The roofs over our heads, the clothing on our bodies. Communication, transportation. Con Ed, grocery to keep ourselves fed. Some costs are here to stay. Resources to cover these expenses? Here today, but maybe not for the rest of the day. In this stormy economic climate, jobs are as ephemeral as Arctic summers, as fragile as twigs in tornadic winds. One budget cut, one departmental change, and out of the blue comes a pink slip. Your income comes no more. Your sense of security disappears faster than the cents in your bank account.
When I wrote the first draft of this article, my tears were dripping onto a park bench in New York City. Twenty-one hours had ticked by since my sudden termination from my "survival" job. (Modeling and writing sometimes leave bills uncovered. I don on part-time hats such as "hostess" or "assistant" to make ends meet.) When I still occupied space at my now former workplace, fiscal frets were already frying my brain. How am I going to afford my Metro Card, especially with this looming fare hike? Ugh, I am tired of falling asleep to the lullaby of my growling stomach! Groan, groan, groan, gotta pay that student loan. Now my "steady" source of income takes a hike? "Mood" spelled backwards spells doom; doom is the best I can hope for.
This morbid state of mind likely strikes familiar chords in you, or in someone you know. Even if you inhabit the underbelly of a rock, you've probably heard of people cutting back on spending because of the economy. Budgeting isn't always an accurate term for this, because many people barely have a budget to live on. Especially if medical and/or family emergencies wiped out what little the recession left. Anyone in such a situation can vouch for the damage it does to one's physical and psychological livelihood.
Yet many of them won't utter a word.
Emotional distress often surrounds the mere thought of revealing severe financial problems. There's the fear of vulnerability. "Will people manipulate me, or take advantage of me, because I have no money?" Or the fear that there's no point in saying anything, or the consequences of doing so. "Can anyone really grasp how broke I am? Can anyone help? Whatever the case, if I say anything, I'll just sound like Prince(ss) Self-Pity." Many people privately plummet into despair, and some view suicide as the only solution.
For anyone contemplating suicide, please break any silence and seek help. Research the internet and ask friends (remember, you're not alone in feeling this way) for recommendations for low-cost and free mental health counseling. I am no substitute for a licensed counselor. But perhaps I can help by sharing why we ought to give up hopelessness before we give up hope.
In our states of despair, we develop a distorted self-image in which we do not consider our full potential. We depict ourselves as weaklings rather than the warriors we really are. We ruminate on any shortsightedness that lead to our financial downfalls. We brainwash ourselves with shame and resentment after our attempts to remedy our situations fail. Does any of this ring a bell? "That prospective client or employer turned me down. If only they had given me a chance, I would have avoided yet another overdue bill notice. If only I were smarter, or better looking. If only I were born into a different family/mind/body... "
Scrutinizing our weaknesses (some of which neither exist nor matter), we overlook our internal assets and our prior successes. We all have achievements on our track records. Furthermore, we have all reached goals under unfavorable circumstances. Did you land a position for which you were supposedly under qualified? Maybe your abilities to learn quickly and connect the dots compensated for any lack of experience. Maybe your determination helped you graduate magna cum laude, in spite of learning disabilities. Naysayers probably nagged you with, "Are you out of your mind?" and "Let's be realistic, you can't do that." But you proved them wrong, didn't you?
You can sometimes escape the noise of the external critics. Limiting time spent with them, working wonders with earplugs and duct tape--just kidding on those last two. Muting the internal critic (let's call it "I.C." for fun brevity) is understandably harder, because I.C. follows us everywhere. What if I.C. torments you with constant "you can't do this" or "you're doomed that"? How can you get I.C. to (insert expletives of choice here) off?
Reverse your focus. "Mission impossible" has a funny way of becoming "Mission Accomplished" when we trade self-doubt for determination. Ironically, my lack of education taught me this lesson. I was home-schooled from third through eighth grade. Among the many disadvantages this gave me was an academic one. My curriculum was sub par at best. I barely exaggerate when I say I skipped six years of school. When I enrolled in a traditional school in ninth grade, the academic deficiencies became painfully obvious. Just as you must learn addition before multiplication, you must learn pre-algebra before algebra. I hadn't even learned the precedents of pre-algebra, so how could I understand algebra? Or any subject for that matter? I didn't even know how to effectively take notes or study! These conditions sound favorable for failure, don't they?
Sure enough, my tests came back bleeding in blood-red ink. Several of my peers snickered at the "F" bombs dropped on my paper (not the four-letter word kind, but the grade kind that makes you lock yourself in your room and shout F bombs). Progress reports, or rather lack of progress reports, made frequent cameos in my mailbox. First we had those unfavorable circumstances, now we have evidence that I am not going to overcome them.
Deep down inside, I disagreed with the evidence: success was the inevitable, while failure wasn't even an option. My only choice was upping my average from "D/F" to "A/B". So what if it required spending hours after school with tutors? Spending half of my weekend waking hours studying? Whatever I must do. I'll admit, this was no easy feat. I often felt overwhelmed and frustrated to the point of tears. But I found it in me to push through, and it all paid off. I finished ninth grade with an "A/B" average, and I graduated from high school as a National Honor Society member.
"Unrealistic" achievements can become our reality when we challenge the realms of limitations. We have more power than the circumstances that supposedly hold us back. Yet we allow self-doubt and the confines of "realistic" to imprison our strengths. Let us break free into the freedom of confidence and determination, where our "grim realities" become sitting ducks.
In regards to reality, allow ignorance to be your comforting bliss. Like an iceberg, much of reality remains a mystery. Sure, you see that termination notice in front of you. Yes, your bank balance equals your monthly allowance from fifth grade. But this is only one side of the story. What about the sides you have yet to see? Like the potential solutions?
Economic boom or bust, life bursts with surprises. Maybe on some idle day that began with "y", a friend called you with last minute tickets to see your favorite band. Opportunities have also mastered this pleasant kind of ambush. The day after I lost my hostess position, I brushed my tears aside to smile for the camera at a casting. I wound up booking the job! That script you repeatedly wrote, rewrote, and revised? It could be two days away from the hands of a prestigious and interested producer. Two hours (or two minutes!) from now, a potential employer may contact you with the job offer of a lifetime. Doors to opportunities lie within the walls in which we feel we are trapped. We never know when they will open.
How about another comforting twist on uncertainty? You could be creating new opportunities without realizing it. Behold the power of being yourself; behold the power of putting yourself out there. Indulging your impulses and pursuing your passions may seem leisurely, or even (gasp!) lazy. But rest and recreation often give to birth to great ideas. An article in your favorite sports publication inspires you to contact a new company. Suppose you give yourself a well-deserved break from your job hunt and join friends for an impromptu Sunday get together. Then you meet that "friend of a friend" who introduces you to your next employer. A little fun can boost both your spirits and your funds!
When we feel empowered in the face of our problems, we increase our chances of finding solutions. Hope generates the energy we need to keep sending out those resumes and contacting those clients. Hope enables us to focus on the brighter future that lies beyond any debt-induced deprivation. We will emerge from our financial hardship, wealthier than ever before. Not just in a monetary sense, but in an emotional sense. We will appreciate the basic comforts (food, transportation, clothing) that we might have once taken for granted. We will have acquired strength, wisdom, and confidence. That is the permanent, inevitable outcome of a financial challenge. Destitution is not.