YOLO vs. Savings
A few days ago, I sat down to tackle my “don’t-want-to-ever-do-but-know-I-have-to-to-do” list while the morning talk show was still playing on my TV in the background. In one last attempt to procrastinate the inevitable, I grabbed yet another cup of coffee while I watched an interview of a young man named Charlie, who’d almost lost his life in a gruesome shark attack. His story was one of miracles mixed with courage, and I found myself in awe of his newfound gratitude for life. This survivor was now living each day as if it could be his last. How. Freaking. Amazing.
As I watched this heroic man, I realized that I loved the idea of finding life by escaping death. It sounded so sexy, so satisfying, so worth the “I-nearly-lost-my-life” experience. I imagined the people that had been confronted by death to have their priorities in perfect order. I saw them making total and complete sense out of everything in their lives. I’d seen this happen in the movies, I’d read about in books, I’d sung along to Tim McGraw’s Live Like You Were Dying in my car, and I’d thought- man, I wish I could’ve had a near-death experience. That would’ve for sure put things into a crystal-clear perspective. Oh, but wait. I had.
Cancer threatened to take my life away from me three separate times. Each time, with the help of my big brother’s stem cell donations, I was able to emerge victoriously. But yet, there I was, a living miracle, but still staring at a pile of bills and stressed out about my outstanding balance on my credit card. Nothing about my mounting debt seemed to fit into the YOLO lifestyle.
July 5, 2010. Day of my 2nd bone marrow transplant.
In the spirit of Charlie the survivor, I decided to pick up the phone and proactively take control of my finances.
“It’s a beautiful day here at Wells Fargo. My name is Stewart. I’ll be your personal financial advisor for the length of this phone call. To whom do I have the pleasure of speaking?”
With shame hanging in my voice, I introduced myself to Personal Financial Advisor Stewart and explained to him that I had credit card debt. Even as I was telling myself to turn the conversation back over to Financial Advisor Stewart, I felt the words continuing to pour out of my mouth.
“See, Stewart, I used to be good with numbers. I’ve never had this kind of debt before, but then I was diagnosed with this crazy cancer that just wouldn’t go away. Then it came back when my daughter was two, and my son was just five weeks old, and it rocked my world. So, my debt is really only because I’m deeply worried that I won’t have many chances to do the things I want to do, the things I NEED to do, with my children. I desperately want them to know their mom, and I need them to remember me. See, Stewart, the money I’ve spent on making memories may look like credit card debt on paper, but it is only because I don’t have the luxury of being conservative with my time.”
Stewart was silent for a few moments before transferring me over to the personal loan application line. My Personal Financial Advisor had officially become uncomfortable with the emotional debt that I had just bestowed onto him. With a weary sigh, I hung up the phone.
As I moved my credit card bill to the bottom of the I-don’t-want-to-do pile, I glanced back up at the TV. The morning show had moved on to a segment focused on retirement savings. As I listened to the financial expert, I felt myself growing angry. What a luxury it must be to put money away for the future strategically. Those people were able to save for life while I’d been consumed with actually saving my life.
Living responsibly and saving for the future is infinitely tricky for someone who has just had their “certain” future taken from them. True, remission bought more time, but sometimes hearing you are in remission can be as scary as finding out you have cancer. Both are unknown, both are unpredictable, and both have total power and control over your body.
Cancer patients in remission are like divers in a deep sea. Neither one knows when they will run out of oxygen. It is this uncertainty that drives the primal desire to make every moment count. We feel we must celebrate the life we fought so hard to keep. Why would I save for retirement when I could do that awesome, incredible, this-is-why-I-fought-so-hard-to-live thing right now??
With the kids in Hawaii
Emerging from our individual challenges may not always translate into the golden YOLO life and in fact, may become more of a dark weight than a well-lit path to freedom. For me, it is a bit of both- darkness mixed with light, gratitude combined with fear, the discipline of retirement savings right next to the impulse for immediate memory-making gratification.
I wish I could say I have this post-cancer life figured out, but nine years in remission later, I just don’t. I do know I have more anxiety, more fear, less structured, and way more joy. For as many challenges as my life now holds, I’ve found it balances out with laughter from my kids, hugs from my husband or face licks from my dogs. Because now, when I see my kids walking towards my car after a long day at school, I see past their hungry faces and homework stuffed backpacks and focus instead on the incredible gift I’ve been given in that moment of borrowed time. It’s the gift of pure, blinding, insane gratitude wrapped up in the true gift of love.
I wonder if this is what Shark Attack Survivor Charlie meant when he said he lived to make the most out of life. For a brief moment, I wonder how his financial spreadsheet looked. Had his balance been disrupted by the need to live and love in the now? I think about Financial Advisor Stewart and wonder if he has ever allowed himself to throw monetary caution to the wind and give in to the impulsive pull of the now. I thought about the other cancer patients I‘d met during my journey and remembered what they’d said they would do if and when they made it out of the hospital. I wondered if they were alive and doing them.
Serious illness or not, we’ve all fought for the lives we are currently living. Some battles are easier to define. Others blend into everyday occurrences. It is impossible to compare human suffering- we all have it. And we all try to strategically manage a balance between the pain and the joy that simultaneously fill our days.
Pain and joy. Joy and life. Life and breath.
Shark attack survivor paired with the financially responsible saver.
YOLO mixed with deferred gratification.
Living through saving.
Saving on the road to dying.
And through it all, balancing the spreadsheets of our lives with enough hope, hugs, and face licks to make the good fight worth living.
In love and hope,