Essays & Confessions/Work/Life Balance

How I Let Go Of My Financial Perfectionism & Learned To Seek Balance

By | Wednesday, June 12, 2019

“You’ve got the discipline. You just need to learn to give yourself grace.” No truer words had ever been spoken to me than these, which my therapist had just uttered.

I don’t remember what the specific topic was that we were discussing in the moment, but I can see myself striving towards perfectionism all over my life — in my relationships, my career, and, of course, my finances. If my relationship with my partner is not 100% perfect, then I’m a failure. If my career isn’t extremely fulfilling and making me lots of money, then I’m a failure. If I still have over $70,000 of student loan debt, then, of course, I’m a failure. In my mind, there is no room for anything less than perfection.

How many of us are caught up in this cycle? How many of us have either been wired or socialized to be this way? How many of us feel like we need to prove all of those millennial-bashing articles wrong? How many of us feel like we’re in some sort of race against our peers and an internal clock telling us we’re running out of time to be successful? And…how can we still find value, fulfillment, and happiness in the face of all this pressure (whether from external or internal sources) to succeed, succeed, succeed?

The personal finance realm is littered with advocates for “gazelle-like intensity,” meaning, you run towards your goals with the same intensity as a gazelle running from danger. While I love a good pep talk and often look for motivation to keep me going towards my personal financial goals, I worry about the mental health implications of personal finance communities that encourage and praise this kind of approach to financial health. For me, it’s particularly difficult to strike a balance between going full force on debt reduction and allowing myself to enjoy my life despite my debt because finding that balance feels like I’m flying in the face of those to whom I go for financial advice. Who am I to read personal finance gurus’ advice and say that I know better? These people are supposed to be the experts, right?

Wrong. Personal finance gurus living their best, debt-free, making-millions-telling-you-how-not-to-be-poor lives are quick to tell people what to do and how to do it. But at the end of the day, it’s your life, your finances, your choice. It’s so easy to get caught up in trying to be “perfect” with your finances (i.e. having all the side hustles, saving all your money, spending none of that money unless absolutely necessary), but that’s completely unrealistic and unsustainable for most people.

In the end, you have to do what feels right, good, and reasonable for YOU. For me, this looks like:

  • Slowing down my debt repayment plan in order to go on a much-needed vacation (but paid for in cash, not on credit).
  • Leaving room in my monthly budget for going out with friends.
  • Making dog-sitting my only side hustle because there is no reason to work yourself to death to pay off debt, and dogs bring me immense happiness.
  • Still allowing myself to feel excited when my savings for the month is higher than expected, making that sweet, sweet debt pay off day one month closer.

My journey towards freedom from debt allows me to enjoy the things I love in life while still hustling towards my goals. What’s helped me find this (albeit somewhat tenuous) balance is doing my research, making a plan, and then shutting out all of the “expert” voices and adjusting my plan to make it feel good and reasonable to me. Clearly, though, I don’t have all the answers. I still have to take a step back from time to time in order to reset and make sure I’m still pursuing my #debtfree goals in a way that honors my overall health.

What seems right to me, won’t be right for the next person. So, I’d love to know: how do you strike a balance and give yourself grace in the face of financial perfectionism?

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Courtney Frost is a born and raised Californian currently living in Louisiana. When she’s not helping college students pursue their career dreams, she’s reading, eating, gym-ing, and trying to give her goldendoodle, Ollie, his best life.

Image via Unsplash

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