What Crisis Can Teach Us

What I Learned from Almost Running Out of Money in Europe

The scenario played itself over and over in my mind. Checking my bank account, realizing it was at zero, struggling to breathe through the ensuing panic. My dramatic brain ran off with more dramatic scenarios: going hungry, wandering the streets alone, looking for a piece of cardboard and a street corner...

"Okay, okay calm down," I told myself. "Get a grip." Things wouldn't be that bad. I did have a small remote job going with me. I had survived on not a lot of money before (looking at you, New York City), and I would work at hostels to save money. Anyway, it didn't matter; I had a ticket with my name on it to Ireland and I was getting on that plane. 

I did get on that plane. And yes, I did run out of money. More specifically, I came to see how the plan I had was unsustainable. Blame it on bank transfer problems, paychecks posting late, freelance gigs falling through, or just me not being that good of a financial planner... all of which are true. I found myself pausing my trip for two weeks, journaling, crying, brainstorming, and doing lots of YouTube yoga. I finally worked out a better plan for myself, but here's what I learned in the meantime.  

Lesson One: Shaming Yourself Is a Waste of Time

As the implications of my poor financial planning came into focus, my inner, "what are we going to do?" monologue started, but so also did the evaluative "can't believe you did this," monologue, the one that threatened to crush me with shame. I rehearsed mistakes over and over in my head, criticized myself on the phone with friends and family, and believed that I wasn't worth anybody's time or help. My mom finally snapped me out of it, assuring me that it was okay. I started to believe her. I started showing myself grace. And I came to see that while it's healthy to acknowledge unwise decisions so you can avoid them, living in shame prevents the kind of creativity that's essential for exiting chaos. 

Lesson Two: Crisis Can Lead to Despair or Creativity

In her TED Talk, "Why Are Millennials So Stressed? Is it Quarter Life Crisis?" Allison Osborn reflected on how the Chinese character for crisis is, "danger meeting opportunity." That is a perfect framework for thinking about how to respond to a crisis. We have two choices: sink into despair or become creative. When the thinness of my financial plan became clear, I despaired for a few days but slowly, I began to pivot. I thought seriously about what I wanted from life, realized writing and more money were at the top of that list and spent a week applying for remote writing jobs. Not only did I find one, but I also found a clearer vision of my own personal goals and stronger ability to be imaginative in the midst of chaos.

Lesson Three: Know Thyself

I thought it would be fun to be a "budget traveler." I thought I would be happy to not do any shopping, to not purchase any excursions, to stick to cheap meals and tap water. In real life, I was wrong. I wanted those experiences, those nicer things. But more frustrating than not being able to buy them was being frustrated that I couldn't be a different kind of person. I wanted to be a person who was happy on a tight budget. Only when I could accept that this isn't naturally true about me could I begin to crawl myself out of the anxiety-ridden trap of cognitive dissonance into which I had fallen. Silencing shame narratives, thinking creatively, and setting realistic expectations only work if you start by telling yourself the truth about who you actually are.

I don't recommend bolting off to Europe without a financial plan. But I do encourage taking time to think about your approach to crisis, because it will show up, no matter how organized you are. The key to the good life is not to successfully avoid disaster. The key is to learn to respond to it well. For me, I'm sort of glad this happened. It taught me how to show myself grace, how to think creatively, and how to accept the real me, not the me I wish I was.  

Tiffany Owens
Tiffany Owens

You can find me somewhere between here and Brooklyn, lugging my suitcases to a bus stop, taking photos of flowers, or drinking coffee like my life depended on it...because my life probably does. IG: bloomandthistle

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What Crisis Can Teach Us