Recently, I noticed that an acquaintance had the exact same skin condition that I suffered from about a year ago. Instead of just pretending not to notice, I told her I suffered from the same thing for months before getting prescription meds, and asked if she had health insurance. She is an artist, and the answer was as I expected: No. So I offered to give her my leftover cream, which she was really happy to accept. (This probably goes against medical professionals’ advice so look away if you’re a doctor or a nurse!)
The reason I was so keen to break some rules and get involved in someone else’s health issues (a highly private thing), was that I know so well the tribulations of being a creative professional. I too went for a year or two without an insurance circa 2009-2010, and the desperation I felt upon every illness.
And that’s only the beginning. I have so many stories of poverty that my name could be Olivia Twist. I have flashback memories of seeing $75 on my checking account statement–that was all the money I had in May 2010, after quitting my first full-time job in fashion and getting fired from a job as a waitress. Starting my career in fashion and book publishing, two of the most under-paying industries for junior-level employees, I felt a heavy self-rebuke every time I saw a college alum who was making multiple times more in finance, law, or some other flashy field.
Now at age 30, however, I have begun to feel a true financial wellness. Aside from financial security–knowing you have enough to care for yourself and build a future–financial wellness means you have a sense of wellness and happiness regarding your finances. I’m by no means wealthy by the standards of my city’s and my peers’ income bell curve. But as a writer/editor/creative professional, I’m satisfied to be doing things I am good at and passionate about–and with my various income sources, making more than three times the salary from my first-ever job. (Don’t worry, that first job paid really really low!!)
Before I achieved financial wellness, however, I had to change certain attitudes.
- I started thinking positively. It’s not just poverty that negatively affects people–it’s the *awareness* of being poor, according to this intriguing New Yorker piece. People who think of themselves as poor make poorer decisions, like spending money on the lottery or not taking care of their health. Unfortunately, I was completely set-up for this poor mindset. Although I went to an expensive private high school, playing the cello, and taking ballet lessons, I grew up worrying about all those costs, and that really colored my view of money. Being financially unstable right out of college killed my mojo further. But one day I outright made the decision to think positively about my future, no matter what my present might look like. This turned out to be crucial.
- I took a risk for the sake of living authentically. Instead of taking the safest path in order to ensure my survival, I leapt again and again to the unknown path in order to stay true to my real passions. The thing about creative careers is that they all don’t pay well, especially at the beginning, but with some experience and savvy, you *can* climb the ladder or maneuver laterally in order to gain a leg up. Not giving up, even when you’re tired of sending out yet another resume, is half the game.
- I stopped worrying about money. Of course, this is easier said than done, especially if you don’t have enough money to last 3 months without any income. (Personally I feel safer with min 6 months’ worth of savings). If you have that kind of rainy-day fund saved up, it’s time to relax and think about money more positively. (Again! Positivity is so important). But if you *don’t* have that money saved up, it’s even *more* important that you let go of your worries. Tell yourself that you will always find a way to assure your safety and wellness.
- I started giving back. The other day, I won a bet at the office–and I’m someone who never, ever wins contests of any kind. This was the very first time in my life I got lucky with money. As I was depositing that crisp $100 bill at my bank, I thought that this might be the $100 offering I made at Christmas mass, coming back to me. Now that’s a fun anecdote, but the more I give to charities, people, and animals around me, the more financial blessings I experience. I’m not advocating altruism with the intention of getting something in return–that wouldn’t be altruism. Still, it’s been my experience that the more you act selflessly, the more input you get to make up for the output.
- I measure wealth on my own terms. If I compared my finances to other people, I would be very unhappy. This is actually a sociological phenomenon that people always find a way to compare themselves to others who are wealthier. Instead, check if you are making progress and whether you can save and spend for your goals. Financial wellness to me means making enough so that I can travel, buy sustainable fashion, and foster kitties without feeling drained. That’s definitely not about the money though–it’s really about things that count more than money.
How do you measure your financial wellness? What helped you get there?