2. Happiness




1,000 yr life



"People go through life as if they will live 1,000 years," he said after having returned from pitching his tiny start-up to a huge mulit-national corporation over seas. "They plan as if they're going to live forever. What does it matter if I die at 40 or 60? I just want to dive in and make it worth it. At least I went all in." He's been living on couches or renting month-to-month for the last 3 years while starting up his business. He lives, completely and fully, for his endeavor. His life is entirely propelled forward by his internal vision and his sheer will to realize it.

I remember that feeling. I remember having dreams so big that they were real even before they came true. So certain that all of my faith, confidence, and life moved in the direction of my dreams. The feeling of believing in something so fully and fearlessly that you don't even need courage because in your heart of hearts you've already reached the mountain top.

How epic and wonderful it was to listen to him talk about his dreams coming true. To witness the fire in the eyes of an entrepreneur is like seeing someone's heart unfold right before you and totally consume you with awe and wonder, like a white lotus flower emerging from a muddy pond.

But when I left his place, I was both filled with joy from the experience, but also self doubt. Doubt for my own dreams, and worse, for the lack of them. For being so strict with my personal finances, so fearful of not reaching my goals, that I have put more energy into my finances than my heart, hopes, or dreams.

"If you vaporized off of the earth right now, this is what you would leave behind. Are you okay with that?" he said after I showed him this blog. If there's a button to push, that's the one. No. I wouldn't be okay with that. "And your art?" he said, knowing good and well that that question would sink heavy into my soul.

"After I pay them off at 30, then I'll save up to buy a house at 31, then I'll pay off my house quickly at 41, then I'll buy a 2nd property at 41 and get rental income from the first, and then pay off the 2nd at 46, and then I'll retire at 46 while having income from the first...or buy a third..." as I watched myself unravel my life in scribbles on a napkin, I felt disoriented at myself. His face tilted in confusion, "So you'll always be in debt? You're trying to get out of debt now so that you'll always be in debt?"

Why am I doing this? It feels like I'm frantically trying to catch up to a life I'll never have. Have a paid off house, and then what? I felt the 18 year old me tug at my heart strings and weep, asking if this was all I'd built up to. Asking if all of the adventures I'd had since then, all of the ideas and experiences I'd treasured and fought to have, were all culminating into a chicken-or-the-egg game of life controlling finances or finances controlling life. Asking whether the life I lived in Hawai'i -- that year I decided to go for it -- making $14k that year, or the life I live now, making more than I've ever made, makes me happier.

I wouldn't trade my adventures for life itself. They are life itself. That unpaid internship with my favorite documentary film company, that time I moved across the country to go to a dream college that cost more than my family's house and I'm almost done paying for ($6k left to pay off undergrad), that well paid summer fellowship after grad school that taught me more about my field (education) than anything has yet. None of these adventures were decided by money. Not a one. My heart was full and ready for them. But I was also financially ready. I'd saved up for a year to take that unpaid internship from part-time to full-time. I'd gotten enough grants and scholarships to make sure that my $160k undergraduate education resulted in only 15% ($25k) of that in loans, of which $10k were paid per my time spent in public service -- bringing my out of pocket cost of undergrad from $160k to $15k, and are now paid down to $6k with an interest rate of 1.1% (aka nothing).

It was only until I made a half-hearted decision, that was also half-mindful financially that the train fell off the tracks. Grad School. Dun dun dun. I picked a school that I wasn't whole heartedly into. External reasons compelled me -- it was half the time of all the alternatives, and they paid half the tuition. But my heart wasn't really in it. I wanted to go to the school that was slightly more expensive, and took twice as long to complete.

Although I did learn a ton where I went, I am far more poised in my field, and ultimately I would go to grad school all over again, I would have made the decision I didn't make the first time around. I would've gone to the school I really wanted to go to, which was a bit more expensive per it being in New York City. But instead, am now psychologically and financially, paying back for a decision I knew I made for the wrong reason.

On the other hand, I might have these same reflections even if I'd picked that school. Even if I'd gone with my heart, I may still be griping about paying back (more) loans to the entire internet. That said, I can't live in the past. The past is past, the future is unknown and what I have is now. Life is lived in each moment.

The worst thing I can do now is be chained to decisions (read: debt) from the past, and let it stop me from living now. What I am now isn't all I will become. I can define my future now. Define it through the dreams and hopes I know I still hold in my heart, and not through decisions past. If I keep spending more time on my past debt than on my current dreams, then I'm going to go crazy. So, rather than write here weekly, I will only update once a month; the first Thursday of the month (and maybe some bonus ones if/when the spirit moves me).

Don't worry, I'm still striving to pay off my loans asap (UPDATE: I paid them before 30!), and am not going to make any haphazard financial purchases. But maybe 30 isn't asap. Maybe I should be saving more, and pay them off at 30-and-a-half say. Or better yet, invest in my photography business and be saving more.

My first order of business will be to get a bike. I'm itching to ride again and need my own form of reliable transit. Once I get the $200 from a side gig I'm finishing up next month, then I'll put it into getting a bike that'll last me years, rather than a popsicle stick Craig's List bike -- of which I've bought about four in the past four years. It's time. Secondly, and most importantly, I'm going to start investing money into my art and business. I'm going to print and frame some of my work, and try to get it shown (and sold). I have a book full of projects I want to work on and I need to start or my soul will starve. And finally, I'll be paying to meet with a financial advisor to iron out the wrinkles in my long-term plans -- get a house now or later, save up how much for retirement, how can I get a high-yield savings account, should I be saving in a CD or a put more towards my 401k, etc. (There actually may be one at work that I won't have to pay. But I have to research that.) That's it, a bike, artwork, and sound financial advice. That's not wildly financially irresponsible, right? It's not like I'm buying the jellyfish (just yet).

Last week, a friend of mine moved into a ~300 sq ft studio. When I visited, she had that same fire and glimmer in her eyes as my entrepreneurial friend. "This will be my workspace. Here my work will bloom. I'm giving myself a year," she said with joy and determination. She's had three art shows in the past week. I couldn't help but admire and envy her.

I will not live a thousand years. Nor is there any guarantee that I'll even get to 60, or past any given day for that matter. But, I know that I don't want to live the next 19 months putting more energy into suffocatingly paying off debt, than into the fiscally reasonable pursuit of my dreams. I'll still forgo a car for a bike, go to the open mic without the cover charge, and order the least expensive (and healthiest) item on the menu...but dang, I need to be happy.

Here's to working hard, dreaming big, and dancing often. Cheers, and I'll see you (virtually through blog posts!) next month.
-Originally posted November 2013.




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