I am currently reading Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar. No, I am currently dying over Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life From Dear Sugar. Sometimes I feel like the first person that just read Chicken Soup for The Soul and is like, “THIS IS AMAZING” and other times, it really is just.amazing. I recommend it to everyone.
I have not experienced every question Strayed chose for the book, and yet I can always relate to her answers. It is what I want to/need to hear about every situation in my small, insular, pretty-okay-but-could-be-better, life. Choose love. Work hard. Trust yourself.
Part of my “life struggle” is that I am in a bit of debt (ugh, school loans, right?), and I knew that this was something Strayed would touch upon. Today I finally read the advice she gave to the girl who was letting her student loans rule her life. Strayed said nothing new, nothing I haven’t tried to tell myself a million times, but still – it was like hearing it with fresh clarity. She is so smart about everything else – this too she had to be an expert on.
“What I know for sure is that freaking out about your student loan debt is useless. You’ll be okay. It’s only money.”
Its Only Money. Its Only Money! Its Only Money?
I paused at that point in the paragraph, and put the book down. It was a liberating prospect, not having to worry or feel sad or alienated by this debt anymore. But was it realistic?
Money is important. It buys you options and makes you feel secure. Should an emergency arise, you don’t have to put it on a credit card or call up a parent for a loan. You can take vacations, buy some property, and plan a wedding. It creates the illusion of power, and feels like a soft mattress, which is why we call it a cushion -it protects you from hitting the cement head-first, when you inevitably (as everyone does at some point in life) fall.
But money is also deceitful. It picks sides, has affairs, and solves problems that would be better served with therapy. It can force friends and loved ones apart if we let it, and then there you are, Scrooge McDuck, alone with your money pit, and no one to jump in with.
Money is a game we play with ourselves, and like body image, it is a game of comparisons. Talking and thinking about who has more, makes more, saves more, or is just all around “better” with money is a foul sport, ripe with self-loathing and regrets. “If only I had saved”, “I shouldn’t have gone out so much”, “I did not really need that stuff I bought” are all things we say to ourselves, when we are feeling particularly bad for not being the image of what we assume fiscally responsible looks like.
I am the worst at this because of my debt situation.
Last night I had a friend over for dinner. Towards the end of the evening, in the midst of a conversation of have and have-nots, he snapped at me. “Caitlin, you have to stop all this poverty talk! You work hard, you’ll get yours.” He was right. I need to change – not just my habits, but also my all around perspective.
I need to learn to accept the fact that this debt, like my big Irish thighs and my dimpled Jay Leno chin, are going to be with me for the long haul. It’s just a part of who I am, but not the defining part. I need to let go of the feelings I let creditors and lenders make me feel, and accept that all the responsibility, from payment to emotional processesing, is up to me.
I know I am not the only one out there who feels this way, and for that, I am comforted.
I have met people who are happy with what little they have, live paycheck-to-paycheck and during the “good times” seek out joys in life, like food and sex and music, in lieu of a massive bank account. And I have met people who have saved every penny, never taken out a loan, invested, and plan on retiring early. I have met people who live somewhere in between, squirreling away a little whilst enjoying a decent night out. None of these people is better or worse than the other, more valid or worthy of kindness and respect. We can get all uppity on our high horses about how proud we are about our money situations, but it is important to ask, what is the point of that? A braggart is a braggart, whether you are flaunting your perfect boobs or your stellar credit score.
It’s only money because it comes and goes and like everything else in life, is heartbreakingly uncertain. It’s only money because even if you have a ton of it, it still doesn’t make you rich.