Shining Light On Hidden Sorrows
We often harbor sorrow, regret, self-blame, and shame for things we’ve done and, even more often, things we haven’t done: the degree we never completed; the career dream we abandoned; the relationship we let slip away. Some of these can be so painful, we can’t even acknowledge that they are true—we simply block them out of our minds. Once in a while, that complete denial can really backfire.
Twenty-five years ago, I realized I was rapidly approaching retirement and I was unprepared. It was a regret/shame wound that hurt so much, I could only deal with it by refusing to notice the passing of months and years and two decades of “I’ll get started saving any minute now.” At age 45, my wife and I finally came to and realized there was no longer time to put it off. With the help of more experienced people, we created a plan and stuck to it. It worked. We became so committed to having a joyful, well-funded retirement that we didn’t slip back into the comfort of denial and, one day, there was enough. A huge piece of that was educating ourselves about money and retirement, getting all the support we could find, telling everyone about our plan so that we didn’t slip back into the hiding/shame cycle, and prayer. And more prayer. And a little more prayer. I most remember praying for commitment and consciousness, and if it was possible, for it to progress with ease, and I was blessed with all of that.
Now my wife, Suzanne Lorenz, and I conduct workshops on retirement for people who have been in that same old pattern of putting it off in hopes of the one magic solution that will save them. We offer all the experience we have, some of what we learned and did, and we encourage people to use prayer for guidance, focus, and support. Here are some of the things we did:
Do not make it worse: don’t ever use unsecured credit again (credit cards, personal loans, signature loans)
Determine your top ten values. The obvious values will be food, clothing, shelter, and safety. What else is really important to you? As much as possible, use what money you do have to support those top ten values.
Do some research on where the least costly areas to live might be, but don’t move before you:
Identify what your areas of expertise/knowledge are—we will always get paid more for what we know than what we do. Can you do that work if you move to a less-costly area of the country? Can you do that work remotely? Is there any kind of work that brings you joy? Look there first.
Stay in community; reach out and find the services that can benefit seniors (AARP often posts emails about jobs, free entertainment and services, etc.) Other seniors will know what other benefits are available locally and nationally.
Consider alternative living styles—get a roommate, use your home as an AirBNB or VRBO, join a food co-op.
Create a spending plan so that the income you have is used most effectively. Stick to the spending plan. A good spending plan acknowledges and funds quality of life categories, as well as survival (movies, self-care, trips, etc.) The amount that goes into those categories each month may be painfully small but, do it anyway. It may take a few months to save enough to go out to dinner, but you will really appreciate it when you can go out and pay with cash that you set aside specifically for that purpose. If you don’t know how to create a spending plan, get some help. You might try Consumer Credit Council, Debtors Anonymous (this organization can really teach you a lot of useful information and behaviors), or any financial support group.
If you need to forgive yourself for reaching this moment unprepared, do it. If you need some help, there are free and low-cost therapy services or spiritual guidance in most places.
Find free or low-cost ways to enrich your life. Be in nature whenever possible. Join a spiritual community. Help others.
Don’t let your financial situation define you. Many wealthy people were poor at some point. They aren’t smarter than you, more talented than you, or luckier than you. If they could do it, you might be able to as well. Give it all your effort.
Whenever you come upon an area of regret or sorrow, the same approach can work: admit it to yourself, then admit it to others. Find people who are already doing the thing you regret not doing and ask them to teach you what they can. If there are other ways to learn, do them. Don’t hide. It didn’t work so far, and it won’t work again. And, if you’re willing, try prayer. Here is a prayer I love that has often helped me. You can borrow it.
Divine, please bring this wound into the light and help me find love for it. I’ve hidden this long enough and I now want to move it from shame to a place of honor and commitment. I will accept all the help and guidance you will give. Thank you.
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