Are your financial prejudices fair?

August 12, 2012 Off By Jana

I’ve talked before about how, when I first started taking Zumba classes, I had to get over my embarrassment and trepidation of starting by realizing that I just didn’t care what other people thought. I also mentioned that, when you’re paying off debt, it’s imperative to have that same thought process. And I also talked about how we need not pay attention to what all of the other, more coordinated and experienced people think of us and how they probably admire us just for stepping into the room.

I still believe that.

But I also believe that prejudices about exercise, and money, work in reverse. For all of the people we think are out there judging, commenting, and developing their own versions of our backstories, we (and by “we” I really mean “me”) are doing the same. See if this situation doesn’t sound familiar:

After mustering up enough nerve, and finally finding the right clothes that do not accentuate every single bit of fat on your body, you walk into an exercise class. You take your necessary place in the back corner, far away from the prying eyes of the well-toned, clearly coordinated women wearing what you only would wear in the privacy of your own home (as long as no one else was there and it was laundry day, meaning all of your comfortable, loose fitting clothes were dirty) and the even more well-toned and ferociously energetic instructor. As you self-consciously look around at the rest of the class, waiting for your 60 minutes of much needed torture to begin, you start to think about how all those women (and men, too) are so fit and can probably never imagine what you’re going through. The failed diet attempts, the agony of clothes shopping, the self-berating that comes after you have both wine and dessert; these people could never possibly understand that.

Or could they?

Upon further research, particularly when you’re looking for Zumba classes near say, I don’t know, a conference, you learn that the most enthusiastic, high-impact, energetic instructor you have ever had recently lost 100 pounds. Then you learn that your favorite instructor dropped 8 pants sizes. And your other favorite instructor has lost close to 80 pounds. Then you find out that, among those skinny moms who look like there’s no way they just had a baby, more than one of them have also lost a substantial amount of weight.

Then you feel like an asshole for judging them so harshly in the first place.

Those of us who’ve battled debt often do the same thing to people who look like they’re financially comfortable. We see them with their new clothes, taking vacations, and generally enjoying life while we sit in on our old furniture, watching another movie from the library, eating leftovers and we can’t help but hate them. We can’t help but imagine the most horrible things: they’re worse off than we are but are putting on a good show; they’re so lucky to have no debt; I wonder who paid for them to do that. However, what we don’t see is that in some of those cases, they’ve come into money under terrible circumstances like the death of both parents. What we don’t see are the struggles that some of them went through to make it through college debt free or to pay off tens of thousands of dollars of debt. What we fail to remember is that yes, some people are lucky to be born with a great bank account and helpful family members (or a great metabolism) but many of them did not.

They put in the time, work, and effort required to manage their money and pay off their debt. They learned, whether at an early age or later in life, how to live on a budget and not spend more than they make. They took the initiative to control their impulses or, if you’re some of the people I know, find a career that they not only enjoy but is incredibly lucrative and put in the long hours studying and working to become excellent in those fields. The bottom line is that the people we view as successful and better off than us have, most likely, been right where we are now.

So it’s time to put away the hate (okay, fine, most of the hate) for those people. Start using them as inspiration to achieve your goals. Talk to them. Learn what they did to get to where they are. Ask if they’d be willing to help you in your journey. I think you’d be surprised at the response.

And, if they say “no” or something really mean or inappropriate, I give you permission to create the most awful story about them ever and then share it on Twitter.