Men are haunted by the vastness of eternity. And so we ask ourselves: will our actions echo across the centuries? Will strangers hear our names long after we are gone and wonder who we were, how bravely we fought, how fiercely we loved? - King Odysseus in the movie Troy.
For those that are unfamiliar with Greek mythology, Odysseus is the legendary King of Ithaca (Greece) and the hero in Homer’s epic poem; The Odyssey. He etched his name in immortality during the 11th or 12th century – depending on which historian is to be trusted.
His most famous contribution to the Greek war effort against Troy is devising the Trojan Horse which allowed the Greek warriors to infiltrate the seemingly impregnable Trojan wall.
Led by Odysseus, the most decorated warriors hid inside a huge wooden horse which the Trojans dragged inside their walls believing that it was a gift from the gods, only for armed Greeks to jump out at the opportune time, going on to ransack the city. If you want to see how he did it, watch the movie.
I want to focus on his famous quote. It was directed toward Achilles, a legendary Greek warrior who was obsessed with the future. Odysseus was trying to make it clear that anxiety over the future was not unique to Achilles, but rather something that most, if not all, humans often experience anxiety over what the future holds.
We’ve all been there.
It’s natural to feel anxious during stressful moments. However, money anxiety is a different beast altogether. It needs to be tamed.
Read Also: How to Deal With Financial Anxiety
When it comes to money anxiety and worrying about what the future holds in terms of finances, most of us would struggle to feign innocence.
Countless studies, as recent as 2022, have tagged money anxiety as the leading cause of stress across the world.
Chances are that we’ve all been there. Wondering whether we’ll have enough money to meet our needs down the line. Wondering if we would survive if that regular 8-5 job comes to an abrupt end. Wondering how we’ll get through the month having burned through 90% of our earnings after just a week.
This then creates the perfect habitat for money anxiety to thrive. Before you know it, you find yourself neck-deep in a dark hole that you can’t seem to be able to wiggle out of.
You start creating imaginary financial disaster scenarios in your head. Some create imaginary scenarios that are so detailed that it seems real.
It’s a week till the landlord comes for his dues, I’m short by Ksh5,000, and I’m going to find an extra padlock on my door. I may be forced to sell my valuables and move back upcountry. What will my friends and relatives think of me? I’m the firstborn child. What will I do for money upcountry? I am finished.
See how easy it is for an imaginary disaster to create infinite doomsday possibilities?
But that’s the thing. Everything in the above scenario is ‘imaginary’. The anxiety and fear are based on fictional stuff.
Don’t get me wrong, it is always good to plan ahead, but worrying ahead is a full proof recipe for disaster. It took me a while to learn this but once I did, it literally felt like I lost a tonne of weight. Colors seemed brighter. Life seemed easier. Things just seemed to fall in place, as if some unseen puppeteer was pulling the strings that needed to be pulled to steer me towards where I was meant to be. Steering me toward my purpose.
Things weren’t always this way. Being a creative writer worked against me as far as money anxiety was concerned.
My creative juices conjured up fake scenarios that seemed so real that I could almost touch the burly-shaped landlord as he made his way to my door. I could hear his boots crunching and crackling over the loose gravel as he made his way across the front yard. I could even see a shiny Tri-Circle brass padlock dangling from his left hand as it swayed back and forth with military precision/
It was that bad.
After some time, I noticed a pattern in my life that I didn’t like. A pattern that I realized was destined to lead to disaster if left unchecked. The signs of my problem were as clear as day.
I called myself up to a personal meeting whose attendees were me, myself, and I. Self-diagnosis was needed and setting aside some time to reflect on my life seemed like the first step.
This is how I came across a few things that screamed financial anxiety.
Avoidance – This was top of the list. I realized that a task as simple as checking my bank balance triggered an actual physical issue. My heart would thump so hard that it felt like it was trying to break free of its cavity. I laugh at myself now, but back then it felt like the end of the world.
Any sort of activity that involved assessing my finances was enough to turn me into a nervous wreck, shaking like a crack junkie who had gone for days without a hit.
Struggling to sleep – This was the second on my list of signs. It typically involved going to bed by 11 pm as my most trusted mentors recommended, only to end up creating fake financial doomsday scenarios that would keep me up way past the witching hour.
This had a domino effect as it meant I always woke up tired, thereby affecting my productivity during the day.
Work-life balance in Shambles – At the time, I firmly believed that working until I dropped out of exhaustion was the only way to stay afloat.
Taking time out to recharge would trigger the end of the world, in my head at least.
Rigidity in terms of Budgeting – Yes, I still believed in budgeting during this phase. I still do. Going through life without a budget is the safest way to guarantee that you are a permanent resident in the ‘financially struggling’ gated community.
However, my issue back then was that I was super rigid. Spending on anything, however small or large, outside my budget scared the crap out of me. I’d spend days on end beating myself up for it.
After the meeting, one thing was clear, change was needed. However, I had to dig even deeper to establish what triggered this financial anxiety, in order to be able to find ways to remedy the situation.
Unsteady income – I realized that during this period, I was living from gig to gig. Some branding jobs here, a photography gig there, etc. Inevitably, there were also periods where landing a paying gig was harder than Arsenal winning the league.
This meant that making financial plans and projections was nigh impossible. This then triggered money anxiety as I couldn’t predict if I’d make enough to even cover my basic expenses.
Rising expenses – Unless you are living under a rock, the rising cost of living over the last decade or so is evident. Worrying about whether or not I’d survive a sudden health emergency was enough to keep me up at night.
Debt – This is a sensitive subject for most so I’ll start by making it clear that debt isn’t a bad thing. I have accomplished some major projects due to loan facilities.
I never took on debt to finance sherehes or keep up appearances. My issue stemmed from asking for help from a friend to finance a work project only for the client to decide that it was the right time to impart some character development.
That thing haunted me for months. What would my friend think? That was enough to trigger a bucket-load of fake scenarios, including ones in which my friend took me for a thief.
Funny thing is that overcoming this particular trigger was as easy as opening up to the said friend. “That’s part of business,” was all he said, before moving on to ask me about the weekend’s score prediction.
Fear stemming from societal expectations – There are some whose money anxiety is triggered by societal expectations. I am glad this was not on my list of triggers, and I thank my parents and close friends for it.
I have never really paid any mind to what people think of me. However, this is not to say that there aren’t people who are really struggling to keep this trigger under control
If you are one of those, I’ll leave you with this ‘no one really cares as much as you think they do”.
In an ideal world, I was born perfect with zero financial anxiety but I wasn’t born in a utopian world. I have struggles just like anyone else. I have come to accept that my financial anxiety was just a learning curve.
Getting out of it didn’t take some form of rocket science. All I did was open up to people I trust enough to share my issues with, and everything changed.
They’ll tell you that ‘mwanaume ni kuvimilia’ and that asking for help is a sign of weakness. That is a big lie. If anything, opening up about your personal struggles demands Hercules-level courage.
It was through these friends and family that I came to accept that I can’t control everything. Understanding this simple truth changed the game for me.
Why worry about things that are not only beyond your control but imaginary as well? You are literally exposing yourself to health issues stemming from fictional scenarios.
The good thing about talking to trusted friends is that you gain a different perspective.
You get to realize that struggles are just part of the journey, not the end of the journey.
You realize that all you need to do is focus on the things within your control, and let the chips fall where they may.
You realize that Franklin D. Roosevelt was on to something when he said that there is nothing to fear but fear itself.
I now sleep like a baby. My budget is now a bit flexible. I now spare some time each day for myself and go on short pocket-friendlies every once in a while. I celebrate my small wins like a man who has won some mega-jackpot.
I’ll wrap this up with a word to the wise. Money anxiety is real. It’s a silent killer that chips away from the inside out. You don’t have to take my word for it, research scientists have found that if left unchecked, financial anxiety can harm one’s physical health.
Take the sleep deprivation one is likely to experience due to money anxiety as an example; After some time this could lead to heart disease, high blood pressure, and chronic depression.
Don’t place your heart on the line over a financial doomsday scenario that only exists in your head. The beauty of all this is that you don’t need to go through the trenches as I did, take positive action now.
“Worrying is carrying tomorrow’s load with today’s strength — carrying two days at once. It is moving into tomorrow ahead of time. Worrying doesn’t empty tomorrow of its sorrow, it empties today of its strength.”
— Corrie ten Boom