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The Power of Limitations

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Limitations cause change and innovation. Through limitations by not retaliating to opposing players, teams, fans and media who balked at him for breaking the color barrier, Jackie Robinson changed Major League Baseball. Through limitations Gandhi drove his political agenda, on multiple occasions fasting for peace and India's independence. Through limitations Southwest Airlines developed its famous 10-minute turnaround time when in its early days their fleet decreased from four planes to three just to stay in business; rather than cut their number of flights they resolved to fly the same number with less planes. Still in doubt? Check out the power of limitations in this TED Talk, "Embrace the Shake."

In this vein, as the founder of In Every Story (dba IES Labor Services), I've decided to spend October - December experimenting with limitations. I've moved back into transitional housing at the Star Gospel Mission and I'm planning on living on the same wage our workers make, $8 an hour or $262 weekly after taxes. (You can view all of my transactions and budget by visiting Mint.com and using the username: "test@ieslaborservices.com," and password: "pass4test") I have two goals for this experiment. First, we want to pay a livable wage to IES workers. While other day labor agencies pay $7.25 an hour, at IES we pay a minimum of $8. Even so, the lowest projection you can find for a standard living wage for a single individual in Charleston County is $9.74. We're currently placing 50 - 55 workers a day, but our projections show that once we place 85 - 90 workers daily we can pay our lowest wage workers at IES Labor Services $9.74 an hour through our Hope Fund management system. My hope is that we can leverage my living situation for more business and motivation. My belief is that we all want to live in a city where anybody can get a job, work hard, be responsible and sustain themselves.

The second goal is to better understand the life of a low-income worker. I realize this will be far from a perfect experiment, but I plan to limit myself during these months in more ways than just income. For October I plan on not using my vehicle. Charleston is a suburban city with poor public transportation, so getting around won't be easy. I've already bought a bike and started clearing and preparing my calendar to accommodate the change. A lot of the things that I've noticed keep low-income workers low income are things like lack of transportation, lack of access to banking, check cashing, not having a driver's license to qualify for a job and having to visit physical locations to pay a bill, to name a few. My hope is that I'm able to gain a better perspective on what it takes to live a life of self-sufficiency, leading to innovation that ultimately benefits our low-income workers.

But I'm also looking forward to a more simple life. When you limit yourself from something, you ultimately learn deeply about it. I think this is true for food, relationships, sleep, what others think of you, and I can only imagine that finances will fall in line. It astonishes me that we would go through life fully indulging in these things when the reality is you learn just as much about them through their limitation.

Throughout the next several months, I plan to be honest. If I can't keep the budget, I'll admit it. The truth is I'm not sure what to expect, but the point is to learn. More to come soon, and hopefully social change with it. Please take the time over the coming months to keep up with me on Mint.com, and please post comments on what you see as the greatest barriers for low-income workers so that I can focus on them throughout the experiment.