Ever felt like you had a stone in the pit of your stomach after you messed up?
DH = Dear Husband
That moment you realized you’d messed up
Think of a time when you realized you had messed up. When you realized you had made a pretty glaring error in judgement. When you found yourself thinking, How did I let that happen? Why did I ignore all of the multiple indicators that should have led me a different way? Once you have your mess-up time in mind, can you call back the way you felt? That, my friends, is how I’m feeling now.
It was an error in judgement at work, and I won’t go into details. I’ll just say that I left work yesterday with the angst of a stone in my gut, went directly up to my room when I got home, and since everyone else was happily occupied, I was able to give way to the longing to stay there for the rest of the afternoon, through the evening, and overnight. I woke up this morning in the same clothes I’d worn in the afternoon. Silver lining? I had a great sleep.
Connection to debt-reduction? Margin
Have I painted a pathetic enough picture of my Friday night? And what’s the point in relation to debt reduction? Well, I’m trying to find one, and I think I’ve got it: I don’t think I would have made that error in judgement if I hadn’t been so swamped. End of school year wrap-up, graduation preparations, summer school co-op placements to find, two blog sites on the go – on top of household and family. Some people can take this kind of multiple-responsibility package in stride. But I can’t. And I know that about myself. So why didn’t I establish the boundaries that I know I need to function at my best?
I remember seeing a film entitled Margin about fifteen years ago. I can’t find it on Google – I only remember the title, and by now, there are so many videos and books using that word. The video I’m referring to is about 20 years old, and it focuses upon the widespread need in our culture to step back and simplify. The professor who narrates makes the point that when it comes to our collective management of time, we leave little to no margin. There is no time for the experience of anticipation. There is no time for reflection or rest. It’s just one task after another after another … And it’s not good.
When I consider what it is that propels me onto a margin-less treadmill, it’s ultimately consumerism – and debt. We work hard so that we can pay off what we purchased yesterday. We burn out, and we purchase for today as a means of self-medication. On credit. So that we need to work hard tomorrow to pay for it. And even though DH and I have this figured out now, and we’re not purchasing with a debt that our future selves will have to pay, we’re still left with the consequences and debt of our habits from the past. We’re making great headway. But even in our progress towards debt-freedom, we need margin. And I think that’s my point.
Tension between inspiration and nagging
Anyone trying to get out of debt has to change things up. Spend less, earn more, devote time to tracking and budgeting. That’s it in a nutshell, but within that nutshell, there are all kinds of variations. Reading about measures of extreme frugality can inspire me – but it can also have the effect of nagging at me. Why aren’t YOU cutting back more? Opportunities to take on additional paid work, in my case teaching summer school, can bring on encouraging windfalls and take out big chunks of debt – but again, there’s that nagging. You could teach night school or Saturday school and earn still more. Even with budgeting and tracking, there’s a continuum. No end of spreadsheets and analysis and finding ways to tweak the details.
Beware: self-defeating path ahead
If you’re invested in turning your personal finances around, you’ve probably experienced this tension between inspiration and nagging. Inherent in the whole effort is the danger of a self-defeating path:
- You feel inspired to reach a new level (of frugality or income or analysis of your finances)
- Once you attain that level, you get a nagging sense that it’s not enough because others are doing more.
- You either burn out or get defensive.
- Burnout leads you to quit
- Defensiveness makes you uninspired and stuck.
I don’t want to burn out, and I don’t want to wall myself in defenses. But I do want some margin. And of course, now that the regular school year is over, I have it. I can focus on summer school without doing double duty. I went into June knowing that I would be dealing with work overload, but I didn’t set myself up to manage it well. It’s just one month, I thought. I can do it. No. I couldn’t. At least not well. And I have this stone in the pit of my gut as a result. Regarding my mess-up at work, if I’d built in more margin for myself, it wouldn’t have happened. I’d have taken the time to consult, to research, to rework. But as it was, things were rushed and cramped. A recipe for messing up.
Right now, I’d like to self-medicate by dropping $150 or so on a 90-minute massage. That would work – for about 90 minutes. But I won’t do that. I’m not sure what I’ll do. I’m just glad I’ll have the margin necessary to figure it out. And by next Saturday, I promise I won’t be so glum.
Can you relate to that tight rope between inspiration and nagging? Do you manage to build margin in your life? Have you ever messed up and felt AWFUL about it?