By Heather D'Anca
My husband and I have been living in poverty for about a year. Our life took some unexpected twists and turns (as life does), and we found ourselves having spent all of our savings, without income, and without anything of significant monetary value to sell. With a master’s degree, a history of earning six figures, and the naivety and arrogance of first-world life, I landed in a position I never thought I could (or would) experience. But when we decided to stop living by society’s rules (working 40-80 hours a week doing work you don’t love in companies where you are underpaid, underappreciated and overwhelmed by hypocrisy; with sub-standard access to healthcare; surrounded by people who undermine your best efforts; leaving you without enough time to care for family, home and self; where God only matters one hour/week; and you're left unable to make ends meet), we were in for a wild ride.
Through this experience, I’ve learned invaluable life lessons that have resulted in spiritual growth, self-acceptance, empathy and understanding that I never would’ve gained had I continued climbing corporate ladders.
44 Lessons I Learned Through Poverty
By Heather D'Anca
Seated on the pillion, arms wrapped around my husband’s torso, my legs began to involuntarily shake from the cold. We had already been on the motorcycle for an hour in 20-degree weather, but still had another 30-minutes before we reached our destination. I gave my husband our hand signal indicating I needed to stop, and we pulled into the next BP gas station to take a break.
It had been two weeks since I sold my SUV. In the midst of financial hardship, our options were limited, and we needed to catch up on late utilities, court costs and motorcycle payments. So, I sold my car. Though it was still winter in northern Illinois, I believed we could survive using motorcycles as our only means of transportation. My husband had been riding for nearly 13 years, and I had my permit for 10 months. It was a calculated risk, but one I was willing to take.
This trip was the second 3-hour roundtrip we’d taken in freezing weather in two weeks. As we flew down the state highway at 60 m.p.h., Brendon Urie, Panic! at the Disco’s lead vocalist began to croon in my ear buds. I leaned back against the top case, stretched both arms out wide and sang along at the top of my lungs, knowing the only person who might be able to hear my muffled voice outside my helmet was my husband.
Approaching stoplights didn’t stop me, as the windows of the nearby vehicles were all tightly sealed to keep in the heat, and out the natural elements. I looked around and saw others in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s using their cell phones, applying mascara, robotically commuting, numb to the world outside their cages. I pitied them. Though my toes were very literally numb, my spirit was on fire. Some of the adjacent car-dwellers seemed to notice, as they very nearly careened into the bumpers in front of them while staring incredulously in our direction.
And then there was the bus. As I glanced to my right, it pulled up next to me. Through the tinted glass, my eyes caught movement, and my attention was drawn to a girl, approximately 7-years-old, waving excitedly out the window. At me. Heart warmed, I returned her energetic wave with my mittened right hand until the distance between our BMW R 1200 R and her school bus increased enough that I could no longer see her smiling face.
As we approached our destination, I reflected on my experience riding over the last two weeks. At the outset, I wasn’t sure I could do it. After all, it was winter, and Chicago weather was as unpredictable as its traffic. I had driven in rain, snow, road construction, and temperatures from 18 to 46 degrees. We’d gone to the grocery store, the library, church. I’d endured long trips as a passenger, and more frequent trips as a pilot than ever before. But no matter the conditions, I got on the bike. As soon as friends and family found out I sold my car, they immediately tried to find a solution to get me another one. Though I appreciated their sentiment, I didn’t want another car. Our society had become so reliant on the automobile, that nobody could fathom a life without one. But, we could.
And I was grateful for the experience. It connected me with generations past, as I imagined them traveling long distances by horse and carriage, and I realized that as a people, we’d become soft. It connected me with children, glints in their eyes, faces beaming as they waved on the roads and talked to us in parking lots. It connected me to old men, tipping their hats, smiling with their eyes, giving thumbs up as we passed, telling stories about the time they once had a motorcycle. It connected me to the homeless, as I waved at them from only mere feet away, unable to roll up my window and avoid the human interaction, as they realized they weren’t surviving the winter weather conditions alone. It connected me to the road and to the natural world around me, the smells, the changes in temperature as we drove, the feel of the air, the unobstructed view of the landscape.
Though it took 90-minutes to arrive at a location I didn’t want to go, my perspective had changed in as much time. It didn’t matter what I was going to do. It didn’t matter the outcome. It didn’t matter that my hair was messy and my makeup smudged. It didn’t matter that I’d been wearing the same pair of leather pants over leggings for 14-straight days. It didn’t matter that people thought I was crazy. All that mattered was that I made it. I was alive. Really alive. I had succeeded in reaching my destination. Again. I thanked God. I had learned I was capable of far more than my own expectations of myself. I had learned that every time a new challenge arose, I would meet it and find a way to turn it into an opportunity. I had learned that at 37-years old, I could sacrifice objects that mother culture deemed necessities and make my own path. Some would say I was having a mid-life crisis. But for the first time, there was no crisis. There was only gratitude.
We haven't taken an income in four months. I've been told by numerous people, "Maybe you should look for a job." But, my heart, my soul, and my communication with God disagrees. Some people think I'm crazy, but as Taylor Swift so aptly put it, "Haters gonna hate, hate, hate, hate, hate."
When I decided to take the leap of faith into entrepreneurship, it wasn't a decision I took lightly. I waited. I pondered. I prayed. I didn't make any changes until I felt an urgent fire inside that couldn't be extinguished by doing the same thing and expecting different results. Once I heard my calling loud and clear, there was no turning back. There was no more continuing with the status quo.
Since that time, I've learned how to deal with the internal stress of being an entrepreneur:
The equating of self-worth with income
The paperwork nightmares of our society
The catch-22 cycles between motivation and doubt
And I've wondered why others don't talk about this. Why are we a culture that must wait until the miracles happen before we talk about the struggles we faced in living our dreams? Why can't we put it all out there, be real and expose our truths instead of faking it until we make it? I'm taking this chance to connect with others, because if I can positively affect just one other person who's on the verge of giving up, it's worth all the risk.
The hardest part I've found about being an entrepreneur is holding onto what I believe in the face of doubt. I've seen too many people take this road and lose hope just a moment too soon. However, sometimes we have to be pushed off the edge before we realize we can fly.
Although the struggle is real, the payoff is worth more than any salary I've ever made:
I do what I love everyday.
I truly have a best friend at work.
I have time to care for myself and for those I love.
I can keep up with my home and all of the other blessings I worked so hard to procure.
I don't have a dress code.
I wake up without an alarm most days.
I read. I write. I paint. I ride my motorcycle.
I make my own schedule. And change it when I think it should change.
I only work with clients I like.
I am inspired.
I inspire others.
I am happy and fulfilled.
But most of all, the nagging feeling inside is gone. My soul no longer fights inside my body, aching to live my dreams. For the first time in my life, I can honestly say I am doing purposeful, worthwhile work, and ironically, I don't have a Gallup survey to fill out.
Although this is the most difficult road I've ever walked, it seems that nothing that's worthwhile in life is ever easy. So, I will keep waiting. I will keep pondering. I will keep praying. I will find the reasons why "I can" instead of focusing on the reasons why "I can't." And I will listen to the voice inside and make my decisions out of faith instead of out of fear.
There. I said it.
Hopefully you can find wisdom in the coming rant.
I need to give a shout out to Monica Tischler, my curriculum advisor when I attended Benedictine University for helping me see the truth on this one. All the recycling you could do in your lifetime won't make up for the damage of one automobile factory. Automobile factories only exist because we keep buying automobiles.
Should you recycle? YES! Every bit counts! Should the world ban automobiles? NO! There are plenty of situations where automobiles are valuable, even necessary. Should an automobile cease to be your primary mode of transportation? ABSOFREAKINGLUTELY!!!!!
OK, you drive a hybrid or a smart car. Good for you. But maybe, instead of worrying about your carbon footprint, you should worry about your rubber footprint. It's not just about "what you can do" or "lean manufacturing." It's about a different perspective of life. It's about what we "need" vs. what "makes life easy and comfortable." I challenge you to be honest with yourself here. Most people believe they “need” to commute in an automobile for reasons that are no more than excuses.
Consider these simple facts: The typical motorcycle weighs 400-500 pounds. The typical car weighs 2000-3000 pounds. The typical SUV weighs 4000-5000 pounds. Forget fuel efficiency entirely for a moment. Just consider the physical resources alone that are required to manufacture the machine itself; not even the energy the factory uses, only the physical material that goes into the vehicle.
Let's do a little math. Wait! Don't run away! I'll do the math for us. For the material in one SUV, 10 motorcycles could be made. Each motorcycle can carry two people. That equals 20 people who could be transported on the same quantity of raw material. What company makes a 20-person SUV? And how often are you likely to have a 20-person carpool? And honestly, this is the USA. We don't carpool! I'm from Illinois where we don't even have HOV lanes…
I could go on and on, but for now, keep recycling, plant a tree, and maybe consider signing up for your local Motorcycle Safety Foundation class. Unless, of course, you enjoy raping Mother Nature on your way to work every morning.
Was that too harsh? Probably not as harsh as the look you got from that "green" person at the office when you didn’t recycle your plastic bottle.
“Don't cry. Your tears will freeze.”
These were the words that kept running through my mind as I throttled forward. I had previously been at a stoplight. It was 39 degrees that sunny Tuesday morning. Heavy metal poured out my earbuds. To the right was a black sedan. The driver was a middle-aged woman with overdone hair and a little too much makeup. I didn't notice she was crying until she wiped her eyes and smeared her mascara.
At that moment, something inside me clicked. Back when I drove a cage to work everyday, that was my crying time, also. "Don't bring your issues to work," they'd say. So I cried on the way in, but it was never enough. There were always more tears the next morning. Always more rage on the afternoon ride home…
Without warning, that sympathetic part of me welled up. I felt horrible for her, and thoughts of my own struggles made me want to cry. Recognizing the way I identified with this woman only made me want to cry more. And I did start.
“Don't cry. Your tears will freeze.” That’s what I thought as I took off from the stoplight. Like a miracle, it seemed like the wind peeled away the pain and any desire to cry further. I momentarily thought back to how life was when my primary vehicle was an automobile.
It really was a cage. It's the cage our culture puts us in. You don't need it. You can be free.
Without it, you may have to give up crying on your way to work, but you may find that you have much less need to cry; that there’s much less to cry about. But if you find yourself on a motorcycle when the air temp is below 40 degrees Fahrenheit, remember my mantra.
Don't cry. Your tears will freeze.
Ingleside, IL -- I walked through the door of the house turned bar & grill to find my husband, Matt sitting at the bar. He glanced my direction and lightheartedly called to me, “Baby, we’re doing shots!” Confused, as this was quite unlike him, especially at 10:00 in the morning, I meandered around the stools to get a better look. Upon closer inspection, I found the culprit guilty of coercing my husband into such unusual behavior: a four-year-old boy named Parker doing shots of cranberry juice, simply because the little cups were his size. After Matt’s second swig of juice, he hit his limit, said goodbye to his drinking companion and headed outside with me to interact with the other patrons.
Before I could even finish pulling my camera equipment out of the saddlebags, Kross Inn Cook, Beverly Moreno was upon me, warmly hugging me, remembering our names after only one brief meeting. Her husband and fellow cook, Reverend Dan would be conducting the First Annul Bike Blessing in a couple of hours. He and bartender, Kristin Masopust came up with the idea for the event that would bring dozens of people to visit the local watering hole on this sunny, Saturday spring morning.
As Matt and I made ourselves comfortable, we learned a bit more about the crowd. We met young men, old men, firefighters, families, couples and a retired Chicago police officer. We saw Harleys, Hondas, Kawasakis and BMWs. We talked about our kids, our bikes, our businesses. We learned that although Kross Inn owner Rob, “Opie” Altman and wife, Linda don’t ride, they enthusiastically supported the event and the locals who patronize their establishment. Having moved to Ingleside less than 6 months prior, we felt like home even before Linda welcomed us to the family.
Before blessing each motorcycle individually, Reverend Dan addressed the crowd, “On their travels around this great country, may the rubber always meet the road and the sun be on their back. May the rain and the wind be light and breezy, and they always have a safe place to rest, in the name of God our father, Amen.”
After listening to a few classic rock songs from the band, “Still Joel and Just Jake,” Matt and I gathered our things and took our motorcycles home. After feeling so inspired, we wanted to take advantage of the beautiful day and ride.
As I geared up, I turned on my Florida-Georgia Line station on my iHeartRadio app and heard the song, “May We All” begin playing. Matt was sitting on Providence, our BMW R1200R waiting for me to mount the bike behind him. The sun shone brightly on my face as I heard the lyrics, “May we all get to grow up in a red, white and blue little town” and I felt blissful. Even writing these words brings me right back to that moment and I can recall the feeling as if it were happening again. Gazing at my husband, a single tear rolled down my cheek. I hopped on the bike and gave him our standard thumbs up to signal my readiness and he hit the throttle. We drove by the lagoon and the channel leading to Duck Lake and the epiphany slammed into me like a defensive lineman into a quarterback. This was my favorite thing to do. Legs wrapped around my husband, sun on my back, light breeze keeping me cool, feeling the raw power and acceleration of the machine beneath me, camera in my saddlebag, listening to country rock. In that moment, I understood.
Motorcycling was my favorite thing to do.
I immediately said a prayer for our safety and gave myself to God. I realized that I get on this bike because it’s my favorite thing to do. It connects me to God, to nature, to my fellow man. And if God decided to call me home while on this bike, I was okay with that. What better way to go than doing my favorite thing with my favorite person…
This is why an event like the Kross Inn Bike Blessing is so meaningful and brings such a variety of people together. Those who ride motorcycles do it because they love to ride motorcycles. On two wheels, we surrender ourselves to the will of God and the universe. We accept the danger because the freedom and the feeling of connection are far more powerful. And we connect to other motorcyclists because they inherently understand these things. And we like their tattoos.
Concluding this wonderful event with such a powerful ride made for a perfect Saturday. This red, white and blue little town is truly blessed to have The Kross Inn and those who support events like the Bike Blessing. In the words of my favorite country stars, “May we all” get to experience a sense of community the way Matt and I did today.
I was watching the Chicago Cubs win The World Series when it really hit me...the importance of doing what you love.
I turned to my wife (then fiancée) and said, "You know something? These are the kids who 'wasted their time' playing baseball. I’m sure many an onlooker told them to stop playing games and focus on life or school or whatever. These are the guys that ignored it and just kept on playing. They played baseball through their childhood, through high school, through college and after. 'Just playing'; just 'wasting their time.' 'Playing.’”
As I worked my way through this epiphany, I had to ask myself a really important question: what is it that I truly love doing with my time?
I'm a guy, so naturally the first answer that came to mind was "SEX!" But I don't really love sex in the way that we philosophers call ut sic. Ut sic means "of itself," and I don't just love sex of itself; rather I love sex with my wife because of the amazing connection we get to experience and the way that manifests physically. So as I pondered, I realized loving sex is really more a result than a cause. I definitely do not love the act "of itself."
My mind jumped to the next idea: Motorcycling. Motorcycling I love ut sic. I love everything about it. I love the feel of riding, I love looking at my bike in the garage. I love reading about motorcycles, looking at pictures of them, working at a dealership, talking about motorcycles, teaching others about motorcycling. I love riding one up, two up, into town, touring...with green eggs and ham. I love all of it. I love motorcycling ut sic.
It’s because of this love that riding my motorcycle as a commuter makes all the difference in my daily attitude. It gives me a reason to be grateful, a reason to pray harder, a reason to remember that life is precious, a reason to remember that life is fleeting. It's a moment where the boundaries between inside and outside seem to dissolve.
Which leads me to wonder what motorcycling is to you. Is it just something you do, or is it something you love ut sic? If your answer is the latter, are you riding every moment you can or only when you feel you aren’t “wasting your time?” We all make choices. Every time you choose one thing, you forego another. If you really love to ride ut sic, consider the choices you could make to ride more. And remember those kids who “wasted their time” winning The World Series.
I'll see you on the road.
Sitting in the studio with Matt, he looked at our 2011 BMW F800R, Karma, then sheepishly glanced at me and said, “I want to race Karma. The guys at the shop keep telling me to get a cheap Jap bike for the track, but I don’t feel it. I want to be on a bike I know and trust. I want to race Karma. But, if I do that, then we need to get another motorcycle for my commuter vehicle and for us to ride two-up.”
I paused for a moment to think about my response, and then said, “Then you should race Karma. The most important thing is your safety. If you feel the most comfortable on this bike, then by all means, this is the bike you should ride. We’ll figure out the rest.”
Famous. Last. Words.
The next morning, he texted me from BMW CycleWerks in Barrington to tell me the solution came to him in the form of Jim, a sales guy, as he walked into work. Jim told him about a 2016 R1200R that had been set-aside for a man who was no longer able to purchase it because his wife had become ill. It was the only one left. Anywhere. And it was white. It seemed too good to be true.
In addition, BMW Motorrad was offering rebates on all 2016 motorcycles and with his employee discount and the exclusive financing options available to him, this deal was unreal. As the CFO of both our household and our business, I was skeptical, but I listened.
Having purchased our home a mere 5 months prior and paid for a wedding and Parisian honeymoon only weeks earlier, our accounts resembled deflated balloons. Although most CFOs would’ve walked away from this opportunity, there was a tiny voice inside that urged me to keep my mind open to this possibility. So, after he returned from work, we turned around and went right back to the dealership with our gear.
Upon seeing the R1200R in person, I fell in love. However, her beauty was second to her operation. The riding position was far more comfortable for both of us than the F800R, the suspension system made the bumpy roads feel like glass, and the combination of the power and control offered by this bike was unmatched. We didn’t want the test drive to end.
After clearing up the last few questions I had about the numbers, we knew it was meant to be and finalized the deal. We weren’t able to take her home that night, as the dealership had closed and she needed to be prepped by both the parts guy and a BMW certified tech.
Matt and I drove the car home together in disbelief, repeatedly saying that it didn’t feel real. It felt like something happened to us, but we hadn’t done anything. It was truly surreal.
As if the situation hadn’t fallen into place quite enough, Matt reminded me of another conversation we had about his racing career. He recalled, “Remember last summer when we were riding and I seemingly randomly said, ‘Our next bike is going to be white and she’ll be named Providence?’”
I did remember. And Providence she was.
What makes motorcycling so special? That is definitely a question that has a very personal answer. And ultimately, I think that is the answer – it’s very personal.
I think motorcycling is something innate. My fascination with it started at about 3-years-old, as best I can remember. I loved watching bikes whiz by, the faster, the better, and I still feel the same. Now that the twins are 3-years-old, I see the same fascination in them. As I watch them grow up, I can say with certainty that of all the objects in their childhood, our BMW F800R (Karma) is the one that has pulled them in like a magnet the most.
While in Paris on our honeymoon, my wife and I had a moment where we simultaneously recognized this innate connection to motorcycling. We were eating breakfast and a man pulled up on a gorgeous Indian Scout. Neither of us said a word, as we were both fixated on the motorcyclist out the window. As he walked into the Cafe Des Officers and removed his helmet to display a perfectly styled head of silver hair, I couldn't help but say to him "C'est bon Moto," in my infantile French. He smiled and nodded. I looked back at my wife and she said to me, "That guy was sexy even before he took his helmet off." I said, “I know!” We both giggled from the deep understanding of the spirit of the motorcycle.
And that’s what it's about. Something about riding a motorcycle feels like putting your soul on display. It's the outward manifestation of something deep inside, something indescribable. It is something as refined as it is raw. Something eternal. Something pervasive.
It makes me wonder about people who don't ride. But perhaps more importantly, it means I don't have to wonder about people who do.
I stood (mostly) over our BMW F800R in the cold garage while my husband explained, “Pull in the clutch with your left hand, now shift up with your left toes and then accelerate with your right hand.”
“Which way do I rotate to accelerate?” I asked, trying to remember the steps.
“Toward you,” he said, as he put his hand over mine and accelerated.
And that’s how I started learning to ride a motorcycle. See, I’ve been a passenger for the last 18 months and have absolutely loved every minute of it. I remember feeling nervous the first time I got on the bike with Matt, but it was a nervous excitement. With my arms around him, wind whipping through my hair beneath the helmet, I truly felt free. That is, until I had to brush my hair again…
When he bought me a GoPro Hero Session for Christmas in 2016, I was most looking forward to using it on the motorcycle. Although I had never ridden by myself, I imagined the video from the driver’s point-of-view. Then, as I began following motorcycle accounts on Instagram, I discovered non-Harley motorcycle women and was finally able to visualize myself on the bike alone.
So here we are. I have all the gear I need – jackets, helmet, boots, gloves and cold-weather gear. I registered for a course in May and we’re searching for a bike I might be able to handle, or at least stand over. I want to be as prepared as possible, and to me, that means knowing the machine inside and out. I’m determined to learn how to repair and upgrade my motorcycle while I simultaneously learn how to ride solo.
I’ll take video, shoot photos and will likely provide a few good laughs, considering I can’t even drive a manual car right now. Even so, I’m confident I’ll learn how to ride over time. I invite you to follow us on this journey of a lifetime on Instagram @Studio620D and on our website at studio620d.weebly.com. With hope, I’ll know more than clutch, shift, accelerate by my next post.