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?
- 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.
- Pain forces me to grow in myriad ways and I apply that strength to my finances and frugality.
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.