One Teenage Decision that Led to Infinite Possibility
Have you ever wanted something so badly that the desire was all you could think about or all you dreamed of? Maybe something that felt so important to you that you KNEW if you had it your life would change forever? Like a new house, or a new job or even a medical procedure? Only to learn that the cost was too much? There just wasn’t money for that thing?
If you’ve ever felt that way, then parts of this story are going to resonate. Growing up, I had malformation of my upper and lower jaws. Basically, my upper jaw was small and narrow, my lower jaw was big and wide. So, my upper teeth fit completely inside my lower jaw. None of my teeth touched except the back molars and that was minimal. I had constant headaches and I had trouble eating anything I had to bite off or was really crunchy or chewy. But, the biggest impact for me was that I felt like I looked like a freak. Even as a child I was an introvert and preferred reading by myself to just about anything else, and part of that was that I didn’t want to be seen by others. As I grew up and the malformation got prominent, I didn’t like the attention and looks that came from people seeing me (especially other teens). There were constant stares and whispers behind hands, I always got picked last during schoolyard pick and I only had one or two true friends.
My maternal uncle had the same condition, just not as severe as mine. We thought it must be hereditary. When I was 15 years old, my uncle had surgery to correct his because he was having unmanageable pain. I got so excited that I might possibly get “fixed” that I begged mom to take me to a surgeon too. So, we found a surgeon and went for the consult. I was a candidate for surgery; unfortunately, the surgeon said I needed braces first. The braces could be used to start to widen my upper palate. Once my upper jaw was widened and my teeth in better alignment, they could do surgery.
The good news for us was that my case was bad enough that it was a medical condition and not cosmetic. That meant it was covered by insurance. If it hadn’t been a covered benefit, then there is no way my family could afford it. Woo hoo! That was great news and totally made surgery a possibility for me. For the first time in my teenage years, I started to feel like there was hope. That I could be “normal” and not look different or eat different than others. It was very important for my introvert self to NOT stand out in any way, you feel me Eunice?
Mom took me to the orthodontist to get an estimate. Once they told us the down payment required and the monthly payments, she said no, we can’t afford braces right now, you will have to wait. While the surgery was covered by insurance, braces were not in any circumstance covered. So, the total cost was on us. I remember crying and crying in such disappointment and despair. After the tears came anger. Why did my life have to be so stupid that we couldn’t even afford things we needed? Why was I born like this? Why didn’t my parents have money?
After the anger came resolve and decision and also a spark of possibility that I had gotten a glimpse of in the surgeon’s office. What IF I actually got those braces? This was probably the most pivotal moment in my life. Right then and there I decided that I wasn’t going to live the rest of my life like that and furthermore, I was going to get myself those braces. Oh yes, I was!
I immediately began to pool my resources (even then I had hidden stashes of change and dollar bills). I found the biggest plastic cup we had in the kitchen, I created a label for it that said “BRACES FUND”, and I put every penny I had into it. I also set it out on my desk which was in an open part of the house where everyone coming and going could see it. My family and anyone who came to visit could clearly see that I had a goal.
But it wasn’t just a goal. I also had a plan. I began to take action. I babysat, I cleaned houses and churches, I found money in the car and on the street. I stopped buying candy and soda, all my money went into the fund. I began to fill that cup to the top! I even had a few anonymous donations from visitors who saw my determination and progress. Before long, I had enough for the down payment. And guess what? Every single monthly payment followed.
Yes, my life was changed after having the braces and surgery. But you see, the story didn’t end there. It was really the beginning. That decision was much bigger and more far-reaching than buying braces. That decision was clarity that I was going to live differently than my parents. I decided that I wasn’t going to be driven by lack of money, rather money just wasn’t going to be an issue.
You might think that the decision was driven by anger or rebellion, both of which are unsustainable and result in patterns of self-sabotage or ups and downs. No, those things weren’t the drivers. The driver for me was that I could see the what ifs. I could see the possibility of living life differently. After all, the waiting room was full of parents and kids who were getting braces. I could see that there were others in the world who didn’t struggle with money and lack. I saw the possibility of a life that was different and that is what I wanted.
This eye-opening decision, based in what if and possibility, changed the entire course of my financial existence. It’s like I developed an internal gauge that lets me know when it’s time to course correct. Some examples are:
Knowing that a 2-year college education wasn’t enough to give me the life I knew was possible and making the decision to go back to school and get my accounting degree and CPA certification.
Understanding and ease with saving, despite not being raised that way, because NOT living paycheck to paycheck gave me more freedom.
Trusting myself to make the leap into entrepreneurship and continue even after the savings was gone, and finding that I was proven right because money always shows up.
Continuing to ask myself “what if” and look for the possibility of the money to live exactly the way I want to, instead of focusing on what went wrong.
You see if you are living in a state of curiosity, you are living in a place where change can happen. Curiosity for what if something better could happen. Curiosity for the possibility of having all the money you need or want. When you live in that place, that is where magic happens. Right there. Maybe it’s because logic and creativity get to meet.
It doesn’t matter how old you are, how much debt you have, how little savings you have, or even what your income level is. You too can change your money story, your money struggles or break generational patterns. It starts with a decision and beginning to look for and live in possibility, curiosity and what if.
Sherry Parks is a Money Mindset Coach who helps women escape feeling stuck and trapped by their finances, so that they find more joy and wealth for their lives. Check out her 5 Steps to a Better Money Story workbook here.