Dear Lisa of 8 Women Dream,
Thanks for making me feel like throwing up all over my dream of personal finance mastery last Saturday. Seriously. I needed that.
I’m just kidding, it wasn’t Lisa’s fault. We Dreamers were catching up on a conference call, and Catherine asked us each to update the status of our dream progress. I said in regards to my progress, “It’s all just talk. I have no goals, I just have a vague sense of wanting to feel better about my relationship with money. I can’t say if I’ve made any progress there or not.”
Remy asked me, “Well then, what are you avoiding?”
After a moment’s thought, it hit me. I admitted to my sister dreamers that I avoid looking at my bank balance.
This is where Lisa comes in. She said her sister is really good at money, and claims one of the keys to being good at it is being willing to look at what’s true, without getting all panicked about it.
Immediately my stomach jumped and churned, and not in a good way.
See, I know when I’m out of control of my personal finances because I don’t just avoid looking at the balance, I quail from it in abject terror. The longer I don’t look, the more terrified I get. When I finally do screw my courage to the sticking place and look, it’s almost always worse than I thought it would be, precisely because it’s been so long since I last looked.
It’s an accelerating spiral of terror, is what it is.
No wonder I felt like throwing up. Could looking at my bank balance seem any more like a forced trip on one of those modern-age theme park rides designed to scare the living bejeesus out of you?
That’s how I knew what my first goal had to be. Whatever you resist will persist. Whatever you avoid is where the crux of your victim-hood lives. Whatever you will not face will kill you, or at least kill your dream, in the end. I would have to face down my terror of looking at my bank balance.
It was nauseating to contemplate. Lisa apologized, but she needn’t have. My conscience spoke through her, since I wasn’t listening when it tried to speak through me.
No doubt some of you out there are thinking I’m over-dramatizing. I don’t know what to say, except I’m not. This fear is as real and as dangerous to me as the fear of dying in an airplane crash, for some people. Or the fear of crowds, for some other people. Or the fear of spiders and snakes for yet others.
Taking a cue from behavioral psychology, I decided to learn about desensitization. This is a process where, in tiny incremental steps, a fearful person learns to overcome and/or tolerate the objects of their irrational fear.
I learned that desensitization consists of the following 3 steps:
1. Create a fear hierarchy. List every kind of exposure to the feared thing you can think of, and rank it from 1-10, with 1 meaning scary and 10 meaning terrifying. Put each kind of exposure on an index card and rank the stack from low to high.
2. Learn some relaxation techniques.
3. Start going through your “fear deck,” practicing the relaxation technique on each progressively scary card.
At that rate, I’d be in debtor’s prison before I could feel calm enough to do the real thing.
I thought about it long enough that I started to drive myself crazy until finally I plunged forth and checked my balance. It was scary, but for once it wasn’t worse than I thought it was. In fact, it was a little better than I’d feared.
That first day, I looked three or four times. By the last time, I wasn’t on the verge of tossing my cookies.
The next day, I got a low balance e-mail saying I was overdrawn $1500. Just a small setback. Had I not looked at my balance the day before (several times), I’d have believed it. But since I had looked at my balance I could with a peaceful heart (and stomach) recognize that this was clearly, definitely, obviously an error. I called the bank, and they confirmed.
It’s the first time a bank ever apologized to me.
In the week since, it has not been so easy. I’ve back slid and had to go through the whole face-your-fear drama all over again. I just now had to do it in order to publish this post with a clear heart.
What I know is this. If it’s this hard, I must be doing the right thing.
Anyone out there care to confess a similar fear on the road to your dream? One that other people might find just plain silly, but that feels life-threatening to you? C’mon. Hold my hand! We’ll do it together.
P.S. I drafted this post before the truly terrifying events in Japan. In the aftermath, I feel like a spoiled little rich girl with my whining about fear of looking at my bank balance, for God’s sake. There are people who are living under a canopy of smoke and steam from a decaying nuclear power reactor. There are people wandering in a literal sea of rubble, with no place safe to go. Meanwhile I am tucked in my bed at night with the luxury of lying awake wondering about my bank balance.
Nothing like a good solid dose of reality to make you just want to get over yourself and live!