I was perusing The Wisdom Journal, via Twitter (yes, I have finally taken a sip of the Kool-Aid) and something he wrote was both thought-provoking and immensely irritating.
Under the subheading “Choices,” the author wrote:
Where you are today is the result of the choices you’ve made, the experiences you’ve felt, the associations you’ve cultivated, the words you’ve spoken, the ideas you’ve had, the beliefs you’ve clung to, and the habits you’ve created. You are more in control than you give yourself credit because 99 percent of the time, your attitude determines the choices you make, and your attitude is the only thing you really control.
Okay, most of this stuff is deep and basically true. Except for that whole big part about choices.
Here are the choices I have made:
- I chose to go to University of WA rather than graduate $100,000+ in debt from Cornell. So you can either argue I might not have been exposed to Guillain-Barre out in Ithaca, or that I’d have died when my respiratory systems failed, because it’s in the middle of nowhere.
- I chose to keep working. Kind of a misnomer, actually, since it was pure denial and stubbornness more than active choice. But it meant I didn’t get disability early on which may have caused some extra debt.
- I chose to marry Tim. I knew that, between the two of us, we needed our own little bubble, we’re so sickly. So I knew paychecks would never be for sure. And, a month before the wedding, he was fired. So I definitely had a clear view of the uncertainty in our future when I said, ‘I do.’
So that it’s, really. Those are my choices. Sure, there are lots of smaller ones in the day-to-day stuff: whether to have a drink with friends, whether to fling myself off the couch and cook or admit defeat and order pizza, etc.
But by and large, choice hasn’t had a whole lot to do with the last decade or so of my life. I chose to seek therapy, which was certainly better than suicidality. I chose to get medicated (see the last remark). But I doubt my attitude determined my being in a hospital for 4 months. Or any of the fallout from that.
Does my attitude shape my decisions now? Yes — for better and for worse. Some days, you just can’t be chipper. I don’t care how many optimists you throw together, when you have a long-term, debilitating illness, you’re going to have bad days. If not, you’re still in denial.
There are days when you need wail and gnash your teeth. Cry that it’s not fair. That you didn’t ask for any of this. And then you can get up and get on with life. Except maybe watch some TV and eat a little junk food for comfort. Theoretically, mind you.
But I guess my point is that I’ve been stuck in a more or less reactive state since the age of 19. Most of my decisions have been made based on a narrower set of choices than healthy people.
And I don’t say all this to make a big pity party in my honor. I’m working on making peace with my limitations. Slowly. But I’m working on it.
My point is that, reading personal finance blogs, you’d think Tim and I were out on European vacations and driving two SUVs. We’ve certainly discussed the fact that most PF blogs are targeted at a very specific audience. But it still gets pretty exhausting when you are looking for support and still leave wanting.
It’s not that the tips and ideas are bad. Just that most are completely non-applicable to our life. I’ve gotten some good ideas off PF blogs, certainly. If I’m lucky, 10% are applicable and perhaps 2% are things I haven’t already thought of/tried.
In a way — actually, scratch that, in every way — it would be so much easier if Tim and I were the target audience for these debt-reduction blogs. I don’t love admitting when I’m wrong (luckily, I never am, right?) but if it were simply a matter of our flagrant over-spending, how much simpler would it be?
How much better would it be to simply bite the bullet and cut back? Not that changing a lifestyle is easy, of course. But it’s a hell of a lot easier than already living bare-bones and still being in debt.
If Tim and I could just work more, hell we’d both be thrilled to. (Okay, the joy wouldn’t last long. But if it were a short-term solution to getting out of debt, and we could actually effect change? Hoo-boy, you better bet we’d be covered in papercuts from all the job applications we were handling!)
But not everyone gets the same choices in this life. And while, as The Wisdom Journal notes, attitude is very important, it’s not determinative. In fact, where you are in life isn’t always the result of your choices. Sometimes, your choices are the result of where you are in life.
I’ll leave this chicken-and-egg question for the philosophers. No PF blog can be relative to everyone all the time. And I hope I don’t appear to be suggesting they should.
Still, it would be nice if generalized statements could take into account more lifestyles than the writer’s when they are made. Whether that’s a fair expectation, I couldn’t tell you.
It’s just my attitude on the subject, I guess.