Nothing about it made sense. There I was, treading water in a sea of credit card debt, considering blowing my Christmas bonus on life-coaching (of all things!) instead of putting those extra funds towards that looming bill.
Isn’t this kind of behavior what got me in this mess to begin with? Didn’t I realize that this was just another self-help gimmick? In what parallel universe would anyone consider (let alone find ways to rationalize) spending money as the answer to solving their debt problems?
Nothing about it made sense, and yet, as my current binge read by Andrew Sean Greer says it best:
The brain is a liar.
I knew my move.
When we find ourselves frustrated by the situation at hand, we often exasperatedly shout, “I’ve tried everything!” But do we ever call ourselves on that? Have we really tried everything? Have we ever sat down and made a list of everything we’ve tried, and then shown it to someone else just to prove it?
I hadn’t tried everything, and I was more inclined to give something new a shot than to give up all-together.
Eight months later, with the help of my (incredibly talented, rock-star-of-a) life coach, I started a new job, cut 100 miles and therefore the “long-distance” clause out of a two-year relationship, and am now only four payments away from kissing that credit card debt goodbye.
I divulge all of this not to sell you on getting a life coach – though it helped me! – but rather to let you know that the parallel universe I mentioned exists, and that I got there in roundabout ways I never considered.
So just in case you feel like you’ve tried everything, let me share with you the rather counterintuitive ways I made progress towards my goals.
Expect Failure, Not Perfection
How often to have you set a goal, created a grand plan as to how you’re going to achieve it, and then had everything happen according to plan?
(It’s okay, I’m not raising my hand over here either.)
How many times have you spent a Sunday afternoon prepping healthy meals for yet another diet-starts-monday attempt, only to find yourself throwing half of that plan out the window because you overdid it at a working lunch on Tuesday, found yourself eating ice cream straight from the carton Thursday, and decided (once-again) to treat the upcoming Monday as a clean slate because you clearly failed to stick to the plan this week?
(It’s okay, I’ve lost count, too.)
Wait a minute. Clearly failed? Are you sure? Let’s assume you’re eating three meals a day, so 21 meals in a week, right? If you only fell off plan the two times mentioned, that means you stuck to the plan 90% of the time. Last time I checked, that an A- on the grading scale. Not bad at all, right? Yes, the calorie count of each overindulgence may matter a little more here than I’m implying. I realize it may not be perfect, but it’s progress, and progress of any kind is important when you’re trying to reach your goals.
Don’t Focus on Your Goal
Wait, what? How am I going to reach my goal if I don’t focus on it?
Hear me out!
Let’s say you want to write a book. A rather predictable plan to achieve this goal would be to write daily, right? But what if writing a book wasn’t one of your goals, and you still had a daily behavior of writing? At some point, whether you planned for it or not, you’d have a book on your hands.
I heard a man tell a story about how he found himself running a marathon, a daunting task that was never one of his goals. It was a goal of his wife’s though, and in an effort to support her as she trained, he laced up his sneakers and ran with her. Again, no goal to run a marathon himself, but he didn’t mind getting the exercise! Two weeks before the race, after all that training, his wife twisted her ankle. Rather than let the registration fee go to waste, he ran it in her place. He was able to do this by focusing on the system in place for the goal, rather than the goal itself.
Let Go of How
Remember that debt goal I mentioned above? I made a goal to pay it all off within the year, despite by current payment plan projecting that it would take up to four times as long. Based on my timeline, I calculated the amount of additional income I would need to bring in each month, and then figured out how that translated into actionable work for my current side hustle.
Truth? Not once did I hit those additional income goals.
So how do I find myself in a position to still pay off my debt before the year is over?
Not only did I find myself a job with a higher paying salary, but my former employer paid me out for my unused vacation days. At first, while I was happy to discover I had the extra money to put towards my debt, it felt like I just got lucky. It didn’t feel like I had earned this newfound cash I could put towards my credit. However, after shifting my mindset, I realized that I had earned it by working hard and not taking all that time off over the years.
My recent move forced me to downsize, and downsizing resulted in me selling about 75% of what I owned. (Side note: I don’t miss any of it. Purging can be quite freeing like that.) Taking the long-distance out of my relationship with Anders saved me plenty of money on travel. (Tolls alone for that 200 mile drive cost $24 round trip!)
Now, in the name of full disclosure, I’ll let you know that we are living together in his parents’ house…and that, once again, made me feel like I was cheating my way to achieving this no-debt goal. I felt like I wasn’t truly earning it. But I was earning it, or more so, we were earning it. Living together wasn’t a simple decision for us, and there were a number of fears we had to address. It was going to require me leaving a job and city where I spent almost a decade establishing myself. We also had to roll up our sleeves and talk about some important things between us that we had yet to address. (You know, be grown ups and what not.)
It was work. It is still work, but we’ve found that doing the work not only has us content with the current living situation, but thoroughly happy. And you know one of the upsides of being this kind of happy? You find the company you’re with fills your cup more than the lure of the classic money-spending traps. (Retail therapy, anyone?)
Oh, and I also got all of my security deposit back from the apartment I was renting…Cha-ching! Being a good tenant pays off!
The measure of whether or not I’m on track to meet my debt goal is the bottom line in my bank account. Makes sense, right? My means of helping that number grow was by putting more money in my account, but later I realized I was also helping that number grow by keeping more money in my account. As a way to prepare for what our finances will look like when we live on our own, Anders and I have gotten into the habit of tracking everything we spend. It’s brought some serious awareness to our habits, and that awareness has us saving a little more each month. Picking up a snack at the gas station or walking through the $1 Deals section at Target (my goodness, the voodoo at work there!) might not seem like it’s hurting your bottom line, but don’t underestimate the summation of these small purchases. It’s referred to as the latte-factor, and these little things can add up to quite a latte…I mean, a lot. By being more intentional with our spending, we are helping our bottom line to grow by keeping more money in our accounts. I’m getting to my same goal, but in a different way.
In the end, my original plan to have my side-hustle pay down my debt didn’t have much of an impact on my goal. So why did all of this forward progress still happen?
Because you get out of this world what you put into it.
If you declare you are ready for a change, and then show up to do the work, in one way or another, each day to make that change, the Universe (God, Forces of Nature, whatever you want to call it) will have your back.
Yes, maybe that sounds a little woo-woo, but if what you’re currently doing isn’t working, maybe a little woo-woo would do you some good.
Letting go of how you are going to get there keeps you open to possibilities you may have initially written off. What if it isn’t about Plan A or Plan B. What if it’s about Plan A, B, and Q that you had never even considered.
Either it’ll work, or it won’t…but that’s life, right?
If you try any of these counterintuitive approaches, let me know the result in a comment below!