Rough Seas

I’ve been in a lot of back pain lately. Not like the kind of annoying back pain you get every once in a while from a hard day’s work. It’s more like a nagging back pain. A constant pain that I’ve been living with that I can’t seem to shake these last few months.

I don’t share this to make people feel sorry for me. In fact, I haven’t shared it much because it makes me feel powerless. If I don’t talk about the pain I can go about my regular life and pretend it doesn’t exist.

How does any of this relate to personal finance you ask?

  1. Pain is something I run away from. Anything I run away from consciously or unconsciuosly will rear it’s head and affect every corner of my life. I spend money when I feel crappy.
  2. Pain forces me to grow in myriad ways and I apply that strength to my finances and frugality.

Why Me

In my teenage years I never made anything very easy for myself. I always did things the hard way to my own detriment. I was defiant and hard headed. If someone told me to walk one way I’d go the opposite way. I certainly wasn’t helping the universe help me.

I used to be a very complaining sort of person. I tended to go through life wearing a victim badge. Everything was someone else’s fault and life seemed to be full of obstacles. “If everyone just did things my way the world would be better.” That was my attitude.

I hear often that I’m an old soul or wise beyond my years. I think a big part of that has to do with not having an easy time.

Have you ever met a 30 year old who hasn’t had to work for anything in their life? They don’t tend to be awesome people.

In my 24 years of immense wisdom I have come to a conclusion. Life isn’t easy and it’s not fair. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Sometimes I have no explanation for the things that go on and I want to say “why me?”

I could spend my whole life considering the “what if’s” and “why me’s.” I could make a great scholarly argument for why I deserve better and you know what? I wouldn’t feel any better.

All of my hardships up to this point in my life have taught me that obstacles and pain make my life better, not worse. I learn how to do things by doing them; I learn how to endure pain by living through it and working through it.

The Easy Way Out

A part of being a living organism is that we will always try to seek pleasure and avoid pain. If you boiled down the inner monologue of every living thing it would be “always try to feel good, never feel bad.”

In always seeking the easier, softer way we’re cheating ourselves out of experiences. Imagine the most comfortable life you can think of. Maybe lying on a comfortable bed while servants bring you food all day. I wonder how long it would take that to get old. Maybe two days?

Pain provides us a baseline for comparison. Life has downs so the ups feel meaningful.  Pain can be physical or emotional but it can also be more innocuous things like discomfort.

This is where the finances come in: we are always trying to find the easy way out of everything. We drive a car 5 minutes to the store instead of riding a bike, we buy the $6 egg salad sandwich from Starbucks (my own personal mistake this week) instead of making a $1 one at home.

I would argue that half the money wasting choices we make are to avoid the discomfort of having to work harder for equal results. The other half of the bad decisions come from wanting status.

The thing is, steadiness and ease of being don’t tend to teach us anything. As the old saying goes, “a smooth sea never made a skilled sailor.” If you’re always comfortable with where you’re at you aren’t growing. Pain and discomfort can be a sign of great positive change.

“Unfortunately, it is human nature for us to only learn and grow from a place of emptiness. It’s hard to learn when we are winning and on top of the world.” -Yehuda Berg

Run For Your Life

Here’s an interesting thing about pain: we tend to like to deny it, cover it up, or run away from it. Again, it doesn’t matter if the pain is physical or emotional.

When my back is killing me I tend to obsess on how I’ll get rid of the pain. I want to take an Advil and get that pain away as soon as possible. What would happen if I just sat with it for a while? Instead of planning how to ease the pain and obsessing on how much it hurts I can pay attention to what’s bothering me in the moment. Whatever is bothering me, I can take a minute to address it and it can be ok just as it is.

Same goes for emotional pain. I want to make it all better right now! Unfortunately the more I cover up pain it wants to bubble up more. If I do successfully distract or deny my emotional pain, guess what? It’s waiting for me when I’m ready to deal with it.

Hi! It’s me that break up from six years ago. You never dealt with me so I’m here for some attention.

Any personal difficulty you’re going through right now, the sooner you address it the quicker you can heal. The only way out is through, and like most things in life acceptance is the key. I try never to tell myself that I shouldn’t be feeling how I’m feeling. However my emotions are manifesting is apparently how things are supposed to be, no judgement.

Sweat and Tears

Another thing I’ve observed in my life is that when I have to work for things I tend to enjoy them more. It’s the old “value of a dollar” concept. A dollar, a home made gift, or an egg salad sandwich that you worked hard to make is more gratifying than one that was given to you.

This is also the reason working for things tends to make us happy. Doing a task gives you personal involvement in the results. It brings meaning to your life. It doesn’t surprise me that as our everyday lives have gotten easier and more automated we are finding more emptiness and lack of meaning in the world.

The personal savings rate in 1960 was around 12%, today it hovers around 5%. I think this is in part due to people looking for self-worth and meaning in items.

People who get their hands dirty and get involved are happier. That’s just a fact. It’s also massively unfair to the people who spend lots of money looking for joy, well-being, or meaningfulness.

The next time you have the option to take the easy way out or do things “the hard way” I want you to think about this article. Challenge yourself to be uncomfortable, you might just grow.



  1. Elsie, this is a great perspective on pain, work, and money. Often we do cheat ourselves taking the easy way out and we never even realize it. I know when I’m not feeling good, I spend more to make things more convenient, in the hopes of feeling better. Granted, sometimes that convenience is necessary, but other times it’s just wasteful and doesn’t produce the desired result. Definitely something to think about.
    Gary @ Super Saving Tips recently posted…Lunchtime is Saving Money Time on School LunchesMy Profile

  2. Elsie says:

    I definitely think I take more short cuts when I don’t feel good. When you’re in a bad mood or having a bad day you tend to soothe those feelings with treating yourself and indulging in convenience. I think that’s why it’s so important to get used to doing what’s difficult, because you gain that strength for the future. It’s also true that convenience is sometimes necessary. Afterall, sometimes I just can’t make it home in my busy day and I have to buy something refrigerated from the grocery store.

  3. I love it, good things go to people who get off their butts and make something happen. Complaints can be good if used as a motivator, otherwise it’s a waste of breath and almost useless. Pain can only make someone stronger depending on how it’s handled!

    As for your back, I’ve also had back pain (I was scared because I was only 21) but after using heat wraps from thermacare for a couple of days, my back pain went completely away. I don’t know if it’ll solve your problem but in case it helps 🙂
    Finance Solver recently posted…Average Joes are Never RewardedMy Profile

    • Elsie says:

      Thanks for the advice finance solver. My back gets better sometimes. Whenever I’m in pain I always feel like it’ll last forever even though I know logically that isn’t true. Much like emotional pain, physical cycles through with good times and bad times.

      A friend told be the other day, “I’m glad you’ve had some freedom from the pain.” I had never considered that pain could be a prison you needed freedom from. If you let it back you into a corner that’s exactly what it is. I’ve made the decision to be free regardless of pain. Thanks for reading!

  4. Mrs Groovy says:

    You’re 24? You are an old soul. You’ve got some very deep thoughts. And wise. Personally, I found my 20s to be one of the toughest times in my life. I was done with college and thought “now what”. I was lousy at picking boyfriends and the list goes on.

    Comfort seems to be what everyone is seeking. I agree that we’ve got to deal with pain. There’s a true saying about singers that “you gotta suffer to sing the blues”. When you go through the pain and come out on the other side of it you often find the beauty and simplicity of the moment. You’re also stronger and naturally more prepared for the next obstacle.
    Mrs Groovy recently posted…How Much False Wealth Is In Your Life?My Profile

    • Elsie says:

      Thanks Mrs Groovy. I definitely relate to “now what.” I sort of wish someone would just pick something and tell me to do that rather than the inner search for passion. So many people fall into careers that hasn’t happened to me as of yet.

      It’s true that people who haven’t had an easy time in life seem more prepared to handle problems. You have to get a good working relationship with troubles to get good at them. Any time I’m having difficultly I try to take it as a learning experience. Sometimes I’m more successful at keeping a good perspective than others.
      Elsie recently posted…Rough SeasMy Profile

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