“You know, Mrs. Frugalwoods, a lot of people think you really have your stuff together but the truth is, you don’t and none of us do.” My good friend Shannon of Financially Blonde said this to me last week while we were shooting the breeze about life and I thought: wow, yes! Shannon always keeps it real, which I deeply appreciate.
And she’s completely right, none of us is 100%, totally, completely, and entirely in control of our lives. It just ain’t possible. It’s supremely ironic for me that people think I have it together when in fact, one of my greatest weaknesses is comparing myself to other people who I perceive have it together… it’s sort of a bizarre cycle, no?
The key for me in combatting this cycle is accepting imperfection and ambiguity. The other key is consistently expressing gratitude (not necessarily out loud, that’d get old) for how awesome my life is.
Getting caught up in trying to emulate someone else’s seemingly perfect existence is, by definition, a flawed endeavor. And every time I do it, I bring anxiety into my life. Sure, there are valuable lessons to learn from others, but it’s crucial that I create my own set of norms and systems for what works for me–in other words, I have to live my authentic truth.
Living My Authentic Life
The concept that I’m living my own authentic truth is a lesson I have to remind myself of daily, especially as Mr. FW and I prepare for the arrival of Babywoods (8 weeks to go!). We know we’re newbie parents–it’s no surprise to us that we’re going to be underprepared, overwhelmed, exhausted, and doing things wrong. Yet despite internalizing these indisputable facts, I still feel guilty that I’m not prepared enough or educated enough or emotionally mature enough for our baby.
Sometimes I wake up in a cold sweat–well let’s be honest, I wake up to go to the bathroom 10,000 times a night anyway–fretting that we don’t have enough long-sleeved onesies for our daughter. We do (I just counted them).
Tellingly, my fears are almost always centered around a very finite ridiculous focal point, such as long-sleeved onesies or decluttering… Why? Because they’re masking my larger concerns about our baby: will she be healthy? Are we equipped to lovingly care for her? Will she grow up to be a confident, happy, intelligent, independent person?
Clearly onesies are not the issue, but it’s much easier for my addled pregnant brain to focus on a perceived problem that’s easily remedied. And I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I can’t do much at this stage to ensure that Babywoods will thrive to her fullest potential, but I can wash and sort her hand-me-down clothes and carefully stack them in her bureau (found by the side of the road and refinished by Mr. Frugalwoods, might I add).
Transforming anxiety into proactivity does a great deal to assuage my fears. Finding a tangible outlet for these emotions is more productive than reducing self to tears (which, to be honest, also happens).
Having Confidence In Myself
And hey, maybe Babywoods doesn’t have enough long-sleeved onesies. But that’s ok too–we’ll figure it out. Having the confidence in myself, and in Mr. FW and me as a team, to navigate the challenges of parenthood is perhaps the only true way to be prepared for what’s ahead.
We’re organizing the house, we’ve washed and folded all of her things, Mr. FW is cooking meals to freeze in advance (hat tip to everyone who shared a recipe!), I have a slate of delightful guest posts scheduled for you all to enjoy here on Frugalwoods, we have family coming to visit after her birth, we took a prepared childbirth class this past Saturday, and I’ve read approximately 1,439 books on parenting and infant care. But we still can’t anticipate all of the amazing experiences and challenges we’ll encounter with our daughter.
Something that’s been particularly difficult for me to swallow is the onslaught of baby advice we’ve received from well-meaning friends, relatives, and acquaintances. I appreciate their care and concern, and I’ve learned a great deal by listening to them, but I get the feeling that I’ll never be able to absorb and apply all of this advice. And, I won’t. Mr. FW, in his classically zen worldview, takes it all in, considers it, and then breathes it out without allowing it to stress him. I, on the other hand, fret, internalize it, and wonder if our crib mattress really is breathable enough (what if she flips herself facedown in the middle of the night and can’t respirate???). One of the many things that keeps me up at night.
The Danger Of Offering Advice
Receiving all of this advice causes me to reflect on the advice that I dish out to other people. I’ve definitely been guilty of waxing poetic about frugality, yoga, hiking, and any number of other things I conceitedly consider myself an “expert” on. Whoops.
Frequently in offering advice or guidance, we inadvertently make people feel guilty if they don’t happen to be on the same life trajectory. It’s very easy to judge others and assume the dogmatic stance that we know best. And we probably do–the key is that we know what works best for ourselves. But it’s kind of fun for us, as flawed humans, to feel superior to others. I think this is a totally natural emotion–it’s just a question of whether or not we choose to indulge it.
Seeing someone else writhe in guilt makes us feel powerful and smart. But not for long–the guilt soon transfers back to us and we end up wallowing over our gloating. It’s a bad cycle, man. Rather than guilt one another, what if we always seek to support and encourage? I’d really like to get to a place where that’s my consistent worldview and it’s a daily project for me. Because I know how it feels to be judged.
When I’m criticized, I usually lash out and create a dynamic of defensiveness whereby I find myself scrambling to justify my choices. But in reality, I don’t need to. No one needs to. As long as you’re living your authentic truth, it’s no one else’s business how you go through your day. This is precisely why I don’t judge other people’s spending, and why I don’t offer a prescription for the “one right way” to financial independence or financial peace. First of all, it doesn’t exist and second of all, who am I to say I know what’ll work for you. All I can genuinely do is share what works for me.
As Babywoods’ birth nears, and my baby bump becomes ever-more apparent (hey, I finally started looking actually pregnant at 7 months!), I know the well-intended advice will ramp up. But I’m going to put myself in a frame of mind to accept it gratefully since it almost always comes from a place of wanting to help and support. At the same time, I’m going to remain confident in Mr. FW’s and my ability to figure out what’s best for our daughter and our family (with probably a lot of help from the internet… after all, we’re already pros at googling things like “are grapes safe for greyhounds to eat?”).
Your Money, Your Plan
It’s a tad ironic for me to write that no one can tell you how to properly manage your money since I sort of do that here on Frugalwoods, but bear with me. I honestly don’t think anyone can tell you precisely what’ll work best for your personal financial situation. What I value and what I spend on probably isn’t identical to your values and your spending. It’d be kinda weird if it was.
The real danger is in flailing around (financially or otherwise) without a concrete plan. Your plan doesn’t need to even remotely resemble anyone else’s, but having a plan is pretty darn paramount.
What is a plan? I think it entails a goal, whether it’s longterm (such as achieving financial independence by a certain date) or an ongoing, evolving aspiration (like attaining your definition of financial stability). I think a viable plan has action items, tactics, strategies, and check-in points. And I think it’s uniquely tailored to your personality and your own individual situation. Don’t try and retrofit someone else’s plan–create your own.
Reason #5,679 Why “Keeping Up With The Joneses” Is Dumb
The longer I live, the more people I talk to, and the more experiences I have, the more I realize that we’re all seriously imperfect creatures carving out an existence here on earth. We have no idea of the internal struggles other people are enduring and it’s SO EASY to look at someone else’s seemingly ideal life and start comparing myself (unfavorably, might I add).
Then I feel jealousy creep in, which leads to anger, which leads to guilt over feeling jealous in the first place… and suddenly I’m mired in a haze of discontent, which I created entirely myself (thanks a lot, self). Lunacy I tell you! Yet I still do it.
And that’s the inherent flaw of lifestyle inflation. When we fall into the trite ‘keeping up with the Joneses’ trope, we’re working to emulate a purely external reflection of someone else’s vision of success and happiness. There’s a strong push in our society for everyone to conform and fit into boxes, but that’s patently ridiculous. We’re all fiercely unique and expecting our lives to mirror one another’s is a classic exercise in futility. So, let’s all be confident in our distinct selves and hey, I bet we’ll all save a lot more money and uncover much deeper happiness in the process. Just a hunch I have.