Debt Free

33 Days of Truth: Day 9

Debt Free

I’m on Day 9 of the personal growth challenge I’m doing for my 33rd birthday, 33 Days of Truth. Which you already know, if you’ve been following along and reading my posts thus far. If you have, thanks! I appreciate having the opportunity to share myself authentically with you. 

Today’s topic has a lot to do with why I’ve been stuck in so many unfulfilling jobs, which I talked about in the last two days’ posts (Werk and Werk: Part II).

This one’s a biggie. 

D-E-B-T. 

DEBT has been weighing me down and looming over my head for nearly a decade. That’s a third of my life. Ew.

It started in my early twenties when I took out a credit card to go on vacation to Hawaii. (Grandpa warned me. Listen to your elders, kids!) Then, in my later twenties, I went to an expensive private university, effectively burying my future in a mountain of student loans. The funny part is that I ended up moving to Hawaii, and in doing so made paying off debt my top priority. Coming full circle I guess. 

I graduated with honors from the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts. With my fancy film degree in hand and zero desire to do anything with it but put it away in storage, I left Los Angeles, closing the final chapter of a decade of my life there and happily moving on from my former dream of becoming a filmmaker. As passionate as I was about that path for many years, I grew in a different direction and my life aspirations went with me. Unfortunately, so did all my student loans.

I had worked the whole time I went to school, but barely scraped by. After graduation, I was getting on my feet really for the first time in my life. I returned to my birth town on the central coast of California, where I learned how to finally relax and enjoy my life. After years stressed out to my limits in the city, it felt really good to decompress and simply live for a while. I was not ready to face the debt. It was too daunting.

I kept pressing the pause button on my loans. Grace period. Deferment. Forbearance. I knew the options would run out eventually for keeping the proverbial wolves at bay. Sooner or later they would come knocking though, hungry for their dues. But I didn’t know how on earth I was going to manage even the minimum amount due once I hit the “un-pause” button. I already knew how hard it could be to cover those payments on top of rent, bills and other living expenses, having experienced the struggle first hand with credit card debt. Needless to say, I was scared.

Meanwhile, I was counting down to when my mom, sister and I planned on moving together to Maui. We talked about living happy and free on the island, and we were very excited for a fresh start. However, as the big move approached and I prepared to leave the mainland for our new life in paradise, something in me began to shift. I realized that I was not free while living under a mountain of debt. Neither was I happy with it. So, in order to create the life I truly wanted, I knew I could not remain in the trap of debt and financial struggle. I had to get out.

And I knew the only way out was through. 

It was time to face the music and put my whole heart into taking care of my student loan debt, to clear the foundation of my financial life so that I could start building a solid future. 

Interestingly, when I opened up the door to tackle those debt wolves head on, they turned into harmless puppy dogs. That’s how it felt to rise to the challenge. It felt light and freeing. Fun even! It was a tremendous thing to take back my life. To return to a place of power. To stop running, finally, and to stand my ground. And then to move forward, one step at a time. 

Bri: 1
Debt: 0 

(Well, not quite 0 yet… Haha)

I set up my entire Maui life to focus on paying off debt. Fortunately, I was blessed with circumstances that supported me from the start, a place to live and the jobs I needed to get moving on my debt-free plan. It worked, for a while. As I talked about my Day 6 of this challenge (Even in Paradise), I got very busy, working two jobs six days per week plus nannying every weekday afternoon, all in an effort to pay off my debt as quickly as possible. It wore me out.  

It has been personally challenging to have so little “free” time, although for a while it was enough to know that the time I was spending working toward my goal would get me toward much greater freedom in the long run. Still, I started to wonder, at what cost? Tired by the grind, I stopped taking very good care of myself. It was not necessarily apparent on the outside, but I could feel my personal health and wellbeing decline. One thing that kept repeating in my mind was, “This is not how I want to live.” 

The need to exercise my power has arisen once again, and it has evolved. I thought I had to wait until my debt was gone to live the way I really wanted. I’m now wondering if that’s quite true. I’ve tried one way; it’s worth finding out if there is a different approach.

So, I’ve called a time-out. It’s time to regroup. Later this month I will return to California, and in doing so will have some relief, a chance to to recharge my batteries, center again and reset my life trajectory in a more balanced manner.  That’s the plan, anyway.

Moving to Maui allowed me to go all in with my debt repayment, in a way I probably wouldn’t have been able to do back in California. I was too entrenched in my lifestyle there to make the necessary changes. For that reason particularly, I’m glad I made the move. In one year, I paid off nearly $13,000, and that’s with multiple trips back to the mainland plus buying a car (incurring all related expenses, and then some). 

I made progress in my big goal, but there remains a long way to go. My dream is to achieve financial freedom from debt, to make room in my future for bigger and better things. But the next chapter will be about finding out how to do that in a way that doesn’t defer my daily happiness and fulfillment to “Someday”. I’ve already done plenty of that in my life. I don’t want to continue waiting to be on the other side of something to be free. I can choose to feel free now. And that starts with redefining what freedom looks like. 

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