This is part of our Op-Ed series where we feature third-party opinions and thoughts on the ways finance affects our lives. The authors are not so much giving advice, as they are sharing experiences. Some will make you think, others will inspire, and we hope all of them will give you something to talk about.
Everyone says you need to be sure about so many things. It’s so important to pick the right school, take the right courses, make the right friends, and be certain about a lot of things. The pressure to make the right decisions day in and day out combined with the fear (instilled at a young age) of making mistakes has actually prevented me from making said right decisions. Because even though I was taught that good choices are integral to one’s success, the process of thinking about all the options and potential outcomes can be crippling.
I got my first job while I was at university and I remember feeling kind of overwhelmed when I received my first paycheck. What was I supposed to do with all this money? Save it? Okay, but how much? Not all of it, right? More like 45% of it? How much can I spend liberally without abandon? (Which let’s face it is the most important question).
I didn’t know the answers to all of these questions, but everyone around me – especially my parents – had an opinion about it. I come from a family of immigrants and for them, money is serious business. Understandably. As a result, I had grown up with a bone-chilling fear of not knowing whether our next dollar would be enough to pay for rent, food, and clothing. So, the idea of mismanaging my money became a cloud that hung over me at all times. I knew that money held a massive power over my life. I felt that whatever came of my earnings would ultimately decide whether I had failed or succeeded at growing up.
So, what was my response to all of this? Avoidance. I refused to make any decision, let alone the right one. I did what I wanted with my money, I spent whenever I wanted to, and I wasn’t careful. I know what you’re thinking. How not careful was I? Well, let’s just say I didn’t pay attention to the consequences and played the “out of sight, out of mind” card. In fact, I used that mantra as a protective cloak. It made me feel okay with what I was doing.
As you may have guessed, it didn’t work out so well for me. I avoided and hid and refused to acknowledge the hole I had dug for myself until one day it became unavoidable simply because I was clinging to the edge of a crater (with my eyes closed of course). In that moment, I sat myself down and came to terms with what money meant in my life. I realized that I didn’t need to decide on the percentages or budgets, and that even if I did, I was still in control. Nothing drastic would happen if I didn’t meet my expectations because in reality, I should be thinking of them as guidelines. I gave myself permission to be uncertain about my money and it was the most liberating feeling of my life.
In the end, it wasn’t my acceptance that saved the day, it was the realization that I didn’t have to take money so seriously. I just had to take it seriously enough and change my definition of success. Because financial security isn’t the only way to achieve it.