What are you afraid of?

by Cassie on December 20, 2012

Part 3 in the 3 part series Your Identity and Your Money. Find Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

As I was relating my upcoming plan to do a winter hike in the Grand Canyon to a friend, I admitted I was a little scared. “Scared? Really? What could you be afraid of?” he asked. “You’re not frightened” he tried to convince me, “you are just excited.”

This is exactly why I love spending time with young adults. He was honestly surprised at my fear. In considering his reaction, I understand his failure to empathize. At his age, I too was rarely afraid.

The few things that did cause anxiety for me at that age, heights and rats, were external. I cannot recall ever being immobilized by the fear of failure or the fear of rejection or the fear of a wrong choice.

My old fear of heights has mellowed greatly. I can climb ladders and ledges with just enough fear to keep me cautious. I am more affected by watching a child stand close to the edge or totter up a steep staircase than I am by my own exposure.

However, those internal, “What if I’m not strong enough? Smart enough? Good enough?” fears are much more present in my life today than when I was young.

Sometimes writing what should be something simple can stop me in my tracks for days.

Indecision, another byproduct of those internal fears, is my constant companion. My indecision and I frequently battle on a wide range of topics. Most days I can beat it back to the level of rational and helpful doubt, but sometimes it creates a full-blown fear fest waste of a whole day.

Certainly, some of this new fear is due to losing that big paycheck. Like many, a big part of my identity and self worth came as a paycheck. It was a monthly concrete validation of my worth in the world. In addition to the check, that job gave me a great feeling of accomplishment, most days. (It wasn’t all roses – there were significant daily challenges- but that’s another story).

Wrapping yourself in that paycheck is just as harmful and dangerous as measuring your worth by your stuff. One of the more harmful side affects of a paycheck identity is that it invites judgment of others. I’m ashamed to say that I have thought myself better than others because I earned more. You know what it means if you earn more than someone else does? It means you make more money – period. Are you more educated, a harder worker, smarter, or more talented? Maybe, or maybe not. There are many highly educated motivated talented people doing incredible work in fields that don’t pay that well. Conversely, there are plenty of jerks, greedy un-innovative (is that a word?) people that are raking it in.

God help those who think the best measure of their worth are the numbers on their paycheck. These poor souls are just about guaranteed to be sucker punched when they retire, quit or are let go.

I won’t kid you; some moments, I would eagerly trade the new half-baked “better” me for the judgmental decisive fearless a$$hole I used to be.

I tell you this to assure you that I understand that identity change is hard; there will be setbacks. Just know if you are struggling with this, I’m right there with you – everyday. Based on my observations, I think we are in good company.

So who are you?

In this series of posts, we’ve learned:
I am not my FICO score (regardless of how good or bad the number is).
I am not my car, boat, or house.
I am not the high tech toys, nice clothes, or brand name stuff I own.
I am not my bank balance.
I am not my job and certainly not the numbers on my paycheck.

I am a greatly loved child of God.
I am a mother, a lover, a daughter, a sister, an aunt and a friend.
I am kind, dependable, trustworthy, hard working and encouraging.
I am smart, curious, adventurous, and strong.
I am brave.

There – that should beat back those fears for a bit. Now it’s your turn.

Who are you?


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Jesus doesn’t give a flip about your FICO score

by Cassie on December 17, 2012

Part 2 of 3 the part series Your Identity and Your Money. Find part 1 here and part 3 here.

Why would an otherwise rational and intelligent person chew through their retirement account to keep the mortgage paid on an upside-down house. Or borrow against their home to pay off credit cards even when they know they can’t realistically afford the payments?

The two reasons I’m most often told:

I don’t want to hurt my credit score and/or

I don’t want others to think badly of me

Both of the reasons speak to the same underlying and fundamental question: “Who are you?”

Do you think the only reason you are someone is because you live in a nice house, drive a shiny car, or have an 825 FICO score?

Having an identity that is tied to my stuff, my job, my diploma, my looks, my accomplishments (or worse my kid’s accomplishments) or anything else that has my in front of it, is building our life on a foundation of sand, right at the edge of the beach, near warm hurricane-prone waters.

It might not happen today or this week or even in the next five years, but a big storm will come and it will knock the snot out of you. If you are lucky, that tumble will force you to re-assess who you are.

If there is anything sadder and more limiting than defining yourself by your stuff or your achievements, it’s dying having never known another way.

Let’s make sure we don’t have a misunderstanding here. I think it is vitally important that you meet your obligations. You should pay your debts in full and on time. That’s what you promised to do when you signed that loan agreement and it’s important to me and I know it’s important to you that you keep your promises – right up until you can’t. When you can’t, you must find the courage to realistically and rationally evaluate the situation.

If you are borrowing from one credit card to pay another or have taken out a 401K loan or cashed out retirement savings to pay your mortgage, you (at least temporarily) can’t pay your debts.

There are people who break their promises easily; they can without a moment’s hesitation suggest strategic defaults or debt settlements when the sky darkens. But I don’t know these people.

The people I know see the clouds but insist they can handle the storm. When an illness or a job loss wreaks havoc on their ability to meet their obligations, these Pollyannas trudge on using new debt to pay their old debt, insisting things will be better soon – but they are too scared to sit down and define exactly when soon is or how things will get better. Unfortunately, for some percentage of these good people, the better will not be big enough or fast enough to avoid lasting and sometimes permanent damage.

Often it’s the fear of losing our identity that keeps us from facing our problems head-on; it makes us irrational and just plain stupid. If you puff out your chest and tell me your credit score while ignoring the fact that your net worth is negative, it’s likely you have tied some part of your identity to that number.

Instead of, “I’m Barbara and I have near perfect FICO score” try on “I’m Barbara, beloved daughter of Christ and heir to his throne” and see if that fear doesn’t fade.

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When What You Own Becomes Who You Are

December 8, 2012

Part 1 in the 3 part series Your Identity and Your Money. Find Part 2 here and Part 3 here. We all know someone, and I know I’ve been that someone, whose identity has gotten all tangled up in their stuff. When what you own becomes who you are, you become fearful of losing it; […]

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It’s Only

December 3, 2012

When you left your packed lunch in the office fridge and went out to the corner deli with your co-workers, it was only $11. But then you made that unscheduled stop at Starbucks, downloaded that song from itunes, picked up that blouse on 75% off sale and bought a new book at Target. All of […]

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Would you, could you, ride a bus?

November 23, 2012

Sometime ago I met with a single mom who could not make ends meet. Every month she was late paying several bills. This cost her a lot of money in late fees and even caused the water and electric to be turned off on several occasions. When we reviewed her bills, the payment for the […]

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