COLUMN: Jessica Iron Joseph — Jan. 25, 2013

Jessica Iron Joseph
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Today is a celebration for me. Well, I try to make every day a celebration, but today is especially important. Today I was able to pay off my very last student loan. This means for probably two seconds in time, right now, I don’t owe anyone in the universe a single penny. It’s a sweet feeling. I was so excited for this day’s arrival, that I called up one of my best friends last weekend to excitedly share my news.

She was my debt-buddy. After the excitement of convocation died down, and we both got ‘real’ jobs, we commiserated about the amount of debt we each had from school, travelling abroad, visas, etc. We both began reading and watching videos and television shows about how to save money, pay off debt, and find cheaper ways to live. We phoned each other for support, to share new ideas and to celebrate milestones as things were slowly paid off. By the way, Gail Vaz-Oxlade is now one of my heroes. And she’s Canadian!

So when my friend and I were chatting, I commented on how incredibly different my life is now. My attitude towards money has drastically changed for sure. I no longer live in denial about expenses, or fear that the debt-mountain is growing. But my life has also changed in many other wonderful ways too.

I imagined my 19-year-old self and me, now, in the same room together. I picked the age 19 because at that age, like most people, I was super cocky and believed I knew everything I needed to know about life.

I wondered if I would like the 19-year-old me? Would 19-year-old Jess like this version of me? The obvious answer would be no, because we’re incredibly different people, but then I realized that, yes, I think we would.

Now, when I was 19, I was basically the opposite version of me now. I was far more superficial, in every respect. I was a profligate spender. I loved to go dancing, which meant I spent far too much time in bars. I ate a mostly paleo diet and running was my main form of exercise. I hated cooking. I thought stress was normal and I was so much more judgmental of everyone around me, including myself. I was also an atheist.

Fast forward, nearly fifteen years later, and I rarely wear makeup. I write in my pajamas. I’ve paid off my debt and rarely shop. If I must buy something now, it’s either used or dirt cheap. I’d rather stay in on weekends, spending time with my family, reading and writing. I also now eat a vegan diet and prefer yoga to running, though I still occasionally run. My hatred of cooking has transformed into a deep love for cooking. Meditation has become a powerful tool for stress removal and has also helped me find more compassion, understanding and acceptance of others. I also work hard at thinking positively and have a renewed faith in the Creator. Volunteering has become a very important part of my life too. Somewhere along the line, all my relationships also improved. 

So I think 19-year-old me would outwardly joke about me, but would secretly admire my differences. She might even be envious of the simplicity of my life, and wonder how I could be so darn happy all the time. That part would probably irritate her the most.

But I wouldn’t judge her. I would smile and answer all her questions and remind her of all her wonderful qualities, even if she didn’t believe she possessed them.

I would tell her to stop worrying about finding the perfect man, as most single girls do. Sure, that’s easy to say since I’m happily married now, but the truth is that it wasn’t until the moment I made peace with the idea of being a single woman forever and I found utter and complete joy in my life regardless of my relationship status, that my husband came along.

It wasn’t a gimmick. I wasn’t trying to trick the universe into sending me someone by pretending I was happy alone. I truly revelled in my singleness and decided to find joy without waiting. That incessant waiting! Life does not begin when you find a spouse. Spouses are wonderful companions that deeply enrich your life, of course. But I believe it was my zest for life that attracted my husband in the first place.

It was a wonderful feeling to reflect on who I was 15 years ago and all that has happened since then. It wasn’t an exercise in vanity either, but rather an opportunity for me to recognize the power of change; self-initiated change. It’s something we’re all capable of.

We can envision those goals in our lives that we wish to materialize and steadily work towards them. We can become like people we admire, even if it seems a distant and remote dream.

When I told my mother I had paid off my student loan, she jokingly asked if I had won the lottery. I laughed for a second because many times when I was in debt I really wished to win the lottery. Because I didn’t though, I think this moment is far more fulfilling. I wasn’t  rescued by some miraculous bonus in life. Paying off my loan on my own was a far greater accomplishment because I proved to myself that I am capable of changing my life one payment at a time, one step at a time, no matter how long it takes.

I’m usually on some self-improvement campaign, but it isn’t born out of a feeling of inadequacy. I’m not seeking approval from others either. I just like setting goals for myself and then reaching them. Some challenges are easier to measure than others, but I believe commitment and determination always inspire growth.

Today, I also realized, I am curious to meet 49-year-old Jess and see what the next 15 years bring.


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