Exploring the Do-Overs

Is it hopeful, I wonder, or simply unchecked fantasy? Can one hit “re-set” and revise the direction his life has taken? Is it possible to unmake the mistakes one has made? Or, at least, correct them, thereby recovering lost opportunities? Who know? Some people will swear it is possible. Others will express, bitterly, that making the attempt will lead only to frustration and failure and, ultimately, misery. Who to believe? Ultimately, I think, it comes down to the individual and the suitability of circumstances. When the two mesh just right, the world looks brighter, cleaner, clearer, and far more friendly.

It is never too late to be what you might have been.

~ George Eliot ~

Some people are perfectly happy to borrow money to finance their purchases, large and small. Others will do almost anything in their power to avoid getting in debt. The adage, “it takes money to make money,” may have something to do with it; people who are more comfortable with risk—and who are intrigued by the rewards associated with risk and money—may feel more comfortable borrowing money. Unfortunately, perhaps, I am in the latter category, though I have experience as a borrower. As a post-college-graduation young man, I borrowed money via credit cards to enjoy the rewards of immediate gratification; the aftermath of that borrowing spree left me feeling like a prisoner of debt for several years. As a consequence, the only two circumstances in which I was willing to go into debt were to buy a house and to buy a car; although I hated the debt associated with those activities and did all I could to get out from under it as soon as I could.

There is only one day left, always starting over: it is given to us at dawn and taken away from us at dusk.

~ Jean-Paul Sartre ~

I do not know where my aversion to debt came from. Perhaps I overheard conversations between my parents as they fretted about money. Maybe I heard about a relative who might have been in constant trouble because of debt; or someone whose life was a chaotic ball of anxiety due to owing more money than he or she could afford to repay. Whatever its source, my distaste for debt has kept me from spending money I did not have. At the same time, I suspect I failed to capture opportunities that could have resulted in substantial financial gain—simply because I was afraid to go into debt to pursue those opportunities. Despite my unwillingness to borrow, I did okay in business. At least okay enough to retire early, though early retirement meant adopting an even more austere lifestyle than I had lived before retirement. Yet that austerity might look to people living a “hand to mouth” existence as a lifestyle of unimaginable luxury. And most people, regardless of their circumstances, would rightfully say my “austerity” did not deprive me of anything I needed or desperately wanted.

But learn that to die is a debt we must all pay.

~ Euripides ~

As I contemplate my antipathy toward debt, it occurs to me that my ability to avoid debt has been a luxury unavailable to others whose circumstances were less fortunate than mine. I have almost always had a choice; I could borrow or not.  Many people have no real options—they either borrow money or do without a necessity: food, shelter, clothing, medical care, etc., etc. When I reflect on that reality, I confuse myself: which emotion should I feel—gratitude because I have a choice about debt or guilt for the same reason? Yet, when I look at the situation from a different perspective, other aspects come into sharp focus. I see that some people use debt as a tool to amass large fortunes. They successfully treat debt as an instrument of calculated risk—they invest in properties or businesses, for example, to create sources of residual income, after repaying the principal and interest on the debt. Those debt-fueled investors have access to more money because they use debt and risk for acquisitions that I cannot touch because I can use only my time and readily available, unpledged assets. None of this really matters now, inasmuch as I am not about to change my world view and my financial practices. Although I have to say the idea of debt today seems less restricting and constraining than it did in years past. Today, unlike in years past, I appreciate the value of properly-assessed debt. Managed appropriately, debt can open doors that otherwise might remain permanently closed. Still, I doubt I’ll begin to use debt to access an embarrassment of riches. There are too many risks connected with debt for a novice like me to safely take them on. I will just watch in wonder from the sidelines.


Today will be a busy day, with meetings, appointments, doctor visits, etc. I’m in the mood to get into my work clothes and tackle a thousand projects around the house. But my mood does not fit the obligations the calendar has thrown at me. Dammit. I hope I feel, tomorrow, as energetic and as enthused about “puttering” as I do this morning. We shall see.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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