Last Monday, I read a post from Mackenzie at The Random Path, and it got me thinking. The title, “Living the Fullest Life”, touches upon why most – if not all – of us want to get out of debt and reach a state of financial independence. The scenes of freedom Mackenzie describes in her post resonated with me – from the simple “times the wind whipped through my hair” to the grander “walk beneath the Eiffel Tower.”
My favourite Christmas movie is the 1951 version of Scrooge, based on Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. I’ve watched it ever since I was a little girl, when I was very frightened by all of its ghosts and spirits. Marley, Scrooge’s old partner in business – and dead for seven years – makes a ghostly appearance to get the plot rolling. Scrooge, terrified, notices a chain wrapped around Marley, and he asks the apparition why it is there. “‘I wear the chain I forged in life,’ replied the Ghost. ‘I made it link by link, and yard by yard; I girded it on of my own free will, and of my own free will, I wore it.'”
Marley’s sad lament rings true for the debtor: “I bought on credit and created my debt – purchase by purchase – of my own free will.” Many of us have visions of what debt-freedom and financial freedom look like, and I would bet the one thing they all have in common is found in that word “freedom”. Freedom from the chains of worry and obligation. Freedom to kick back, to volunteer, to pursue talents and interests, to travel . . .
“It’s not about money.”
“As you work to pay off your debt, you’ll realize that it’s not about money.” That concept from Dave Ramsey’s The Total Money Makeover really annoyed me when I first read it. Of course it’s about money! I thought at the time. But more and more, I’m realizing that it isn’t. As I face down our debt, I face down my own character flaws (like impatience) as well as unhealthy patterns in relationships (like avoiding confrontation) and knee-jerk compulsions (like marking every occasion and expressing every sentiment with a purchase of food). Once I’ve overcome these things, I believe our finances will come into alignment more naturally – less willpower required.
But I haven’t overcome them yet.
A personal stumbling block: anger & avoidance of confrontation
When I read Mackenzie’s post, I was angry with someone. I won’t give the context – extended family, friends, work, neighbourhood, church – it could have been any one of these – but I will say that if you knew the whole story, you would empathize, “I would be angry too!” That’s not the point though. We all have reason to get angry on occasion. The point is, I don’t deal with anger well. That bit about “unhealthy patterns in relationships (like avoiding confrontation)” comes into play, and I either bottle it all up or whine. “You need to vent. That’s OK,” people say, but when you’re venting to one pair of ears after another, it’s not “venting” anymore. It’s gossip. It’s backstabbing. “I would much rather have someone tell me directly if I’ve made them angry,” I’ve said before. So why wouldn’t I do the same for someone else? Why is it so difficult for me to go up to a person and say, “I need to talk with you about something . . .”? Why is it more comfortable for me to be bottled up or to engage in serial “venting”? Because, although it IS an “unhealthy pattern in relationship”, it’s what I’m used to. It’s more familiar than the relatively unpracticed experience of healthy, honest confrontation.
I knew all this last week. I knew it as I read Mackenzie’s post. And I found myself thinking that maybe I pin too much expectation on financial freedom. Don’t get me wrong! I plan to keep making my way to financial freedom, but it won’t be a freedom worth attaining if I continue to make other chains, “link by link”. There is no freedom in stifled emotion. There is no freedom in gossip. No matter how healthy your finances are.
So later in the week, I took that uncomfortable step. “I need to talk with you about something . . .” I won’t say how it went other than to say it fell far short of ideal – because of the way it was received – or wasn’t received. But I’ll also say that it had a liberating effect almost immediately. I had been so worried about how the other person would respond, but in the end, what mattered most was that I had done my part. My anger, that no amount of “venting” would satisfy, was decimated. My fear surrounding the confrontation vanished. Immediately, I had more confidence, more peace, more joy. More freedom.
Freedom as a state of mind
“I want to remember all the times the wind whipped through my hair . . .” says Mackenzie. For me, those words conjure up the image of a summer day at the beach. But in fact, the wind whipped through my hair this morning as I crossed the parking lot from my car to the door at work. I’m sure we’ve all had an experience that in one context is the essence of freedom, and in another gets lost in the fog of preoccupation. So much depends upon your state of mind, your character, your patterns of relationship. If you’ve got anger bottled up, it will still weigh you down at the beach – no matter how much wind is whipping through your hair. But if you’ve dealt with that anger, the wind feels pretty liberating even in the parking lot at work.
Do you find, as you figure things out at a surface level financially, that deeper things surface? Character flaws, unhealthy patterns, compulsions? I think there is something to be said for paying attention to both ends of that spectrum. Keep up with the budgets, the tracking, the sales at the grocery store . . . And at the same time, challenge your flaws and compulsions; carve out new patterns. Although they might not seem to be connected, I believe they are. They all have to do with un-linking the chains that bind – with attaining more freedom – with “Living the Fullest Life.”
What seemingly “unrelated” issues have surfaced for you as you’ve focused on your financial health? Do you see freedom as more than just financial? Your comments are welcome.
*Photo courtesy of t4nsu on Deviant Art