“My daddy always told me to just do the best you knew how and tell the truth. He said there was nothin to set a man’s mind at ease like wakin up in the morning and not havin to decide who you were. And if you done somethin wrong just stand up and say you done it and say you’re sorry and get on with it. Don’t haul stuff around with you.” – Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men
Tonight, I finished paying off one of my student loans. I’m happy about it.
I have 10 more still to repay, totaling about $70,000. The only way I could pay all of that off within this decade would be if I were to put every dime of my current take-home toward payments starting now – and even that would take close to five years. Of course, I’ll hopefully enjoy a salary increase or two in that timespan, but I also like to eat, sleep in a warm bed, and shit in a toilet, and these are things for which I typically need to use a good portion of money.
My response to this used to be one of disappointment, disillusionment, despair. I’d think about the thousands of dollars I’ve paid, only to keep my balance somewhere just ahead of the amount I actually borrowed. Invariably, I’d start kicking myself over the bad decisions I made as an undergrad – to major in English; to not work a part-time job during semesters, save for a couple of one day a week gigs that were essentially beer money; to not even attempt to pursue an internship; to coast through my last couple of years doing the bare minimum to get a B+ (Not exaggerating on that last one: my final GPA was one-hundredth of a point above a B+, which happened to be the cutoff for graduating with honors). Even knowing that I’ve made significant progress in the last two years just got me all pissed off again about how much of a hole I’d dug for myself. I rarely drink these days, but this thought process tended to bring out a nostalgia for alcohol.
One of the ways in which I feel a little wiser after my recent depressive episode is that I dwell a lot less on past mistakes than I used to. I’ve been saying “life is looking back every couple of years and realizing just how dumb you really were” since I was a shithead teenager (Am I old enough now to point out that “shithead teenager” is redundant? Serious question.), but until recently, I hadn’t really grasped the corollary to that faux-profound truism: That means you’re improving.
It’s a long time coming, but I feel like I understand better how to just get the hell out of my own way now. Life is hard enough without sabotaging yourself, y’know?
So tonight, I paid off one of my student loans. And I looked at my balance, and started doing the familiar math in my head. I went to the kitchen and got myself a beer. Only this time, it was to celebrate. Because the road ahead is long and hard, and there’s no way for me to know when I’ll reach the end. But I’ve reached the first checkpoint, and that fucking rules.
What’s done is done. You can either let mistakes dog you through your life and weigh you down, cause you pain, make you fearful and angry and more likely to screw up again. Or you can realize that they’re sunk cost, move on, and learn from the experience. I’m closing in on the five-year anniversary of completing college, and this June it’ll be 10 years since I finished high school. And I’ve finally gotten tired of carrying around the burden of feeling like shit for things that are long since fait accompli.
Take it away, Warren Haynes.