Tuesday, April 29, 2008

When is enough enough?

After reading a friend's blog and watching the Oprah episode on hoarders (http://www2.oprah.com/tows/slide/200804/20080428/slide_20080428_350_106.jhtml), I have a question. When is enough enough? How do we measure any number of things to be sure that we are on track or not going off the reservation?

My problem is not one of hoarding, although it probably could be if I didn't hate the clutter of it all so much. Mine is an inability to be satisfied with the goals that I put forth. For instance, about 4 years ago, I became quite overzealous about exercise and diet. I've always been a "stout" girl. (FWIW, no one should ever refer to a young, impressionable girl as "stout". YEARS of therapy will most assuredly follow.) Over the course of a year, working out at least 6 times a week for 2 hours each session and watching every morsel of food that entered my body, I lost 40 pounds. This was an AMAZING feat for me! I had never had any success with such things. It wasn't the weight loss success that posed a problem so much as the goals that I had set for myself. When I started on the regimen, I wanted to get to a size 10. I was an 18 at the time. As the pounds (SLOWLY) dropped off and I went down to a size 16, my goal was then a size 8. By the time the 40 pounds had been sweated off, I was in the neighborhood of expecting that I could get down to a 4. (I was still a size 16. Maybe a 14 on a good day if the clothes were cut liberally.) The 40 pounds that I had taken off just wasn't enough for me. Even though I looked much better and felt much better, none of it seemed to count unless I got into those single digits. A friend of mine who was trying to be supportive told me that I was doing great and that she could really tell, but she was concerned that I would take it too far and that I would never be satisfied.

This problem has also reared its ugly head in my financial life. Growing up, we didn't really have much since my dad was laid off for most of my childhood in the 80s, but my parents somehow managed to make ends meet anyway. Unfortunately, it was a family full of Hoosier-nicey-nice where we didn't talk about money, so none of this financial know-how was ever shared with me or my brother. The thing that is even more difficult to stomach is that when I asked my mom a few years ago how they did it, she said she didn't know. Her response wasn't even an amazed "I don't know." Instead, it was an "I don't know" of life without a plan of attack.

As a result of this lack of financial education, I made a lot of mistakes during my early and mid-20s. Let me make sure you understand.....A LOT of mistakes. If I wanted something, I bought it. If I was lonely (which was quite often), I went shopping. If life wasn't perfect (is it ever?), I bought a new nick-knack. I lived beyond my means and then some. THIS is the reason for #34! I am still paying for mistakes that I made years ago.

It wasn't until about 5 years ago that the light-bulb came on. I was a successful, single woman with no children who made a good living and I found myself working for $6.00/hour during the holiday season in order to make enough money for Christmas. I was exhausted, frustrated and lonely because I was wrapping the gifts of strangers instead of spending the holidays with my loved ones. That's when I said, "enough is enough!" I don't really spend all that much at the holidays and if I have 52 weeks to save for it, a mere $10 a week would give me more than $500 at the end of the year. I ended up putting more than that away each week (and not even missing it). At the end of those 52 weeks, it was the most liberating feeling to know that when I went shopping for gifts, I could just write a check or pay cash. I didn't have to worry about how I was going to pay the credit card bills when they came due in January. It was an amazing feeling!

.....for about 10 minutes. And that is where the problem lies. I don't seem to be able to hang onto that feeling where I am proud of myself for accomplishing a goal. When I had nothing saved, $100 seemed like it would be great. $100 came and then it didn't seem so great. Surely $500 would set my head spinning! $500 came and no fireworks. Certainly $5000! Nope. $10,000? At some point it stopped being real. Another goal on my list is to have 9 months worth of earnings in my savings account. I am edging my nearer and nearer to 50% of that goal. I should be thinking, "Wow! That's 4 1/2 months of earnings! If something goes wrong, I should be okay for a while." Instead, I think, "Ugh! I can't believe I'm not even 50% of the way there." And if I do get to 9 months worth by next July? Will I be able to breathe a sigh of relief? Will I be able to think, "Job well done, Heather."? Standing here on April 29, 2008, I would like to say that I will be able to be proud of myself. Unfortunately, I hold out little hope about that coming to fruition.

So, what is it that distorts our views? Whether it's hoarding possessions or exercising to exhaustion or saving money for the next 40-day flood. How do we know when "enough is enough"?

1 comment:

Jill said...

Do you think it's a matter of trusting yourself? That's my first reaction--and I'm going to have to read this entry again later because I found it really thoughtful and need to let it sink in a bit.

I think the hard part is trying to understand and/or be OK with the fact that everyone's life is different and so you don't have the comfort of someone going through exactly the same challenges/path all the time. So we look for advice and hear what seems to be impossible, and I don't know about you, but I usually feel I can't measure up to these superhuman standards set by so-called experts. But it's just a matter of trusting myself and trying to say that I'm going to be OK, no matter what happens. Oddly enough, I find it surprisingly hard to do, but then I'm a big one on getting approval from others.

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