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When I was a child I had your standard fear of monsters in the closet, and – I’m not sure this one is as standard – burglars. To protect myself from these nighttime dangers, I relied on a stuffed aardvark that my father got at the bank as a complimentary gift for opening a checking account. Aardvark was kelly green and wore a hunter green vest with the bank logo in white. He also wore black glasses, which I believed was an indication of his high intellect.  He wasn’t
particularly soft or plush and didn’t easily conform to snuggling. Perhaps, subconsciously, this is why I chose Aardvark to protect me from intruders. Kathy, my bear, I loved and trusted with my secrets. Aardvark I loved and trusted with my security. Now that I’m an adult, I like to joke that while most kids chose a bear to keep them safe at night, I chose a banker.

My childhood example for obtaining financial security, the type of security I worry most about as an adult, was marriage. Instead of placing my financial security in the hands of someone else’s success.  I was determined to create my own. When I went to college I was obsessed with doing all of the right things. I volunteered at an organization pertinent to my major. I researched career paths.  I pursued an MBA after my undergraduate degree and, after breaking my engagement to a doctor (the final affirmation of my chosen trajectory), I moved to San Francisco to create a life – which I equated with career.

I found a job quickly and with little effort. In the pre-dot-com-bust era, you could post your resume on Craigslist and the employers called you.  I had a good job and the kind of sound financial footing I aspired to.  My parents couldn’t believe how much money my first job paid.  Until it didn’t. The economy fell apart, taking any sense of stability I had with it.

“I don’t know how I survived without going into debt,” I often tell friends. I somehow managed. Less became more and safe became a matter of perception.