Journal: Eliminating Debt & Enjoying Life

by Dan Walsh

I was struck by the club of melancholy twice over the past two weeks. Thankfully I am growing adept at recognizing the cause of such negative emotions, and teasing them apart in search of personal insight. These two instances were no exception, and I feel the lessons learned are worth recording digitally.

Ironically, the first gloom settled on me after watching this fantastic video of Atomic Tom covering Don’t You Want Me.

The second instance occurred after reading a very positive email from a friend I haven’t seen in some month. In it, she told me about her upcoming surfing trip, a road trip she was planning for this summer, that she had begun training for a marathon. These are all great things, and I was very happy for her. Despite the positive overtones of both her email and the music video, I was somewhat depressed. But why?

They both held a mirror to my own recent activities, and I was confronted with the knowledge that I have not accomplished much, nor had THAT kind of rowdy fun in some time. Indeed, I felt as if I had frittered away the last few months of my life. Unacceptable.

I should note that I have not been unhappy by any degree. In fact, the first four months have been some of the happiest in my life, due mostly to an adoring and caring girlfriend, and my still-somewhat-new job which I enjoy very much. I had grown comfortable in my happiness, and everyone should be allowed this from time to time. But happiness has never sparked a revolution.

Much good came from this reflection, and I realized that the chief reason for my minimal accomplishments (apart from comfort in life) was my credit card debt. It weighed on me heavily and informed a great number of my decisions. Many opportunities to have rowdy fun, or new experiences were squashed by my desire to limit frivolous spending so that I might put that money toward my credit card. Despite these efforts and lost opportunities, my credit card continued to hold a substantial balance. This debt also seemed to push my dream of living abroad further into the future. It kept me a slave to the status quo. I’m not often a fan of the status quo.

I also realized that this debt was absorbing my time, as well as my money. I spent many hours working for freelance clients as a way to earn extra cash, thereby expediting the payment of my credit card. This work did little to improve my design skills, nor was I very passionate about any of the projects. I was spending my time furthering others’ goals so that I could financially free myself, yet I was not charging enough to do so.

I promptly vowed to not take on anymore clients. I would no longer put the dreams of others in front of my own. I also surveyed my various financial holdings and learned a very valuable lesson in focus and consolidation: the power of anything, but especially time and money, is magnified when consolidated. (More on this in the future.) Through various financial maneuverings, I was able to pay off almost all of my credit card debt in a single day (almost $7,000).

With a very heavy financial weight lifted, I set about to determine what accomplishments would make me feel good about my progress in life again. The selection criteria was more nuanced than this, but a down and dirty model was to discern what would be fun to brag about to a stranger at a cocktail party.

I came up with three goals that I would pursue above all others. I had made little progress in my judo training, so I decided that I MUST sign up for a tournament – which I did that night. I also resolved that I MUST begin making and exhibiting my art again. Finally, I NEEDED to finish a web project that has been hanging over my head for the past three or four months. These three items would provide me with physical, mental, and creative accomplishments of which I would be THRILLED to brag about to strangers :)

My next three goals will be to publish a book of short stories, get my ass up on stage and try my hand at stand up comedy, and FINALLY learn how to swim.