I spent a bit of time this weekend looking at my net worth and my financial goals and continually thinking, “If I had just done X differently than we’d be so much better off.”
If I hadn’t bought those stupid new cars…
If I hadn’t gone to grad school…
If I had simply bought a cheaper house… or none at all!
If I had just been smarter five years ago, I could have SOO much more money saved.
But, then I caught myself. This is the kind of thinking that I can’t stand when others do it, so why am I allowing myself to wallow in self-pity?
You can’t change what has already happened
For better or worse, I am stuck with those decisions that I made, just as you are stuck with yours. With the wisdom of hindsight, it’s easy to think that it should have so easy to make a different choice, but the fact of the matter is it’s not that simple.
At the time, I thought I was making smart choices. Humans are excellent rationalizers and it’s easy to look at something you want and come up with a justification for it. To top it off, our culture doesn’t generally instil habits that lead to financial prosperity. So, when everybody else around you is making bad decisions, it’s easy to play along and do it too.
I didn’t make smarter financial decisions at that time because I wasn’t ready to. Those mistakes and decisions have shaped my perceptions about finances today. As painful as it may be, if I hadn’t had those as learning opportunities, I may not even have made it to this point.
Financial setbacks may not be solely bad if you gain more than just the numbers. Grad school may have eaten into my savings power for a while, but it was a step up to a job that earned twice what I was making previously. I may have been able to save more if I rented instead of owned, but my house significantly increases my net worth and I bought when interest rated were still at record lows. The new cars, though, were just stupid, but at least I learned something from the experience.
Now, I’m not saying everyone should have to learn about finances from the school of hard knocks. I’m a strong advocate in making financial literacy more widespread and accessible from an early age, but I recognize that many people are in the same situation. For those of us who didn’t get the lessons early on, it’s ok to acknowledge your past mistakes, but don’t feel like you have to beat yourself up over it.
You can only move forward
Wallowing in self-pity is never productive. It is only cathartic for a very brief period before it becomes self-destructive. So, if you must, give yourself a defined period of time to bemoan your past decisions, but then you must make a conscious choice to forgive yourself and move forward.
From this point on, you are only in control of your future actions. And if you don’t think you’re in control, that’s denial. You are very much in control.
If your bills are more than your income, do something about it.
If your debt makes your chest feel tight and your anxiety swell, do something about it.
If you hate your job or want a different life path, make one small step today to move your life in that new direction.
Perhaps the only actions you can take at this time are very small. That’s ok.
Commit to making smarter decisions starting now. Acknowledge your past mistakes, forgive yourself, then challenge yourself to learn from them and not repeat them. Let your regret go.