Underestimating the Severity of Your Own Situation

I think that is human nature to underestimate the severity of your own situation.

In my own life I started putting on some weight in my thirties. It was no big deal, I thought. And I did nothing about it. I still ate everything that I wanted, and I wanted a lot.

But my metabolism was naturally slowing down, and I wasn’t as active anymore. In my forties I was blessed with a couple of little babies. With a desk job, and even less time for exercise, my weight went up even more.

Still, I didn’t think too much about my weight. Until I had a routine health exam, and there were some anomalous results.  

It took a while for it to sink in. At first I made some modest adjustments in my lifestyle. But when token efforts did nothing to change the situation I finally understood the severity of my own situation. I couldn’t continue to live a sedentary lifestyle and neglect my health, without eventually having consequences.

For the first 40 years of my life I was ignorant about calories. I mean, I kind of knew what they were, but I had no idea how many I was supposed to consume to live a healthy lifestyle. I simply ate when I was hungry, and often when I wasn’t, and I ate stuff that tasted good, regardless of how bad it was for me.

Now I pay closer attention to my diet. I’m far from perfect, but I’m a lot better than I was. And I’m the lightest that I’ve been since my twenties.

The thing about it is, it took me a decade to understand the path I was on. For years I knew that I was packing a few extra pounds around, but I rationalized it to myself. Packing around those extra pounds wasn’t comfortable, but I became comfortable with it. It’s not that bad, I thought, when really it kind of was.

I just feel so much better without the extra girth. I had to buy some new clothes because the old ones were falling off me. I can do things at Tae Kwan Do that I used to struggle with. I feel great.

I really should have dropped the weight years ago, but I didn’t because I underestimated the severity of the situation. When I eventually realized that I was compromising my health I finally got serious about my lifestyle. I want to see my future grandkids grow up, and without taking better care of myself that might not have happened.

People underestimate the severity of their own situation all the time. People are overweight, but don’t think it’s that bad. People know the health risks, but continue to smoke. People drink, but they don’t think they drink that much. People don’t get pre-nuptial agreements because they think that their blissful situation is permanent.

And people are especially good at underestimating the severity of their own situation when it comes to their finances.

People aren’t putting away any money for retirement, but think that they still have time. Well, if you aren’t putting money away now, what are you going to live off of later? And if you aren’t putting away money now, are you going to put away enough later to catch up for the lost years? Do you know how much retirement income you are on track for? Do you know if that is going to be enough?

People have boatloads of debt, but think that their situation is under control. Maybe you can find a way to squeeze by living paycheque to paycheque now, but can you deal with the situation if it changes? What if your income dips? Can you afford your debt once interest rates inevitably rise? Could your finances deal with an emergency, like a health scare? Do you even know what you spend money on each month?

People have a small insurance policy and think that they are adequately covered. Do you know what your widow and orphaned children would really need if you were out of the picture? What would happen to the family if your income wasn’t there anymore?

Or maybe there is something else that is important to you; educating your kids, caring for aged parents, building a retirement home, taking care of a disabled child, leaving a legacy, or even simply not having to worry about money anymore. The point is, understand your options, and get to work. Very few things in life fall into place through blind luck.

For me the wakeup call was when my medical tests started to come back with unusual results. Don’t wait for your own wake-up call. Sometimes you don’t get one.

Don’t be like the young and foolish Brad, and underestimate the severity of your own situation. Be like the enlightened Brad. Understand your situation and act accordingly.

What’s important to you, and what are you going to do about it?

This article was posted in All Columns, Money Management.
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