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The unexpected benefit of paying off $26k in credit card debt

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I received a lovely tweet from someone who had recently read my post about the first progress map I created to pay off over $26k in debt.

And this is the thought that came to mind, in response to Peter’s kind acknowledgement:

Because really — it was. I didn’t realize it at the time. It was not the goal that I had set out to accomplish. My goal was simple: I wanted to pay off my credit card debt.

Why pay off my $26,000+ in credit card debt?

Here’s were my reasons at the time:

1 // My tax guy, Steve, implored me to do so.

I told y’all I was an Obliger. I dragged that debt around nearly a decade when I only had to answer to myself. It was a request from someone I trusted that kicked me into gear.

2 // It was simply “the right thing” to do.

I had agreed to pay people money, and I wanted to honor my word.

3 // It would be a relief to know that I didn’t have it hanging over my head.

I felt guilty and a bit ashamed that I had (in my mind) so much debt.

4 // I’d feel proud of myself.

I knew I’d be able to brag to Steve and all the people on Facebook! P/S I absolutely did that. IN CAPITAL LETTERS.

5 // I knew I had been both dodging it and in denial.

I had rationalized only paying the minimum payments—for years. This made sense when I was making $25k a year; much less so when my income when 3x-4x that.

What made the difference

I was willing to take action from love instead of staying stuck in fear—which in this case, also meant staying stuck in credit card debt.

It’s worth noting, if you haven’t read my original post yet, I chose to approach my debt payoff differently. I created a piece of artwork that represented my total credit card debt. It was a black-and-white drawing made up of nearly 300 small swirls. Each swirl stood for $100 payment toward my debt; so every time I paid off $100, I colored in a swirl to acknowledge my progress. I had no idea at the outset whether or not it would work.

It did! I paid off over $26,000 in 11 months—less than half the time I thought it would take.

What I learned as I started to pay off the debt

While I shared the detailed version of the story here, I learned some unexpected things as I began to pay off my credit card balance.

1 // It wasn’t as awful or painful as I feared it would be.

My Clever Brain — the part of my mind that sources internal propaganda designed to keep me from doing anything differently — swore my life would be miserable, rife with sacrifice, should I attempt to pay off my credit cards.

It wasn’t.

The reason I was carrying a sizable balance wasn’t because I didn’t make enough money. It was because I wasn’t taking responsibility for the money I made and what I spent it on.

2 // I didn’t need someone else to save me.

God bless my Clever Brain for the logic it presented to me, as to why I couldn’t pay off my credit cards. Which was: I couldn’t pay them off because I needed to find the right guy and get married and be a two-income household and live off his income so that I could use mine to pay off my credit cards.


3 // Making payments didn’t suck—it actually felt empowering.

One of the other popular Clever Brain logics was that my debt was so big that a few hundred bucks a month wasn’t going to make a dent. I was better just to wait until I had a large chunk of money, say from a tax return or a bonus at work, to really make a difference.

What I learned through mapping my payments was that I started to look forward to it. And while the balance didn’t seem like it was moving down as fast as I would have liked, I felt proud and strong each time I colored in my swirls, marking the payment

4 // Tracking my progress was fun and satisfying.

Who knew adult coloring could be so satisfying?! I was surprised how much coloring in those damn swirls motivated me. It was a joy to color them in each month. And I found myself making larger payments just so I could color in more swirls and pay my credit cards off faster.

If that sound nerdy, I assure you it was. And it worked!

5 // I was more powerful and capable than I’d believed.

The biggest gift of the entire debt-paying-off adventure was that I earned a new trust with myself. I hadn’t trusted myself to follow-through and pay off my debt. Understandably. Trust is a result of action taken over time. I hadn’t been taking consistent action for over a decade. My doubt in my abilities was something I’d earned.

So through making payments each month and having the map as a visual to remind me of my progress, I became someone I could trust financially. I practiced working out my financial-responsibility-muscles and got stronger.

I proved to my Clever Brain that I sure as hell didn’t need a husband or anyone else to do the right thing. I just needed to take it one $100 at a time.

Some experiences in life change us for good. Once I showed myself that I could pay off that $26k, I felt like I’d one a key race of adulthood. I wondered what else I could do.

Turns out, I could start my own business teaching others how to make progress too. Map Your Progress became a real idea that I committed to building for real. I didn’t know how I was going to do it. I just knew that I could. I’d paid off $26k in debt.

In doing so, I proved to myself that I was a grown-ass woman.

So in that way, paying off my credit card debt was an initiation—into adulthood. I grew up in paying it down. That’s what makes me most proud. That, for me, has been priceless.

I’ve created a tool that I wish I’d had back then

I mentioned that I’m an Obliger. In other words, it’s easier for me to keep a commitment to another person (Steve the tax guy) than myself. Knowing this about myself, I use it to my advantage. I choose to create conditions that leverage this natural tendency of mine.

That’s why I created a piece of artwork in the first place. It was something that would be seen by other people. They could see exactly where I was at. It motivated me to keep on.

It’s also why I posted it on Facebook so all my friends could see. I knew that I didn’t want to embarrass myself; I wanted to have a success story to share later.

It’s also why I eventually took their suggestion to turn it into a business. What better way for me to stay accountable and make progress in my own life than to build an entire business around me doing just that? As a matter of personal integrity, I knew that I would have to live the advice I was giving.

It’s also why I created a new tool last month called Time to Win. It’s more of an experiential tool in that it’s a supportive environment where we can grow together.

We meet every weekday morning, in a virtual setting, to have a group power-hour. We can see each other and feel the supportive energy. We can communicate via chat to state our intention of what we’re going to get done that day. But we don’t talk. The sound is muted so that we can all focus on what there is to get done. Then we share with each other what we’ve accomplished at the end of the hour. It’s simple. It’s fun. And it works!

I wish that I’d had a gathering like this when I was paying off my debt. It would have been time I could have used to stay current with tracking my spending. It would have been awesome to be able to share my tiny victories with the group as I practiced healthier spending habits. It would have helped me stay focused on doing the things that needed to be done to get where I wanted to go.

So I decided to create that space. And you’re invited to join us!


Time to Win

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