I like to think of what I went through as an evolution. I did change who I was, but it didn’t come from some noble place. Instead like any evolution, I came to the place in life where I had better adapt or be destroyed. Of course it wasn’t as dramatic as that but you get my point right?
Perhaps in order to better explain where I am I should start with where I came here from. Begin at the beginning if you will.
I have never been one for a long story (ask my poor husband) so I’ll spare you the details of why I think I developed into who I was. Instead, I’ll tell you this; before it came time for the evolution, I was drifting through my life unconsciously. I wasn’t extravagant or loud or grand. I wasn’t too much of anything. I thought I was humble and compassionate and determined. I didn’t live out loud and yet I had gotten myself and my family into dire economic conditions. Somehow, I found us at rock bottom and it happened by me simply not paying enough attention.
I have always known I was not good with money. I had actively tried to change that through books and videos and Oprah shows. But something never took. I knew there was a problem but like any addict, no matter how much advice or help I was given, I wasn’t ready to help myself.
I used to watch money shows (You know the kind, where people make over their lives with the help of a team of experts that shake them around a little?) and think that my problems weren’t so bad because I wasn’t like these people. I didn’t have six flat-screen televisions in my house or fancy cars parked outside. I made it a point not to indulge my children with toys or activities. My family didn’t go on exotic vacations. I didn’t shop at high-end retailers. I prided myself on finding a bargain. I clipped coupons. I talked a lot about budgets and investments. We owned a home. We had a 401k. We had a savings account (albeit a very small one). Yes, I had credit card debt. No, I had no plan for college educations or any real emergency. But who did? We might have been living outside our means, but not so far outside that we couldn’t find our way back in-with just a little more money or a raise or another job for me. I always felt like financial freedom was within reach just over the horizon. I could still see it, so I didn’t worry too much about it.
The problem was I didn’t reach or paddle or head toward it. I just kept waiting for the tides to change or the winds to shift and while doing so, I failed to pay attention to how far we were drifting away from shore. With every trip to Target or impulse kid adventure we went on we floated farther and farther out to sea.
So slowly, not dramatically, we sunk lower and lower until we found ourselves in a rented home whose utility bills were out of control, with a mortgage on a house in another state that had a new problem every month and school tuition and commuting costs and a dramatic decrease in income. For the first time ever basic survival was outside our means. We had no money-literally.
Our credit was shot. We had none left and there was no one crazy enough to give us more. We had spent every penny we had to our names and then more that we borrowed from others. We had medical bills, overdue utility bills, a property that cost us thousands of dollars just to keep, and absolutely no idea how we were going to get ourselves right again.
I could go on and on about this time but I told you I hate a long story. I just wanted to illustrate that it was as bad as you can imagine and yet we still weren’t “those” people in my mind because we weren’t doing anything outrageous. We just had some bad luck, poor timing, bum deals.
The problem with that attitude-the one of justification and rationalization-is that it never moves you forward.
Like every dieter who celebrates with just one piece of cake and then feels it completely sane to just go ahead and polish off the whole thing because she’s already messed up the day or it’s just this once, I buried my head deeper in the sand with the notion that I hadn’t really done anything wrong so we must eventually get out of this. Right?
Then I found myself making my umpteenth meal out of a ground beef log and canned tomatoes from WalMart and I knew I couldn’t pretend anymore. I looked at my life-really looked- and it turns out I hated what I saw. That might seem obvious, but here is why it’s not: it wasn’t the lack of money that I hated. It wasn’t that I was constantly fighting with my husband or screaming at my kids or physically ill and never sleeping. It wasn’t the scary temper I had developed or the propensity to start my night with a glass of wine and finish with a box of cookies. It wasn’t even the look in my kids’ eyes when we couldn’t get their favorite cereal because it cost too much money or the fear in their voices as they asked “do we have enough gas to get there?” which happened every time we got in the car after last summer after we got lost on a country road and almost ran out of gas with no way to get more. No, it wasn’t any of these things I hated most. What got me, pushed me over the edge was that I had made myself a victim.
I have spent most of my life reacting. I am excellent in crisis because I have been practicing for it for years. I have spent my entire life mindlessly rolling along and then kicking in to gear to handle things as they come. This works for some people, but in the long run not for me. While I have not been great at making a plan, I have prided myself in taking personal responsibility. I have spent my entire life accepting what comes my way and making lemonade. It has only occurred to me recently that what I attributed to a good attitude was actually such a passive way of living that I had walked right into the victim role in the same foggy state that I have lead most of my life.
I don’t like people who play victim. I don’t like people who claim life has happened to them. We make choices. We choose paths. We decide how to live and when bad crap happens, it is up to us not to let it tear us down. I thought I was doing that. I wasn’t.
I was floating through, spending money, justifying and rationalizing and hoping for some magic to happen or maybe tragic to happen in order for it not to matter so much.
When that didn’t happen, when the waters got too shallow for me to float in any more, it was time for me to face myself and figure out a new way to live. I could have gone on that way, but it was no longer just me. I now had to worry about not only disappointing my kids in the here and now, but about passing on this legacy of settling and that I would not stand for. My children would not be raised in an environment where things happened to them. I would not teach them to just wait to make the best of a bad situation. I would teach them to plan. I would teach them to chart a course. I would teach them that while bad things will always happen, no one controls what we feel or how we act and actually we are capable of keeping many of life’s monsters at bay. Before it was too late, I had to create a new me. I had to reinvent the way I handled my life before my children started learning it from me. It was time to adapt or be destroyed.
It was time for an evolution.
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