I work with people experiencing homelessness and I have preached so many times how important it is to remember that our identities are not wrapped up in our money, either our possession of it or lack of it. I believe this completely. And yet money, in this world, does matter. It matters that we be able to pay for the things we have and pay back our loans. It matters in terms of eating and being stable.
I went to a college that I could not afford. It was the most transformative, amazing experience for me, but none the less I could not afford it, which was not a reality I was in touch with at the time. My parents have given, and continue to give, me so many amazing gifts, both emotional and monetary (I have an amazingly supportive family who have repeatedly gone above and beyond for me), but they were not able to pay the family portion of the tuition. I still went to the school. I could have chosen to transfer, but I didn't. The jury is out on whether or not this was a good choice. I'm not quite sure how I slid through frankly. A lot of kind people in the registrar's office would lift the hold so I could register for classes. I would pay just enough to get my grades processed. It's actually kind of amazing. I so much wanted to be in school there. I so much wanted that education, even though I had no idea at the time what an unwise financial choice it was. A few people really understood how tight it was for me, but I did not process the amount of stress placed on me during this time. I would often fall asleep worrying about whether or not I would be able to pay for classes. I would have nightmares about the campus police walking into my classes and escorting me out, alerting all my fellow classmates that I did not belong there, that I shouldn't have been getting that education and experience.
Needless to say during this time I got incredibly good at repressing thoughts about financial woes because it was the only way to emotionally function. I am someone who is decidedly overly sensitive and so the idea that I was "not doing what I was supposed to be doing" really undid me. It undoes me. By the time I finished my classes needed to graduate I had a lot of direct debt to my school, not just loan debt, which is a really unusual thing. I got to walk with my classmates and I finished my classes, but I did not receive my diploma for years after. I have a lot of compassion for younger me. I wish I could go back and counsel her and console her.
So much of the fear I associated with money and financial decisions has really plagued my life as a 20 something. I decided to go into a field where I have had incredible jobs, but they are not the most lucrative financially (although I feel incredibly gifted to be able to be employed doing work that is meaningful to me and provides for my needs). I have struggled to make my payments. I have made mistakes. I have struggled to face my financial fears, which of course has made my financial situation all that more stressful. I do not want to look at the whole financial picture for fear of what it will tell me about how long it will take to attain certain goals that I have, like graduate school, that I have put off for years due in large part to cost and not having the financial background where I would be able to get comprehensive enough loans to pay for it.
My dreams of my college security officers escorting me out of class have transferred into dreams of me being arrested by the police and taken to jail because of my debt. I clearly read too much historical fiction as a child, as the idea of debtors prisons seem realistic to me.
This year I have been really trying to face it all head on, which is liberating, but if I'm going to be really honest, is also incredibly scary. It makes me sad to see how my financial choices have been so governed by fear. It is hard to look at this part of myself and feel that I'm a person of value. It's an area where I can easily be very cruel to myself, feeling like I have failed, and continue to fail, majorly. It is hard to face financial struggle. It scares me mightily. It makes me question fundamental truths that I believe about myself, that I am good, and smart, and kind.
The purpose of this post is not merely to bum you all out to no end, but it is to be radically honest about an area of my life that I feel great shame around. I used to think that it was a wee bit tacky to disclose so much on a blog, but I think I've moved beyond that. I really want to write this down because it feels less heavy when I do. I want to be honest because I believe when we bring things into the light they can start being healed. I also believe that there may be other people out there in my world who are facing similar fears, realities, and paths. I know for some people money issues seem so silly, so mundane, so irresponsible, but for many of us it's our main area of growth.
So I am writing this as the first of many posts about my movement from of a place of fear and denial around money into a place of clarity, bravery, and responsibility. I am committing to posting at least once a week about this little journey of mine. I'm hoping that writing about it can serve as a way to stay accountable, to be honest with myself and others, and to open space for other people in my life to maybe be honest about things that are plaguing them, but they feel too ashamed to name.