My final year of law school I earned $6,200. My husband and I and our black lab Cardozo lived in an 800 square foot house. I rode my Honda scooter to class. Weekends were spent searching for finds at our favorite thrift stores.
More than a decade later, my annual earnings as a full-time lawyer were $6,511. It was 1991, and the year of my divorce.
How was it that I worked full-time practicing law with the work ethic of my Midwestern German parents and that this was all I had to show for? As I make my annual April perusal of my Social Security earnings record, I am still shocked to see how my income dropped to a fraction of the pay I had earned the years leading up to my divorce.
The truth is, 1991 was a year I wasn’t paying attention to my pocketbook.
During the months leading up to the divorce filing, my mind raced with thousands of thoughts. Clearly, productivity and profitability in my busy solo law practice were not among them. It wasn’t that I was in the sort of high conflict litigation I’ve seen countless clients suffer through. Yet the mere fear that my case could convert into a contested custody battle was enough to impair me.
I was meeting my commitments to my clients, doing my best to be a good mom, and making it through the divorce. That seemed to be all I could manage at the time.
But at the end of the day, that is, at the end of the divorce, I paid the price for my lack of looking at what was happening to my finances. It took me two years to bring my income back to my pre-divorce earnings. The glad thing is that I did. When I stopped endlessly obsessing about the fears for my future I was able to shift to taking action to create a plan for what was possible. I decided to focus on my future instead of fearing it.
It was a long journey of digging myself out of debt. But in time I boosted my earnings and adjusted my budget to pay for the furnace that went out the first winter, that health insurance I used to take for granted, and the credit card debt that had been used to pay for everything from a sofa to school backpacks.
When going through a divorce, it’s easy to be oblivious to the obvious. You may not notice how those nights out with friends commiserating over your crises are adding a few too many glasses of your favorite red wine to your diet. Your exhaustion from the grief of your divorce might mean you’re making that monthly payment to the fitness club that hasn’t seen your gym bag since January.
When we have so much fear and uncertainty, it’s easy to be distracted from the important basics. Looking at what scares you. Rest. Decent food. Earning a paycheck. Moving our bodies. Laughter.
It is our nature as humans to fall off course from time to time. When the detour of divorce doubles up with debt, don’t wait too long before looking at where you are. Pay attention to the fundamentals that are important at any other time of your life. If you do, you’ll return to the path onward to abundance beyond a student budget.