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How to Appreciate the Pain of Financial Problems

Coming out of consumer debt (car, credit card, student loans) was an extremely painful experience for me. In fact, I intentionally allowed it to be more painful than necessary by going through the process faster and cutting expenses more deeply. While yes, that’s bordering sadism, my goal was, and still is, to never go back in debt again…EVER!

Although this occurred years ago, I have no problem remembering that discouraging period vividly.

The sacrifices I made, the feelings I sometimes hurt by saying no, and the immense amount of work required to bring my freedom into fruition are all seared into my memory. In short, I am forever scarred by the experience, and that’s fine with me!

Here are 5 reasons why it is okay to feel financial pain.

  1. Listen to the pain…it is teaching you something.
    Pain is one of the slowest and most thorough teachers. It signals something is wrong and can be corrective. While it is tempting to try to rescue someone from his or her financial pain, it’s important not to look at circumstances in a vacuum. There are ramifications to our actions, and experiencing pain may be one’s only mechanism to learn what not to do.

This point isn’t an endorsement of pain as much as it is an acknowledgment that pain is sometimes one’s preferred method of learning. By “rescuing” such a person, you are actually doing two harmful things: you are often robbing him of learning a lesson that he may not get otherwise, and you are prolonging his dependency on you.

For example, when Oscar-winning actress Halle Berry was younger, her mother famously allowed her to stay at a homeless shelter temporarily in order to get her life together. Halle had moved out on her own and asked her mom for financial help for expenses. Her mom told her no: either come back home or figure it out. That’s exactly what Halle did and credits the difficult experience with making her “stronger” and teaching her resilience in any difficult situation.



Men don’t drown by being underwater, they drown by staying underwater.

In other words, you can get back up from failure. The important lesson is that you do not repeatedly make the same mistakes. By struggling through a difficult problem, you have the unique opportunity to acquire the wisdom from your missteps necessary to avoid the very behavior or decisions that resulted in failure. The old saying goes “insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly but expecting a different result.” Reasonable people learn their lessons and can go forward to have extraordinary success.



Those lessons include purchasing investments that are congruent with their risk tolerance and knowledge base, maintaining adequate liquidity, monitoring their financial ratios, structuring deals that limit their financial exposure to losses, and many other pearls of wisdom that you will find in their respective books.

Undoubtedly, they have all gone through some painful experiences and have multiple battle scars. I believe it was their struggles that qualified them for their present successes. If your “failure” taught you the lessons necessary to create a net worth in excess of $25 million, was the experience truly a failure? Was the pain worth the trouble?



Sadly, Arthur died young; they had only been friends for four and a half years, and Arthur’s death literally destroyed Tennyson. For many years, Tennyson was melancholy and mourned the loss of his friend. He even confessed that he often wished he could die rather than continue to live without Arthur. Indeed, it took several years before Tennyson could even bear visiting Arthur’s grave.

He reconciled his deep feelings by writing a work that became known as In Memoriam. It explores questions of mourning, the essence of his lost friend, God, and nature. These poems are often cited as some of the greatest lyrical poetry ever written on grief.

No one wants to go through pain, but sometimes the creative voice is unmuzzled through pain and grief. Consider how many best-selling songs are born out of someone’s heartbreak. Consider what the world would be like if Oprah didn’t go through a very difficult and troubling childhood. How many high achievers were motivated by prior poverty?



Beneath the clothing and tough exterior, she wears the scars of someone who struggled with her weight and did something about it. Drawing on the memory of her pain serves as strength: strength to exercise when she doesn’t feel like it, to eat healthy when her taste buds would rather have something else, to look passed the tears of the contestants when they say they can’t do it because she knows victory is on the other side.

Never underestimate the power of an experience to shape your life and influence the world!

Pain and The Great Recession
Of course, one of the most recent painful memories for many is the “Great” Recession. This economic period is expected to have a profound and lasting effect on individuals in their 20s and 30s with respect to investing. Last year, a study indicated that people who grew up in the 1930s were almost three times less likely to invest in stock compared with those who reached adulthood during more pleasant times. Moreover, when younger people did invest, they allocated a smaller portion into stock. This difference in investing habits lasted until 20 to 30 years after the Depression was over.

Indeed, a recent Wells Fargo survey found that twenty-somethings are the least likely to believe among all age groups that stocks are the best place for investment gains and the most likely to place retirement savings in bank CDs over stocks. This strategy ignores long-term history: stocks have delivered an inflation-adjusted returns of 5.8% a year since World War II whereas cash and bonds have returned 0.4% and 1.8%, respectively. One challenge for people in this younger age demographic is balancing the desire for safety with the need for long term growth. There are other ways to decrease the risk that are better than outright market avoidance including: diversification, rebalancing, dollar cost averaging, etc. By avoiding the market (real estate or stock) rather than adopting a strategy that is congruent with their newfound risk tolerance, young people risk experiencing the pain of not having enough for retirement.

Closing Thoughts About Pain
Pain is certainly a slow and tough teacher, but if it is the way one learns, going through it can accelerate one’s breakthrough. If you only learn by hitting bottom, the faster you get there the sooner your salvation. With the struggle comes a radical increase in one’s confidence in one’s abilities, wisdom learned from struggles, and a scar that can serve as a powerful reminder to never go through that experience again. Pain can unleash one’s creativity in such a profound way that one’s voice will resonate with others facing challenging times and will serve as a comfort.

We spend an inordinate amount of time trying to prevent pain and hide scars; however, perhaps the focus should be on cherishing their gifts!

Written on 11/22/2011 by Roshawn Watson. Roshawn writes at Watson Inc. on eliminating debt, investing money, and building wealth. Get my free eBook Your Foundation to Wealth by signing up for my email updates (no spam I promise). Get my RSS feed and connect with me on Twitter @roshawnwatson too. Photo Credit: bark
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