downright vivacious seniors whom I aspire to be like even in my current younger years. This is also not meant to imply that only able-bodied people can enjoy life. (That would be downright absurd.) And just because I have already sworn off standing-room-only concerts and any line that takes longer than 30 minutes to get to the front of - be it for a bottomless brunch or the British Museum - doesn’t necessarily mean anything about anybody else.
It is never too late and we are never too old, after all.
Except when we are.
The statistical truth is that even if we are lucky enough to make it to retirement age, we are not guaranteed - that’s all I’m saying - that we will be able to live out all of our deferred dreams and lofty plans and bucket list activities.
An intelligent, warm, and passionate professor in my department recently retired and said, at her send-off party, she was excited to get to work on her novel. She had waited more than 30 years so that she could max out her pension and finally be able to devote herself to this passion project. I was so shocked I couldn’t even applaud. (She was a wonderful teacher and thousands of students were lucky enough to benefit from her tutelage over the years, but still.)
And just the other day, I was watching an episode of Murder, She Wrote in which a retired cop said in passing - almost unnoticeably - that he and his wife had been planning to see the world when he retired, but she passed before they got a chance to and so now he has nothing to do with all his saved money. And the other characters just kind of shrugged like, “Yup, that’s how it goes. What can you do?”
What can we do!? I’ll tell you what we can do.
We can stop thinking that we will be blessed to live to old age, first of all. And, even if we do, we can start seriously thinking about how likely it is that we will be able to - *checks her notes* - climb Macchu Picchu, visit monasteries in Tibet, dance the tango in Buenos Aires, swim with dolphins in the Bahamas, or even tour every inch of the Louvre.
And I know everybody is different, but that shit is exhausting! What makes you think 80 - rather than, say, 40 or 50 - is the time to do it!?
Of course, the fact that many of us are unable to take any real time off work and need all those decades to be able to amass a decent amount of money to be able to take a trip at all should also be mentioned. That is a whole separate discussion that simply cannot be done justice in this mere tarot newsletter.
But what I am finding particularly interesting in this moment is that even when we can take time off and do have some money saved up (beyond a cushion for emergency expenses), many of us are still waiting for retirement because that’s simply the time we have been told we finally get to live our lives. Or, another version of this deferment of dreams is that we tell ourselves we can’t spend any of that money because we need to save it for a rainy day.
In fact, this story we have collectively been telling ourselves is so potent that, to be perfectly frank, I know a few people who ain’t got many rainy days left in them and are still saving frantically.
When does it end?
When is it time to start living our lives?
When do we feel safe enough? Secure enough? Comfortable enough?
In the Parable of the Talents, which Jesus tells his disciples first in Matthew 25 and again in Luke 19, a master entrusts three of his servants with varying amounts of currency before he leaves for travel. When he returns, the first two servants report that they used the money they were given and were able to make some more back, which pleased the master. The third servant, however, reported that he was afraid of losing what little he was given and so he buried it for safekeeping.
You know, Four of Pentacles style.
The master was so annoyed that this servant had wasted his “talent” (as the unit of measurement is so interestingly called in the Bible), that he dubbed him a useless fool and took what little talent he had away.
I go back to school on Monday, so this story reminds me of the allocation of funds for school programs, departments, student clubs, and more. There’s sometimes a mad dash at the end of a fiscal calendar year to use the money your program or division was allotted because - do you know the rule?
Use it or lose it.
If you don’t use the money that the college allotted you, they assume you don’t need that much and will give you less next year. This is partly why we encounter so many end-of-year parties and free food. Are we just being celebratory? Maybe. Are we just rushing to use the money we didn’t use to ensure that we get at least the same amount next year? Also yes.
When it comes to a tarot card like the Four of Pentacles, it’s easy to limit ourselves to financial matters. But this tarot card more accurately depicts a lack mindset of any kind: a fear of spending or utilizing resources or energy of any kind because we do not trust that more will come our way.
In Big Magic, which I have talked about on at least one other occasion in this newsletter, Elizabeth Gilbert discusses her theory of creative inspiration. She abides by the ancient Greek and Roman idea that gifted people weren’t geniuses, they had geniuses:
…[A] sort of house elf, if you will, who lived within the walls of your home and who sometimes aided you in your labors….your guardian deity, the conduit of your inspiration.
Gilbert goes on to explain how when we are visited by our genius, we’d better be ready to take notes and then act upon these divinely delivered ideas or else the genius will flit on by and deliver the idea to somebody else if they don’t think we are going to take it seriously.
In fact, this is Gilbert’s explanation of the phenomenon of multiple discovery, which I quite like because honestly, what else short of clandestine surveillance and creative espionage would explain it? Gilbert tells us about a once-exciting novel she had been working on that had sort of stalled as life and other projects got in the way. Awhile later, she was talking with fellow author Ann Patchett, who described to her the latest novel she’d been working on and - with slight variety in context and characters and plot details - it was basically the same novel!
Gilbert explains the miraculous coincidence thusly:
All I know is that the novel really wanted to be written, and it didn’t stop its rolling search until it finally found the author who was ready and willing to take it on—not later, not someday, not in a few years, not when times get better, not when life becomes easier, but right now.
Use it or lose it.
In fact, let me ask you this. If you had to ascribe a tarot card to Liz Gilbert’s description of an invisible Tinkerbell-like genius who appears seemingly out of thin air to present you with a wonderful idea or inspiration for a project, and who will disappear back into thin air if you don’t grasp the opportunity and bring it into fruition, which tarot card comes to mind?
Did you also think of the 4 of Cups?
It’s a perfect match, isn’t it!?
And you know what else probably isn’t a coincidence?
It’s another four.
In numerology, four is a number of security, stability, and the status quo. Four is the relief and resolve after the imbalance of the three, and it’s the comfort we so hesitate to leave behind in order to explore the tension of the five. Four energy isn’t inherently a problem. It can become so, though, when we let it keep us in stagnation or mediocrity when we long for more.
When we do Four of Pentacles type things like play it safe, wait for a better time in our life, never take a sick day, hold on to all our money for a “rainy day,” and - let’s call a spade a spade - adopt a lack mindset, we aren’t doing it to be boring losers! Of course not! We are doing it in the name of security and stability, aren’t we?
We tell ourselves we can’t risk losing this - this money, this rent-controlled apartment, this major account, this client list, this respect, this prestige, this neighborhood, this job, this devil I know.
Because what if there isn’t plenty more where that came from?
And isn’t that also the motivation behind some of our Four of Cups type behaviors? Sometimes we just aren’t paying attention or already have too much on our plates to take on yet another one of our flash-bang genius ideas. And that’s okay. Other times the opportunity that comes our way is decidedly not aligned with our highest good, and that is definitely an okay thing to turn away from.
But, if you’re like me, there are also times when our genius bestows upon us a wonderful idea that widens our eyes, makes the tiny hairs on our forearms stand up, and even stops our breath for a few moments. And then what do we do? Probably a lot of hemming and hawing and nay-saying and excuse-making until, next thing you know, the Instagram algorithm serves you a sponsored post advertising that very product or service and you curse the day you were born and spend the rest of the night watching Sex and the City with your dog and get off the couch only to retrieve the spicy tuna rolls and miso soup the Door Dash guy just left on your welcome mat.
It’s not easy to take a chance.
And responsibility is imperative.
The Four of Pentacles and Four of Cups invite us merely to audit our risk assessment and see if we’re being honest. Is this idea, opportunity, or chance we are putting off really so reckless and risky that we’d be out of our minds to go for it? Or are we just scared?
The reason we are given our unique passions, ideas, and talents is to use them and share them with the world.
Otherwise, what’s the point?
~ ~ ~
If you find yourself realizing you might be more risk-averse than seems necessary or perhaps ideal for you, I have a tarot spread that can help! Here it is:
Keep reading with a 7-day free trial