So there I was, buying my first car in ten years.
A cherry scarlet lipstick little roadster…
…and I was crimson vermillion ruby THRILLED about it!
Sure, it was 8 years old and a little beat up, but it had personality. Dignity. Black leather interior. And it went really, really fast.
That car was an important symbol to me, physical proof that I could make my way in the world.
It was 2011, and I needed all the proof I could get, because I definitely didn’t feel sure about my own abilities to make my way. I was newly arrived on the shores of Portland with little more than my daughter and suitcase, and we were groggy and shaken after the earthquake and tsunami that had shaken us loose from our life in Tokyo and devastated northern Japan.
We’d landed on my brother and sister-in-law’s welcoming dining room floor, and I’d slowly put together the bare minimum elements of a new life.
I’d rented an apartment, a tiny little one-bedroom with golden light; we’d found a school; I bought an Ikea couch with pink flowers on it and we borrowed a futon mattress from my brother. And now I needed a car.
So there I was at the used car lot. I’d taken a taxi to get there, so I really hoped I’d walk out of there with a car.
I hadn’t had a car for almost a decade, because like most Tokyo-dwellers I had no need for one, and I’d never bought a car on my own before. I kept asking the guy, “Does this one have that fancy beeper thing that unlocks the door remotely? And electric windows?” until finally he said kindly, “Ma’am, they ALL have that now.”
And when I drove that cherry-red Jetta out of the lot, I felt SO RICH.
I had three days to get it checked out by a mechanic and still return it. I drove it straight to the mechanic’s office and felt my heart drop as they told me about all the things that were wrong with it. Looking at my sad face, he asked, “Isn’t this good news?”
“No,” I said, “I wanted to buy it!”
“Ohhhhh,” he said. “I thought you were looking for things that were wrong with it so you could bargain down the price.” He ripped up the piece of paper. “In that case, let me tell you— lady, this is a GREAT car.”
I floated out of there. I felt like a million bucks.
But later that day I was telling someone excitedly about my new wheels. He was dubious, especially about the fact that I’d taken on a car loan.
“Why would you buy such a fancy car,” he asked, “when you could get one for a third of that price?”
(Now in retrospect, this conversation is hilarious to me.
You know how much I paid for that car? Nine grand. Hardly a luxury spend.
I put down $3K on the spot and got a car loan for $6K— one of the best things that ever happened to my credit score.)
But in that moment, suddenly I doubted myself. It was true! Why was I spending $9,000 plus interest when I could have rolled out in a derelict Buick for $3,000?
I knew the answer, of course—
I was spending it because I was a greedy selfish indulgent bottomless hole of need.
Because that’s the only reason someone would buy something reliable and beautiful, right?
There can be no other reasons.
Now this might seem silly to you, especially if you’ve been reading a while and know my fondness for Veuve Clicquot, SMEG appliances, and diamond rings, but at the time, it shook me.
He had a point. I was in a precarious position for sure: I’d just poured a substantial portion of my savings into my new apartment, outfitting it with couch & sheets & forks & a frypan. Plus, I had decided to embark on a new career— I’d decided to take my little hobby coaching practice and make it my full-time job. I’d made, oh, maybe $5,000 total as a coach at that point? Maybe less? But I’d decided that if I was going to start over anyway in a new city with no network or leads, I might as well start fresh with something I loved doing. (Let me reiterate what I have said elsewhere: Do Not Do What I Did. Yes, it worked out for me, but making a living as a life coach is a notoriously hard thing to do, and people who tell you it’s easy are probably trying to sell you their biz-building program.)
So there I was, my funds drained, the proud new owner of a $6,000 car loan and an apartment full of the bare minimum from Ikea and thrift stores.
But I didn’t want to take my shiny red car back.
I loved it.
I loved it for powerful reasons I couldn’t articulate at the time.
But looking back, I know exactly why.
I loved that car because it symbolized that while I might be scrabbling and bootstrapping on a shoestring, I was still going to do it with style.
It showed me that even when things were shaky, I was allowed to create a safe, cozy space for myself.
(Sidenote: when you haven’t owned a car for a decade, they are full of ridiculous joys: the windows rolled up and down with NO CRANKING!!!! and you can adjust the temperature and sound and smell howEVER you want!!! and no strangers can jostle up against you and grab your butt!!!)
That car represented how I wanted to move forward. It showed me that were ways to be responsible and live in integrity with my actual financial situation (I didn’t buy a brand-new Volkswagen, I bought an 8-year-old one) but still prioritize my personal values of making life gorgeous, even when it’s also complicated.
You’re allowed to want more than the people around you. You don’t have to be satisfied with the clunker, just because someone says you should be. And you’re also allowed to be thrilled about your old red Jetta, even if everyone you know drives a brand new Porsche.
You’re allowed to want more, go for more, create more– and you can do it in ways that are in total integrity with where you are right now.
Once I stopped fighting the fact that beauty is one of my great motivators and values, it was like rocket fuel for me. I realized that I was fiercer, braver, more confident, more willing to take scary actions, and more able to create abundance for myself when I gave myself that great nutrient my soul craved— beauty.
But it takes some backbone to hold to this inner value when people around you hint that you’re being frivolous and self-indulgent.
It’s easy to make fun of people who are doing bold things and investing in their own future. (Whereas weirdly enough, no one will EVER mock you for buying a huge flat-screen TV or getting granite countertops, even though they so rarely uplift anyone’s career trajectory.)
In fact, sometimes snarky people will even try to throw shade on my private clients and ask outright, “What kind of person is willing to spend five figures on coaching?” Which is right around the time smoke comes out of my ears and I say, “BRAVE PEOPLE WHO KNOW THEIR TRUE VALUES AND BELIEVE IN THEIR OWN POTENTIAL TO MAKE WAY MORE THAN THAT IF THEY SHOW UP AS BIG AS THEY ARE AND IGNORE BYSTANDER CRITICS LIKE YOU AND WHO HAVE DONE ENOUGH BRAVE THINGS ALREADY THAT THEY’VE CREATED THE CAPACITY IN THEIR LIVES TO DO SO WISELY.”
Then they back away slowly. Listen, nobody talks trash about my clients, who are self-made world-changers.
So what about you? What are your true values? How do you want to move forward?
Maybe what matters to you isn’t beauty, it’s experiences, or freedom, or security, or creativity, or family, or connection, or justice.
If you were to believe in yourself and invest according to your true values, what would that look like?
- It might mean taking a job that pays less and matters more.
- It might mean undertaking a personal rebrand and asking confidently for that raise.
- It might mean that trip of a lifetime before all the kids go off to university.
- It might mean a solo retreat.
- It might mean going back to school.
- It might mean aggressively tracking your spending and paying off your debt before you buy one more cute dress.
- It might mean investing in the home that you’ve longed to have since you were a small child moving from house to house.
- It might mean committing to working with a coach who really gets you.
- It might mean a big beautiful symbol, like my ring and car were for me.
Do you see how there’s no one right or wrong way to do this?
And how what might seem like a joyful investment to some might seem like a wasteful splurge to someone else?
So our job is to gaze steadily and tenderly at ourselves, see what fuels us and makes us strong and vibrant and plump, and invest in ourselves.
Don’t be afraid to own what’s truly valuable and precious to you, even if it seems silly to the people around you.
Because I believe that YOU are a fantastic investment. In fact, you’re priceless.