When I was $48,000 in debt, life beyond that balance was just a dream. Now that I only owe $9,500, I can see light at the end of the tunnel. Life beyond debt seems so possible, so real, that I’ve let that feeling take over. It’s almost as if I’m done paying off the debt, when I am very clearly not finished. Still, I find myself less interested in stringent debt repayment and more invested in all the dreams I had for after the debt.
I believe deeply in dreaming beyond your debt. I believe in finding low-cost ways to nurture your dreams while you pay off your debt. But, I find myself a little too lost in those dreams when I’ve got a sure distance yet to travel. I can’t “get cocky and slack off,” as Rebecca Webber says in her 2014 article for Psychology Today. “You must maintain your vigor,” she says, in the face of the possible complacency that can infect your progress.
“With long-term goals, you have to watch that you don’t get complacent,” says Peter Gollwitzer in the same article. For months, I’ve been making huge strides, tracking my improvement, and celebrating my gains. One great gain: the easing up of stress from carrying a huge debt load. Now that the debt is smaller, I have more attention to focus on creative endeavors. I’ve been giving an awful lot of brain space to those projects, which means I haven’t been giving the debt payoff as much mental focus as before.
It’s that mental focus that made the current progress possible. Without it, my debt is left…hanging with a balance.
The balance is $9,500 at the moment. That’s amazing – considering that ten months ago, it was $48,000. But, even with that startling reduction, the truth is this: $9,500 is still debt. It’s still a balance. It’s still a hole.
Yet I’m able to ignore it more easily. “It’s only a little debt,” I find myself thinking.
And that’s where trouble begins.
I don’t want trouble. I want freedom. If paying off this much debt has released this much stress, and made it possible to give my creative work this much more attention, then I need to focus on what it will be like when the balance is $0.
When the balance is $0, then I can take on more writing projects – and finish my creative writing ones. When the balance is $0, I’ll feel better about throwing some cash at furniture and other items for a new home. When the balance is $0, only then will I be able to concentrate on building content for another website that I’m excited to share.
I can do all of these things with a balance of $9,500, but why would I want to? If I let that $9,500 win, by letting it live, by letting it linger, then wouldn’t the past ten months have been kind of a waste?
It would be another abandoned project, and no one wants that for themselves. I remember once, when I was a college sophomore and doubting the value of my education, a dear friend said, “You have to finish your degree at least to prove to yourself that you can finish something.” Some years later, I heard a similar sentiment repeated by an employer. If you can graduate college, you can finish projects. You can see things through.
There are many projects that I want to complete. That’s what I dream of beyond the debt. But wiping out the debt is a dream that I want to see through ’til the end, as well. I’m almost done. I’ve busted down enough of the wall to see a way through. It’s $9,500 between me and the freedom to pursue life beyond debt. When the balance is $0, there won’t be a brick left to hold me back. I’ll step over what was once a wall. By then, that wall will become one of my favorite projects. By then, it will be my biggest triumph.