Guest Post: How the fear of debt stopped me from being a writer

My friend Sarah is writing a series for me about procrastination. Specifically, the reasons she has procrastinated about following her Grand Dream of becoming a writer. I’m really grateful to her for being so honest. And I’m sure (like me) you’ll find something to relate to in her attitude to money and debt. I'd love to hear if you think similarly.

 Sometimes you become aware of something about yourself in an unexpected way.

When I worked for a while supporting elderly people in the community, I was disconcerted to find that I identified with the hoarding habits of these residents; the way that they did a lot of parceling up in order to preserve, protect or save stuff.

Leftover bits of food in the fridge with rubber bands. Keeping old clothes and tearing them into strips to be used for cleaning. These old dears had lived through the strict rationing of two world wars, had ‘kept calm and carried on’ amidst the tsunami of grief, and had then been served up another double whammy of depression for their efforts.

But what was my excuse for being a bit of a hoarder?

My story is a little unusual. I grew up as an expatriate in a third world country, seeing extreme poverty at close hand. I also knew what it was like to not be as well off as the rest of the community I was in. I felt conspicuous due to the absence of certain status symbols such as the right car and fashionable clothes. (Really, it’s never about how much you don’t have, it’s how much everyone else has got – or at least, the ‘everyone else’ in your own field of vision.) This condition is known as ‘Relative Deprivation’.

I’m digressing from the topic of procrastinating, you’ll notice, but I’ve got an alibi for that, of course. After all, I am a procrastinator!

Back to it.

In these posts I’m writing about why I am so good at procrastinating when it comes to ‘pursuing my art’ and doing some writing.

In my last post, I talked about all the different reasons procrastinators come up with for procrastinating. I decided to focus on the most tangible excuse to begin with – that of pure economics. 

I also touched on the fear of debt – but I think it warrants more attention, so here goes.

Seeing so many different extremes of existence meant that I have never taken what I have for granted. This is good, of course. But it has given me a conflicted relationship with money, and the owning of money.  

I have longed to give every last bit I’ve got to improve the life of others who are less lucky than me, while at exactly the same time desperately press my nose against shop windows and salivate over sweatshop-generated trainers.  I can relate to both; the need to share, the need to belong. Is it the same thing – we want to have the same as everyone else and we want everyone else to have the same as us?

Obviously it’s more than this.

Not getting into debt, earning your own keep and being in a position to pay your own way in life is about having a sense of control over one’s environment. I have not forgotten the deep and intense struggle to get a job after graduating.  That feeling of falling into a bottomless chasm between worlds.

In the village where my parents first settled in Pakistan, we lived in close proximity to land labourers. They were virtual slaves to big, feudal-style land owners who maintained these workers in a cycle of perpetual debt.

The system still exists today, and no amount of humanitarian aid or UN conventions seems to make any difference. In the past three years, many of these communities have also been afflicted by the extreme floods which made global headlines and attracted some attention to their situation. However, as far back as I remember, they have lived with recurring droughts and floods.

I would see these people from the car window; whole families, working across acres of fertile land. I knew that at the end of the day, their hard-earned money would never belong to them. This was something that I could not accept and it began to shape in me a heightened sense of injustice. I lived with a constant sense of ‘Why me?’ But it wasn’t ‘why do I have all this suffering?’ It was ‘why do I get to be better off than all those people?’

I was probably also influenced by my parents’ attitude to money. They planned carefully, spent cautiously and had a ‘waste not, want not’ attitude. Both had grown up in frugal households in the aftermath of two world wars. Both came from families who underwent significant the loss of money, status and land which was still fresh enough in the familial memory to create a legacy of pervasive anxiety for the next generation.

My only surviving grandparent was also a strong influence on me. I loved spending time in her company and absorbed all sorts of useful common sense on how to survive, quite literally, on a shoe string. I watched her conjure up the lightest, crispiest pancakes ever from one egg and with the help of a blunted silver spoon. (She had used it since before my dad existed and refused to use anything else).  While she did this she spun engaging anecdotes of how she recycled my granddad’s threadbare trousers into 4 pairs of shorts for her sons. (“If I cut it out right, there was always just enough material to go round, with not an inch to spare”!)  

The fear of debt is just one of the many fears and anxieties I have allowed to cloud my focus and, without really realizing it, to become another reason for not following my heart.  When I look back, it is still difficult to say what I would do differently if I had the chance.  I don’t think this worry about money was enough in itself. I think it’s more about the interplay with other corrosive factors, in particular the train crash of my teenage years, and the resulting impact of this on my sense of self.

So perhaps this is what I need to look at in my next reflection... if I am ever going to get to the bottom of it all. And that will take courage and perhaps even longer to get around to writing – but hey, I’m in the water now!


Has something gotten in the way of your own Grand Dreams? What’s your reason for procrastination?

You might also like this: Practical tips to Stop Procrastinating

photo credit: Mukumbura via photopin cc
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