The truth: Yeah, I was a hot mess during the 1980s. I made mistakes. But in an effort to a) show how much I've grown, b) how much I've accomplished and c) how funny I was back-in-the-day, I've often created a public and private image of my 1980s self that was glib and superficial. In many of my past posts, I've loudly complained about my inner shopping diva.
The truth: I was more than a space cadet, bubble head, airhead or even a diva. In fact, I owe a lot to the girl I was. Here's the balance sheet:
1. The shopping trips: I acquired more than tissue paper and cloth when I shopped 'til I dropped during the 1980s. I learned about seasonal discounts, comparison shopping and the hidden dangers of credit-card debt. And I learned to recognize the warning signs of emotional spending.
2. The low savings rate: Spin it this way. My financial mistakes were actually investments in a valuable hands-on monetary education. A comparable MBA course on personal finance would have cost thousands of dollars. I acquired that same knowledge by acquiring stuff and adventures. I was experimenting with money. And yes, some of my fiscal experiments were far-fetched, short-sighted or downright wacky. But my 20-something adventures yielded a deep reverence for the bottom line in money, relationships and personal growth.
3. Recognition of smart moves: During the 1980s, I changed careers by moving from broadcast journalism to the print media; I moved to New York City and I began learning about the craft of creative writing. Those career moves yielded concrete financial gains and personal satisfaction. I learned to take risks.
4. My rented homes: In hindsight, I realize that I've paid a fortune in rent. But the lack of home-ownership facilitated a nomad career, a creative spirit and financial flexibility.
5. Self-acceptance: For quite awhile, I've had bitter regrets about past financial and personal decisions. And I've secretly resented my younger self for making errors in judgment. But it's all a matter of choice and perspective. I can stay in a debtors' prison of regret and self-accusations or I can increase the value of old accounts by reviewing the past with fresh and forgiving eyes. I can constantly ask myself:
- What can I learn from this?
- How can I improve?
- What can I do better next time?
- What did I do right?
- How can I make amends?
- And finally, how can I let go and move on?
My 20-something self taught me the value of finding lessons in every moment and every action. Past mistakes have tutored me on the real value of life: It's not what we have or save or earn. Knowledge is the real asset. Self-awareness is the best real estate. (I have to know where I really live.) And gratitude is wealth.
Sharon Harvey Rosenberg is the author of The Frugal Duchess of South Beach:How to Live Well and Save Money... Anywhere!, which will be published in the Spring of 2008 by DPL Press.