- RSL = Retired school leader
- DH = Dear husband
A great party
I went to a retirement party Friday night (not the one featured above, but it was about that size), and it was one of those times when I was struck by how lucky I am to work where I do. I’m a teacher with a job in the library of a very multi-cultural, inner-city high school, and I’ve known since the moment I set foot in it that I wanted to spend the rest of my career there. I believe it all stems from the students, for many of whom the school is like a second home, but it definitely extends to the staff. In no other situation have I ever worked with such a supportive, encouraging, authentic group of people. Staff have come and gone over the years, but the work culture of our school is long-established, and it doesn’t alter with a changing cast of characters.
The party Friday night was filled with the familiar faces of former colleagues – teachers, technicians, office staff, department heads, custodians, vice-principals, principals – some whose career paths have moved them to different schools and others who are in retirement. It was just a fabulous event, and it thoroughly honoured the retiree in question – who was completely surprised by it.
When one of the “V.I.P.” guests arrived – one of the few who would be giving a speech – there was a widespread “Oh, look who’s here!” response among many – including me. I knew I’d have to wait my turn to have the chance to chat with this person – I’ll call her RSL for “Retired School Leader” – because she would be approached by a steady stream of friends. By this point in my career, I’ve worked with many different school administrators – that is, principals and vice-principals – and three stand out in my mind as being exceptional – as being true leaders who have served both staff and students with vision and passion. RSL is one of them.
I was surprised when, after a warm hug and “Hello!”, RSL asked if she would be able to talk with me. “Of course!” I said, and we found a table out of the way. “Do you remember when you and your husband started to make an effort to get out of debt?” she asked me. I nodded a yes. “Well, that’s a goal I have now too.” For the next several minutes, I listened as she described her circumstances. She’s actually in a strong position overall – but with more debt than she’d like to have included in the equation. I asked about different options, and she welcomed my questions, answering in detail. Although I have grown more and more comfortable talking about personal finances with different people (to the extent that I have had to learn to hold back and filter what I say), I’m aware that for most people, open and frank discussions about money are rare, if not non-existent.
Stepping into a vision
Soon, others came to our table, as I knew they would, to have their chance to talk with RSL. We established that she’d keep me posted, and our conversation ended. I felt so touched to have been sought out by her in this way. It wasn’t the first time a colleague had talked to me about personal finances. Several staff members and even some students know about my quest to become completely debt-free, and on occasion, one will stop by to talk about a success, a stress, or an uncertainty in money management. One fellow teacher recently came to the library and asked me, “Can I borrow that life-changing book?” I didn’t know what he was talking about, but it was the Dave Ramsey book that has guided us on our journey out of debt, The Total Money Makeover (Canadians, choose this link for the book.) I was happy to lend it to him. I love being that person.
I think in the case of RSL, I felt a particular honour in having been approached for this talk because there was a reversal of roles involved. When we had worked together, I was the one seeking guidance from her – whether about a certain student or the ins and outs of scheduling an event – and here she was, reaching out to me for support, as someone who understood the pursuit of stronger finances that she had taken on.
In the very first post I wrote for this site, two weeks before our journey out of debt began in June of 2012, I lamented the vision I’d had in my youth of my older self. “We’re in a position now that’s so different from the one I envisioned as a young woman. I imagined that we’d coast through our 50s with the ease of prosperity, the satisfaction of well-established careers, and the dignity of being in a position to give back to our church and community. Instead, we are financially tight, putting a lot of time and effort into making DH’s new career succeed, giving very little in terms of time and money. And we’re in debt. Far too much debt for people our age.” I believe now that my talk with RSL Friday night awakened me to the welcome realization that I’ve been stepping into that lamented vision. It’s not that I’m living the life I described. After all, we’re still financially tight, and we’re still time-strapped on a day to day basis. But I am, as it turns out, in a position to give in a significant way.
I’m not giving as much money as I hope to, but I’m giving my alliance to people who have had a wake-up call in their finances. And although financial advice comes at us all from every angle, not everyone has a financial confidant – a safe person who gets it. Again, I love being that person.
I remember a pastor once saying, “Your point of greatest weakness will be your point of ministry.” I was definitely very weak in managing money – right from my teen years when I’d whine and beg my parents to give me an advance on my monthly allowance because I regularly drained it by mid-month. Now, as I get stronger, I’m so glad to be a support to other people who are also trying to turn things around. “We’re in a position now that’s so different from the one I envisioned as a young woman,” I lamented as we approached the starting line of our journey out of debt. But I don’t lament it anymore. Because it’s developed into something rich.
Have you ever experienced the phenomenon of a weakness turning into a strength? Do you ever have open and frank conversations about personal finances with the people in your life? Your comments are welcome.
*Image courtesy of Tony Webster