Affirmation

Day 175 | $61,994 paid | $28,723 till freedom

As each week unfolds, I keep track of observations and experiences about my NMHD challenge so that I can blog about them on the weekend when I have time. A fairly major component of each blog post has typically been pretty formulaic: “Oh, my frugal life is so hard! I had to sell this or that/look at all of these expenses I’ve deferred/I couldn’t afford to go to this or that event. Boo hoo!”

When I finally found some time to write a post this weekend, I looked at the items on my “to-write” list:

  • I’m in a chat group on a smartphone app called Whatsapp that’s comprised of me and my four closest friends here in Austin. For the past two weeks, somebody from the group has thrown out a lunch invitation almost every single day, and at least one of the other guys has accepted it. Some of those days I actually had a smidgen of free-time and could have really used the break to relax and catch up with the fellas, but instead, I ate lunch in front of my computer to save money.
  • A girl I met a few months ago was in town from San Antonio and wanted to meet up, and I literally considered not meeting up with her because all I could think about was, “How much is this going to cost me?”

When I sat down to blog this evening, I planned on elaborating on my thoughts and feelings on both of these topics. I started with the lunch situation and tried writing about how it was so frustrating to have to turn down the invitations, but for whatever reason, I just couldn’t get fired up about it. So then I moved onto the dating situation, and once again, no motivation–this is old news; this is nothing new. Am I going to rehash the fact that I’m having trouble with dating on the cheap? Yawn.

I don’t know why, but the other day, I was thinking about what things were like during my pre-NMHD life. I mean, there’s a very, very clear delineation between my life before NMHD and my life during NMHD–sort of like B.C. vs. A.D. on an obviously much smaller scale. I started thinking about the attitude I used to approach my life with before NMHD. I wasn’t always positive, but I at least paid considerable attention to trying to have a positive attitude. When I started NMHD? I threw that positive attitude out the window. I knew it was going to be a grind, so I subconsciously decided that there was nothing to be positive about. I adopted that same attitude when I wrote blog posts–my intention was to give readers a gritty, true-to-life account of a guy going all-out to pay down his debt in a ridiculous timeframe. It would be a no-holds-barred, a no-punches-pulled account, and that included throwing away my positive attitude. “This is going to be tough, and I’m not going to sugarcoat it.”

And what a stupid thing to do. At a time when I needed a positive attitude the most, I instead became a very negative, very cynical guy. “Woe is me” became my new mantra.

Now, there was a time in my life (high school through grad school) when I had a negative opinion on having a positive attitude. I had always heard that having a positive attitude is critical–my own mother is a huge advocate and lives accordingly–but I thought that people with positive attitudes weren’t realists. I thought they were just fakes avoiding the hard truths of this world, brainwashing themselves into believing in illusions. I thought they were all in for a harsh surprise when life would eventually blindside them all. I remained steadfast in my cynical attitude.

Some time shortly after grad school, something changed. I decided that I was being silly. I decided to relax and be more positive, more optimistic. It  sounds odd, but I really can’t identify the impetus for this attitude shift.

Having a positive attitude became a focus of my life, and for awhile, I had to force it, I had to pretend. Tricking myself into thinking everything would work out whenever I ran into a problem, putting blind trust in myself to figure things out, not second-guessing myself and expecting the worst at every turn–it wasn’t easy to do at first. But once I figured it out, and it became automatic, life brightened up considerably. Taking pressure off of myself went hand-in-hand with this new mentality. I had been putting a lot of pressure on myself to be professionally and socially successful, but I chilled out, and I decided to trust in myself and believe that things would work themselves out. To a certain extent, I actually became happy-go-lucky–something I never, ever saw myself becoming. But let me tell you something: going through life happy-go-lucky is a hell of a lot more enjoyable than going through it as a Debbie Downer.

And then, when I kicked off No More Harvard Debt, that still relatively new, still somewhat fragile attitude withered in the face of paying down $90k in ten months. My positive outlook shriveled up and blew away on the winds of my heavy sigh. For the past five months, I’ve approached my life more Debbie Downer, less Pollyanna. (BTW, what are the male equivalents of these characters??)

Well, starting today, it’s back. While paying down what is shaping up to be $66k by the end of this sixth month hasn’t been easy, the truth is that it hasn’t been a tremendous hardship, either.

That being said, I don’t have line-of-sight to knocking out the remaining $24k in four months. My savings are gone, many of my major assets are gone, and I’m looking at only $4-$5k in debt paydown per month. Barring a huge bonus, I could very well fail in this endeavor.

But I’m going to revive my positive attitude in my everyday life, anyway. I’ve reached a point where I’m going to stop being angry with myself for issuing this challenge to myself in the first place, and then making such a public spectacle out of it all. I’m going to live with a firm belief in myself and with hope that I can get through this and that everything will work itself out. I’m going to do my best. I’m going to accept my situation and be at peace with it. No, things are not  great right now. No, this isn’t how I want to spend my money–I don’t like putting every last penny towards my student loans. No, I don’t like selling this or that/holding off on buying this or that/not going to this or that.

No, things are not great, but they’re not terrible, either. And they could be a hell of a lot worse.

And in some cases, like selling the Murano and motorcycle and roadbike, it was absolutely the right thing to do.

I might have to fake the attitude at first, but it’s better than going through life gloomy all the time.

I’m done with living with a negative attitude, and this inevitably needs to be represented in my blogging. I’m done with complaining. It doesn’t do anybody any good. And while it might make for some humorous reading, I’m just not going to deliver that anymore. If something is so bad that it’s hilarious, then yes, I’ll post about it, but only so that we can all have a good laugh at it. Otherwise, I just don’t want to dwell on it.

So what becomes of this blog? I posted in mid-Janunary about how this blog was making me miserable because it forced me to dwell on my hardships and sacrifices. I half-jokingly threatened to shut the blog down, and there’s definitely still a part of me that wants to do just that and complete the remaining 4.25 months of debt paydown in blissful obscurity. However, I do think the blog still serves a purpose as people continue to cite it as an inspiration, so it will live on. The difference between that post in January and this post is that I really will keep things more positive, which wasn’t my position in January:

“I would like to say that I’m going to try to keep things more positive, more on an even keel, but I don’t want this blog to be some idiotic, artificial, fluffy, evangelistic piece of crap. I want it to be real. So I’ll probably keep whining from time to time.”

High-level, I think the content and the tone of the blog need to change. Focusing on and writing about the sacrifices and hardships simply isn’t good for my mental health. And anyway, at the end of the day, they’re not that big of a deal.

(Well, let me rephrase that. For a certain audience, these sacrifices probably seem like a pretty big deal. But for other groups of people (e.g., starving children in Somalia), the fact that I sold off my second car, motorcycle, and roadbike probably wouldn’t garner a whole lot of sympathy.)

I will likely continue to track “sacrifices and hardships,” especially the ones that have financial implications and pose a risk to my timeline, but on a line-item basis only; I simply cannot elaborate on them anymore.

I have 4.25 months left to pay off my student loan debt. May they be glorious, glorious months.

Talk soon, friends.

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22 Comments

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22 responses to “Affirmation

  1. Jess

    This made me so happy! I give you mad props for (a) doing this at all AND blogging about it, and (b) for realizing some major shifts in your attitude. I hope this sticks with you for a long time.

    • Thank you!! I do, too. I’ve already noticed a change–it’s not easy, and I’ve started re-noticing how many people around me are negative, but I’ve also gained a greater appreciaton for the people who are clearly making an effort to go agains the grain and be positive.

  2. Sarah

    I don’t think that you have been portraying an overly negative attitude in your blog. You’ve said numerous times how appreciative you are that your parents paid for undergrad. You said in the post describing the first time you met Patrick that you used to visit sick children at the hospital in college and talked about volunteering again. I think this is a great idea as it will give you perspective and a glimpse into real problems. Another idea would be to volunteer at a soup kitchen. Anyways look forward to seeing this new positive attitude of yours (even though I thought you were fine before also) Goodluck!

    • Sarah

      Also you seem like a nice guy. I hope you find a frugal girl soon that you feel comfortable with. I’ve made a few friends read your blog for inspiration on repaying their own debt mountain and they agree that you seem like a great guy. See some of us aren’t gold diggers!

  3. Cassie Olson

    I am glad to hear you are going to try and be more positive! You haven’t been insanely negative, but everyone can stand to be more positive! And I want to say this without it sounding like I am insulting you, but I am not the most articulate. I will try though. I have many, many friends that have Bachelors Degrees from very nice universities that are working for $8 an hour in retail stores or entry level office jobs who are struggling from paycheck to paycheck just to be able to pay rent and buy groceries, let alone pay off their debt. So from that aspect alone you have so much to be grateful for and so much to be positive about. If something huge and unforeseen happened you would have the ability to pay for it and pay less on your student loans. I have so many friends that would not have that luxury. If they need a $100 repair on their car, it’s getting rid of texting or internet for a month. That said though, for what your circumstances are and where you were before NMHD you are doing such amazing things! I know that I would NOT have the will power to do what you are doing!

    ps. The boy version of debbie downer is Johnny Raincloud :)

  4. Jeff

    Thanks for continuing to blog. In the last few weeks I’ve been considering challenging myself to a similar debt payoff – $320,000 in 6 years instead of ~29 years. Without this blog, I don’t know that I’d consider such an aggressive schedule and while I still haven’t made the commitment, it gives me something to think about.

    Also, my vote for the male equivalent to Debbie Downer is Gloomy Gus.

  5. Bridget :-)

    Yay for positivity! Good for you for looking on the bright side! Whenever I am looking toward a goal and feeling frustrated these are the things I do:

    1. Look at how far I’ve come instead of how far I have left to go. Dude, you have paid of $66,000 in debt! That is no small accomplishment! Forget that you used your savings and sold your vehicles, you are already 2/3 of the way there! That is HUGE!

    2. Focus on solutions instead of obstables. It’s very easy to get caught up on the things holding you back, instead of the things propelling you forward. I could totally relate to your post about blogging as a way to kind of revel in self-pity. I journal a lot and as soon as I realize I’m sounding whiny I immediately shift my focus from my “problems” to solutions for those problems.

    3. Remember that this is all temporary. Yes, you have had to make some sacrifices. Some that may have seemed ridiculous. But in a few short months, you will be completely free of student loan debt and you can live your life without that burden lording over you. What an accomplishment! Think of how great that will feel!

    You will get there. Be patient with yourself, keep a clear perspective (no, you’re not going out to eat much but you’re not living on the street either), and be thankful for the opportunities you have that allow you to complete this goal.

    Youl will be there before you know it! :-)

  6. Nancy

    Good on ya! You’re doing really well. It’s pretty selfless of you to keep the blog going for others’ inspiration. You should recognize that and be proud of yourself! You’re right to realize that your life is pretty fantastic, and this short debt reduction portion of it is only going to make you more appreciative in future (and probably less materialistic). Maybe you can take a step outside every so often during the workday and lift your face to the sunlight. Breathe deeply. It’s free.

  7. Sarah

    Regarding turning down the lunch dates with your buddies maybe you could start eating a small meal before and then going out with your friends and just ordering an appetizer. I doubt your friends will care what you order, they just want your company this way you aren’t missing out on the fun and are still being frugal.

    Sorry for all the comments. I’ll work on consolidating next time. :)

  8. GREAT idea…it wouldn’t be easy to watch them chowing down on some good food, but it’s worth a shot. The thing is that I am in zero discretionary spend mode, so this would sort of be cheating–not as flagrant as an app+meal+drink, of course :)

  9. I have not followed your blog from the beginning but I have been following for a few months now and I must say it’s very inspirational and I’m glad you’ve decided to not shut it down. Any time a friend tells me how they want to defer their student loan or how much their payments are, I give them a pill of reality by linking them to your site.

    You made me realize how illogical it is to pay down a debt over such a long period of time.

    I know you’re on a tight budget and miss your social life, but maybe sites like Groupon or Lifebooker can help you gain some balance until you reach your goal. Also, since you’ve paid such a substantial amount of your debt, perhaps what you get back in taxes will also help move you forward.

    Im sure you’ve thought of all these things but if not, here they are. I think you’ll meet this goal without any problems.

    – KP

    ps: Any girl who doesn’t understand what you’re doing probably isn’t worth dating anyways.

  10. First of all, I didn’t really read anyone else’s comments so I might repeat. With respect to the male characters, I’m going to go with Eeyore and Tigger. I think those fit pretty well.

    And I have been through the same kind of cycles that you have. You know what I have found inspires positive attitudes? Confidence and purpose. I know that sounds pretty glib, but it definitely applies to me. Now you clearly have a purpose, but you seem to lack the confidence in yourself to withstand the sacrifices that you have to make AND to achieve your goal. Insecurity about both of those leads to depression and general “Eeyoreishness”. Yeah, it’s a word now.

    Here’s what I would point out to you:
    1. You’ve survived your hardships with flying colors so far – why the hell would you think you can’t make it to the finish line? And if you don’t, just fake it. Bravado + execution = confidence.

    2. It ultimately doesn’t matter if you achieve this goal! In sports it matters. In real life it doesn’t. Let’s say that you had, I dunno, competed at the national championships in a collegiate sport. Let’s take a random one like rowing. You could win that or lose it and never have that shot again. But with life? If you miss a promotion, you’ll have an opportunity to get another one – what matters is that you keep busting your balls for that promotion. In “real life” I think that it’s a lot less about the gold medal and a lot more about just striving for it constantly. I mean, you’ve picked an (at least somewhat) arbitrary time period for this anyways! Are you telling me that ten years from now when you look back at this you’ll be like “DAMMIT, I ONLY GOT RID OF $85,000 INSTEAD OF $90,000?”.

    My point is that you should have confidence that you will achieve this goal because, knowing your crazy ass, you probably will. But if you don’t? You still won dude. You still beat every single person reading this. You still did something that no one else you or I know has done. This result is going to be so overwhelmingly positive, even if you miss the mark by a little bit.

    3. Most importantly: sack up dude: http://img.myconfinedspace.com/wp-content/uploads/2010/08/when-Im-sad-I-stop-being-sad-and-be-awesome-instead.jpg

    Ciao.

    • Not bad, Swainasi. Not bad at all. After all these years, you still got it. Motivational skills.Bravo. Love it.

      Alright, head up, hunkering down, gittin’ ‘er done. I’m going to be awesome. Thanks for reminding me what it felt like to hang off the oar with every ounce of energy I can muster.

  11. anansa

    I have about $48,000 worth of student loan debt, and no job. I also dont have any big ticket items to sell, any suggestions to pay this off? My life is in shambles right now…

    • My heart goes out to you. I wish I could offer you some practical advice, but the path is far from clear right now. There are situations where personal accountability will only go so far, and then other things have to change to move forward. I hope that things improve for you.

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