Recently I was challenged by a commenter to share a story on my "happy blog" of a time when I was so behind on things for several months and didn't know what I was going to do. This person was in a very negative space and assumed I wouldn't have a story like this since I'm so happy all the time. Usually I don't engage in those comments, but this time I felt compelled to do exactly that... because this is a part of my journey and has absolutely shaped who I am today.
One summer while living in Hawaii, I found myself three months behind on every major bill. Student loans, mortgage for my house (which I was renting at the time), car payment, credit cards, home owners association, and electric. I was also a month or two behind on my phone and Internet. The only thing I wasn't behind on was my rent, because I figured it made more sense to ensure I didn't get evicted. And in case you're wondering, three months is when Hawaiian Electric will shut off your power after no payments. Yeah.
This was one of the most stressful times in my life.
Living in one of the most expensive places, trying to build a business with my ex-boyfriend (who also had to pay bills from our shared revenue), having clients pay late or not at all, no regular influx of new work, and still completely lost in my quarter-life crisis.
Getting through each month had been a juggling act for some time, but eventually, I just fell behind and couldn't catch up. There were times in those three months where I literally had to choose between gas or groceries, usually choosing a little of both... but making sure to get groceries first since the hold placed by gas stations could overdraw me on its own.
There were also points where I was so broke I actually owed the bank nearly $1,000 in overdrawn funds.
I remember conversations with my friends at the time when they wanted to go out for dinner or other fun activities. "I can't, I'm broke," I would say. "Haha, me too! Let's go to the movies..." was always their reply, not understanding I was actually without money in that moment.
Many, many tears were shed during those three months, and honestly, in the months before and following. It was with some help from my mom, an influx of new work and past due payments, and a lot of hustle that allowed me to pull through that time. I paid my student loans and car payment late for an entire year following those three months because I could never quite get back ahead.
Here's what I learned from this time:
1) It's really not the end of the world.
I remember the very first time I overdrew my bank account when I was in college by $20. I was so upset and nervous, feeling like my whole world was crashing in. I also felt the same way the first time I made a late credit card payment. I probably spent thousands of dollars on overdraft fees in the year in question. Thousands. While my credit dipped, it wasn't the end of the world and I actually learned it's better to overdraw your bank account than to pay a credit card late. I basically learned to be strategically broke!
Here's the truth: I could very well have lost my house and my car, but I didn't. Even if I had, it really wouldn't have been the end of the world. My credit would have sucked, for awhile. I would have felt pretty crappy, for awhile. I probably would have had to move back into my parent's house, for awhile. But then life would have gone on and I absolutely would have picked up the pieces. I'm not saying stop paying your bills because it's no big deal, just relieve the pressure a bit by knowing it's not the end of the world. Stuff can be replaced, credit can be rebuilt, and we're wired for survival.
2) It's possible to feel abundant when you have nothing.
One of my friends and coaches had given me an exercise to try around abundance several months before I fell behind, which I refer to as the "$100 bill practice." Simply put, you keep a $100 bill in your wallet at all times and mentally spend it. Any time you're out and about, you think to yourself, "I could buy that! I could sign up for that program! I could see that movie and get a bucket of popcorn!" It trains you to approach life from a place of abundance and not scarcity. While going through this tumultuous time, I stuck with the practice, always thinking, if it comes down to it, I can pay something with this $100. Should I have paid something with it, probably... but maintaining the practice helped me stay in a place of possibility. I could get through this.
Since this hard time, I've had months that have been overwhelmingly challenging financially, one of which was actually last fall, and I'll share more about that experience soon. Despite not having enough money at times, I always feel abundant and I credit it entirely to this practice.
3) This type of experience can change you for the good.
So long as you release the bad limiting beliefs and fears you pick up as well. I've worked hard to remove a lot of money blocks and limiting beliefs from those times. I've worked hard to restore the belief that I can generate as much money as I need and desire. But the habits I picked up weren't all bad... for one, I'm much more conscious about when and how I invest my money. I work hard to live within my means, am aggressively tackling my debt, and learned to be a super saver shopper. I also fell in love with thrifting. For awhile, all I could do was buy second hand, but now it's something I do for fun in addition to treating myself to new items. I'm not as wasteful as I was before, I appreciate the money I do have, even when it's not a lot, and I have this unwavering sense of faith and trust. Trust that even if things do get that bad again, I'm capable of getting myself through it, because it's not the end of the world and I've done it before.
4) There's nothing more powerful than positive thinking.
When I replied to the commenter that inspired this post, I mentioned that I'd be happy to share my story, but they probably weren't going to like it because it came down to mindset for me. While I got stressed and cried and felt utterly exhausted, I always stayed positive. I would break down, take a deep breath, focus on the fact that I hadn't lost anything yet, and worked to trust that everything would work out. I truly believe that if I hadn't had this practice in place, I wouldn't have made it through. Things would have gotten worse, I would've lost my car or my house, and I would be scarred for life from this season.
5) We all have different tolerance levels for risk.
And debt. Mine is higher than most, yet if I could do it over again, I would have kept my bridge job for far longer than I did. I made it happen and I made it work, but it didn't have to be as hard as I chose to make it. You have to be honest about your level of tolerance for risk and debt and act accordingly. There's no right answer. I'm comfortable with debt because I've always known being broke and not making enough money to pay it off was never going to be my life long mode. Back to the last point, I've always believed in my ability to be successful and make things happen, and that's carried me through and beyond this rough patch.
So tell me...
What have you learned, or what are you learning, from the most difficult experience of your life? What are the lessons and the gifts? How can you find the positive and use this experience to change you for the better?
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Stephenie Zamora is the founder of www.stepheniezamora.com, a full-service, life-purpose development, design and branding boutique and author of Awesome Life Tips book. Through her Mastery program, she merges the worlds of personal development and branding to help men and women build passion-based lives and businesses they love. Click here to access her free Foundations for Unshakable Joy video training series and learn the unexpected trick to transforming your life with one single question!
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