In old movies, you’ll often see a character raving or crying hysterically in some stressful situation, at which point another character calmly draws back and slaps the first person across the face. The hysterical character immediately calms, and is then able to see their situation clearly and begin to take rational action. This happens in real life as well, though usually the “slaps” are less literal.
They can take the form of unexpected revelations from family or friends; a rejection from a job or college (or dating prospect) you thought you had locked; a powerful book, poem, or article; a bank statement or collection notice; a report card or job review; or something as simple as a long-overdue look in the mirror. Whatever the form, a “slap in the face” moment can alter the landscape of your thinking in profound ways. It might even change your life.
I’ve been promising for a while to tell the story of my own financial recovery (this is just my story, Courtney had no debt and good savings when we met). It starts with a slap in the face moment shortly after I turned 30. I’d been living with one of my oldest friends at the time; we’ll call him “Jack”. To give you the full scope of the situation, this time was the absolute lowest point of my life financially. Deep breath, here goes…
- I was broke with around $50 in the bank, no savings, and no retirement.
- I had a combined total of $55,000 in debt from credit cards (most of which were maxed out), a brand new car note, student loans, and some personal loans and credit card cash advances.
- I was making about $12/hour.
With those numbers, it’s no surprise I was frequently late or short with my share of the rent or other bills.
One day the dam broke and we got into a loud argument about my habitual delinquency. Things got heated as I made excuses and rationalized, until finally Jack spoke me some hard truth, the kind only good friends can give. He said; “This is why you’re 30 years old and don’t have a pot to piss in!”
Just like a character in one of those old movies, I was stunned. The fight stopped abruptly and we stared at each other. I felt as though he’d thrown a cold glass of water in my face, and that chill slowly dripped down my spine.
All the excuses, self-negotiating, and rationalizations I’d indulged in for years to avoid responsibility as my life slowly crumbled fell away in an instant. In that moment I saw that I was 100 percent responsible for the choices that had led me to my present circumstances: broke and utterly desperate. I felt tremendous regret over my past decisions, was terrified of my present circumstances, and in despair about what I saw as a hopeless future.
I couldn’t speak. I just gaped at my friend for a long moment, then turned and walked away, and out of our apartment. Days later, Jack apologized for being so harsh but I just thanked him for his honesty.
I didn’t know a thing about personal finance, but I knew I was in a horrible mess. It was tempting to just throw up my hands and say it was too big a problem to do anything – heck, I’d been doing it for years. But when I considered all I might have ahead of me, how could I not fight for a better future? The rest of my life was at stake! I knew I would gain nothing by doing nothing, but I could change my life if I was willing to learn and make better choices.
It all ties in to a powerful quote (I’ve mostly seen it attributed to Thomas Jefferson) I heard around that time: “If you want something you’ve never had, you must be willing to do something you’ve never done.”
And that’s how I woke up. I’ll continue the story in my next post; what I started doing and how I put a plan together. But that figurative slap in my face was what re-introduced me to hope. It was so unfamiliar I almost didn’t recognize that warm, uplifted feeling in my gut for what it was!
Have you had a slap in the face moment in your own life? What people or things have had that effect on you, and what changes have you been inspired to make?