I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time thinking back on decisions I made five or ten or fifteen years ago and wondering where I’d be today if I’d done things differently. Especially decisions related to money and career. What if I hadn’t gone to grad school? What if I hadn’t taken out any student loans? What if I’d put $100—or more—into my Roth IRA every month consistently for the past ten years?
Obviously these questions are impossible to answer (except the Roth IRA one; there are definitely calculators for that). But I still find myself wondering about them a lot. I have this sort of image in my mind of diverging paths in a forest: I turned onto one path, and another, and another, and now I’m on a totally different side of the mountain than I would have been otherwise, and my life has totally deviated from what it would have been, and at this point it would take a wormhole (or a Portkey) to transport me over to the other side (cue Adele).
You know what’s interesting though? Let’s say I put on my boots and go for a walk outside in the snow for a few minutes, just to get some fresh air, and as I’m walking I notice my breath in front of my face and the way the bare maple branches look against the sky, and I hear dogs barking in the park on the next block over, and just for a couple of moments I totally forget that I owe about $57,000 in student loans, and instead I’m just really happy to be alive and outside.
So here’s my question. In those few moments, what’s the difference between the theoretical me on the other side of the mountain, the one who made all the super smart financial decisions, and the real me, the one who I actually am today, the one who is going to be spending years paying off this debt?
Well, nothing really.
Okay, so maybe the other me would live on a different street or even in a different city, and maybe she would notice pine trees instead of maple trees or hear children playing instead of dogs barking. But the experience of taking a walk under the sky and breathing fresh air would be, in its essence, exactly the same.
Moments like these—moments when my alternate life and my actual life suddenly and temporarily unite into a single entity—are what I would call points of convergence.
I experience points of convergence every day, even many times per day. Drinking coffee at my dining room table in the morning sun. Taking a hot shower. Cooking an egg. Walking to the bus stop. Even though my loans are a big deal, and even though I think about them frequently and they have caused me a great deal of anxiety, somehow there are still many, many moments when I’m having essentially the same experience that I would be having even if my financial situation were totally different. (Side note: the reason I would still be walking to the bus stop even if I had lots more money is because I heart public transportation.)
Because I enjoy making visuals in PowerPoint, here’s what my convergence pattern might look like over the course of a typical day:
So if my life with $57,000 worth of debt contains so many moments that are so similar to my theoretical, alternate, other-side-of-the-mountain life without $57,000 of debt, why do I worry about the debt so much? I know money is a real and powerful force in the world, but from a certain standpoint it can seem sort of imaginary—like a kind of collective fantasy we’re all agreeing to go along with—and sometimes I wonder if maybe the debt is a figment of my imagination and the moments of convergence are the Real Moments. (Kind of in the same way that we can’t prove that our dreams aren’t real: maybe they are, and it’s our waking hours that are actually the illusion.)
I suppose there are at least two reasons why I experience so much convergence these days.
- I’m very fortunate in that I currently have everything I need in order to be healthy and comfortable on a day-to-day basis. If I didn’t have enough money to pay my rent or buy groceries, or if I had kids and didn’t have enough money to take care of them properly, the stress and anxiety stemming from those situations would probably make the points of convergence fewer and farther between. I will also say that because I’m currently unemployed and living off savings, I’ve had a lot of time lately to do things like take leisurely walks in the snow (although I am starting a new job in three weeks, so that situation will soon change).
- Much of the problem with having $57,000 worth of debt has to do not with my current life but with my future. The debt may feel sort of imaginary right now, but it will eventually come to bear in a very real way on questions like when, or if, I will be able to retire.
But that all being said, it’s not the future yet. It’s now. And even though of course the debt is real and of course I’m going to pay it off, in the meantime I’m aiming for as many points of convergence as possible. In fact, right now as you read this, there’s a fairly good possibility that I’m outside taking a walk in the snow, out where the sky is just as blue and the air is just as crisp and cold as it would be if I had no debt at all.
Have you ever noticed moments of convergence like this? When? Where? By the way, if the concept of diverging financial paths resonates with you, you should also check out Cait’s awesome post on choosing your own financial adventure!
And finally, if you’re new to this blog, you may not realize it, but this is the first time I’ve shared the actual amount that I owe in student loans. It’s a little scary to type out the number, but I think it’s an important part of my journey in facing and getting rid of the debt.