So I’ll admit it. Between marital separation (and related support costs) and student loan debt and trying to do my part to raise two children, I find myself in pretty serious financial waters. None of this is new for me; anyone born into a middle-class-or-lower family in the United States knows that this station comes with some financial stress to begin with, and that being a newly married graduate student having babies is even less likely to be a picnic. Add to that now the costs accumulated costs of legal nonsense and the monthly expenses of separation and I’m in deep snowdrifts, even with a reasonable middle-class income.
I’m not generally one to stress out or lose sleep, but this morning since about 3:00 am I’ve found myself laying awake and thinking. How do I make this all work?
As is usual, I’m fighting the length of the runway. This has been a durable trope in my life. I build up a particular position, and then—in the interest of trying to grow—I overshoot it to some extent, not unlike the concept of leverage in finance. In a sense, I “live beyond my means” but the “beyond my means” part is in the interest of arriving somewhere new and better with higher income and career potential after the fact. The “runway” metaphor speaks to the fact that with each new position and the overshooting that follows, my immediate situation is unsustainable without some further growth. The big picture looks something like this:
Position -> Operate in the red in the interest of new position -> New position -> Repeat
So as usual, I’m operating in the red. And that means that the status quo has an expiration date; there are only two ways to avoid catastrophe. One is to give up (and this means on virtually everything, a kind of catastrophic legal and personal giving up that writes all of life off and implies “starting again” from scratch as just a human body) and the other is to take the “next step” and achieve a new status quo at better title/higher income/increased prospects, at which point the new status quo becomes the default position.
Yes, it’s a way of pushing myself. It’s always been there; it’s the only way I know how to live. Swim or die.
— § —
But the long and short of all of this is that I am, as always, speeding down a runway of definite length. If I reach the end of the runway before either stopping or taking off, I crash. And at this moment, crash is only maybe six months off (if that). So, as has happened so many times before in my life, I need a strategy.
Laying awake this morning, unable to sleep, I finally gave up and declared the day open so that I could sit down and begin to work on one (yet again). There have been maybe four to five times in my life when I’ve done this in earnest—when I’ve said “it’s now or never, do or die, sit down and strategize about how you’re going to survive and thrive in the months and years to come.”
Each time it’s worked out well.
Hopefully this time it will as well, because the consequences of failure are bigger than they have ever been before. While I won’t go into details, there are some general principles that are worth mentioning:
- Actively and pragmatically pursue progress, in concrete steps, every day
- Productize my knowledge, experience, and identity
- Remember that little things together add up to a lot
- Go as far as is humanly possible toward balancing the books
- Surrender on “lifelong dreams” until the next position is achieved
- Think independently and entrepreneurially
- Move on multiple proposed fronts at once, to provide a margin of error
- Act wisely and with discipline
- Maintain perspective and don’t panic
There are smart people out there that solve and/or overcome problems like the ones I’m facing all the time. I like to think that I’m one of them, but smart is as smart does. We’ll see. Meanwhile, it’s time to move into an “action posture” for the foreseeable future. I can’t afford to sit here and muse about the meanings and future of things any longer.
Once again, it’s time to put on my “maniacal courage suit” and act.