Apples to Apples

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I had a discussion today with a friend about feeling behind in the game of life. Call me a cliche, but entering my third decade came with some comparisons to where I feel I “should” be. I realize that there is no such thing as hard and fast rules as to where anyone “should” be in life and I believe these ideas are all societal constructs that should be abandoned so we could all embrace living happily on our own terms, yaddi yadda, but there are a lot of things I wanted on my own terms that I haven’t achieved yet. Being over 60k in debt by age 30 with nary an asset to show for it is not where I wanted to be. Mind you, I’m not the white picket fence type and I will never want a three-story detached in the suburbs, but I envisioned being out of debt, have a decent stock portfolio and owning an investment property I’m renting out or getting ready to flip. I didn’t want to be maxed out with memories of bad decisions keeping me up at night.

Please know I don’t think having ones financial life in order is a one-way ticket to happiness (although I’ll never discount the increase of peace of mind and the decrease of stress that arises from it) and I always try to live my life with the knowledge that joy must come from within and in the present, but I can’t help but feel down sometimes. I had a discussion with a friend today about how recently an acquaintance told me that she bought her first house – she’s 25…and houses in Toronto now average at over $950,000. I’m thrilled for this woman and fiercely proud of her accomplishment. While she’s been working away, minding her pennies and aligning her priorities to be able to get a down payment, I was drinking cocktails and partying in Vegas.

I generally don’t get caught up with the green monster and am not naturally inclined to envy others  – but I often use others’ successes as a mirror in which I judge myself. My friend who I shared this story news with gave me some tough love about my choices, but then softened up and asked me something simple but thought-provoking – “are you comparing apples to apples?” Our new home-owning friend hasn’t ever paid for board, had her education covered, and hasn’t been in a position to be responsible for basics from groceries to detergent. Can I truly say I’m in the same boat when I’ve been paying  rent and all living costs for 12 years, funded all my university and have never had a parent pay one of my bills since I was 14?

Before this appears to be a sob story (it’s not), I want to say I feel the need to share it because I occasionally feel I may have a rockier journey by not coming from a family with money, and I know I’m not the only one out there who comes from a household that had to struggle. I don’t ‘pity’ myself one iota – I have a strong sense of “suck it up, if I hustle I’ll still get everything I desire from life” – but certain factors make me doubt myself and how quickly I can realize my dreams. I’ll read some of my favourite blogs and think “dang, how could s/he pay off so much of their debt that quickly??” and then realize that person lived at home and therefore (likely) wasn’t/isn’t paying the same amount in rent and the grocery/utility/household bills I would. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with moving back home and letting the parentals help out when you’re trying to better yourself – and its certainly not easy to move back home as an adult! I’m just not from a situation where that could be a reality for me – when I moved in with my mom for a couple years a few years back, we split everthing 50/50. She was very willing to take over more of the costs of living but I couldn’t let it happen – my mother is self-employed and in a single-income household and should be focusing on putting as much as possible towards her retirement, and not looking after her adult children…especially the one that got into debt due to poor spending decisions. I got myself into this mess,  I should get myself out.

To tie this back to the acquaintance with the new house, my friend got me thinking about if I’m really comparing apples to apples if I’m looking at myself next to someone whose life journey has started with very different financial origins. I feel like I’ve been so determined to never let my humble beginnings be neither a hurdle nor a crutch that I’ve forgotten that maybe sometimes I need to be more kind to myself – not out of pity but just to respect the situation I come from. To acknowledge without letting it overpower or dictate where I’m destined to go. That instead of comparing myself to anyone – whether they are from a similar background or not – that the only measuring stick I should use is who I was yesterday and see if I can be a better person today. That beautiful and magnanimous things can happen when instead of looking out, I look within and become the best version of myself. That many rags-to-riches stories come from those that didn’t grade themselves on benchmarks set by others but by creating new ones. So to all those lone wolves out there – we can do this. Steadily and consistently, we can lay our own safety net to keep us safe as we leap over to the other side.

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