Why Owning Up to Ourselves is the Most Important Step



olilewington 100x100This is a post from Oli Lewington. Oli is a storyteller: a writer, filmmaker and social media specialist who helps people, brands and businesses tell their stories in a way that entertains and enchants their customers, clients and fans. You can connect with him on Twitter or Google+.

I’m in debt.

There, I said it.

It’s not nice, it’s not pretty, but it’s not (or shouldn’t be) taboo, either.

There was a time when I was ashamed of my debt. I’m still not proud of it. But what I do recognize is that it’s a major part of my life and there’s nothing I can do about it other than sit down, focus and attack it head-on.


The first step to tackling any problem is acknowledging it.

We have to admit that we’re eating badly before we can improve our diet. We have to confess that we’re unfit and unhealthy before we can sign up to the gym to start fighting the flab. We have to confess that our finances aren’t as robust as they could be or should be before we can start fighting our debt.

For years, I ignored my debt. I was barely making enough money to cover all of my bills, let alone generating enough spare cash to do anything more than cover my minimums and keep the wolves from the door.

I would procrastinate about paying things. If it wasn’t automated, I would often forget, or “forget,” to pay them. I would do everything I could to avoid seeing my bank account reading £0.00 when I logged in.

Until the wolves literally came to the door in the form of bailiffs who politely (in fairness to them, very politely – nothing like what you see in the movies) suggested I get a better hold of my repayments.

I had to stop and admit that I was in pretty bad shape and I needed to sort things out.

Removing the taboo

No one likes to talk about debt, but almost everyone is in it.

Call it by whatever name you like, but car loans, cash loans, payday loans, mortgages, credit cards, overdrafts: They are all debt.

So why do we openly talking about some (“Yay! I got my first mortgage!”), while others are unmentionable (“Yay! Some doofus was stupid enough to give me a credit card!”)? Why is some debt ‘worse’ than others?

Truth is, it’s not. All debt is equal. What makes it better or worse is our ability to deal with it.

Consider Donald Trump, who was almost wiped out by his debt: Leveraged to the hilt, all was fine while the business was running smoothly and he could cover his payments. When the downturn came, all of a sudden that ‘leverage’ became ‘debt’ and he was screwed.

Understand the why

Everyone has reasons for their debt. For some it’s college tuition, for others it’s through being laid off or, as in my case, through over-spending on credit cards to try to (and fail at) keep myself happy when I was ill.

Some reasons for getting into debt are silly, like mine. Some are more understandable, like wanting to become a doctor and needing to pay your way. The united thread, however, is that they are all valid reasons.

Why valid? Because they have all already happened. I got into debt because I spent too much on credit cards: Nothing I can do now will ever change that fact, so it’s a valid reason, it’s just a silly one that makes me feel like a bit of a twit.

We need to take ourselves away from the idea that we’re the only ones who have done something silly in our lives, who have made decisions that have put us in a bad place. Because everyone has made decisions that impact their finances and everyone has a valid reason for debt.


Admitting it and moving on to the next stage – dealing with it – is crucial. And I’m guessing the very fact that you’re reading this blog means you’re already standing on step 1.

Let’s keep climbing.


Note from Joan: You might remember that Oli previously shared 5 Lessons from Life After a Double Lung Transplant with Man Vs. Debt readers, and we’ve asked him to share some more with our community over the coming weeks!

We LOVE his story – and his enthusiasm – because he is so passionate about life, and about some of the things we’ve been talking about here on MvD recently. You know, like talking dirty about money and getting your head out of the sand and facing what you owe?

You’ll be hearing more from Oli soon!

23 thoughts on “Why Owning Up to Ourselves is the Most Important Step”

  1. Oh, Oli, you are a wise man! Coming clean, whether you do it privately or publicly, is a critical first step. I couldn’t agree more. I held my secret for so many years even long after I got my you-know-what together. When I started my blog I struggled with whether to come clean publicly. I decided I would since that was one way of building credibility. SCARY. But now that it’s done I see it as a dip in the path of my life and no longer as something to be so ashamed of.

    Ree ~ I blog at EscapingDodge.com

  2. Thanks, Ree. The public/private debate on owning up is another topic entirely, isn’t it?!

    For me, I realised that if I was truly contented with it myself (if I had made peace and was ready to move on) then there was no reason for me to hide it. Still, there was a little something in me that wondered “What will people think when Joan puts this post up?”

    I’m so, so glad to hear that you’ve managed to get perspective on your debt and refuse to be ashamed of it now. Great going!

    1. Thanks for leaving a comment, Julie – I’m so happy it made you feel even the tiniest bit better; every little helps.

      I’ve always found honesty to be best in life, but I’ve never found anything so hard as being honest about my debt.

  3. Hi, I’m Potatohead, and I’m a debtor. Before this year I used to gloss over that very simple but very important statement. My debts didn’t really phase me, even though they should have. Now that I’ve acknowledged the fact I was living behind my means, im trying to right the ship and get things on track.

  4. What an encouraging article. There are so many people out there that are in denial of their debt. Debt isn’t something you can just push under the rug and forget about. I know it’s normally taboo to talk about debt and money with family or friends, but I try to do it as much as possible just so that they can keep me accountable.

  5. Bravo! Getting rid of the taboo around issues of personal debt – and of personal finances in general – is an idea whose time has come. Those of us who have done “silly” things to get into debt are in good company. But there is no room for shame. There is only room for a humble acknowledgement of personal responsibility and a focused intention to get out of debt.

  6. That’s a great idea, Jake. Strangely enough, I find it far harder to talk to my family about my debt than I do even in an open forum like this. I’m better at it now that I’ve got things under control, but when I was really spiraling I couldn’t bring myself to talk to anyone about it, which is totally the wrong approach!

    I’m glad you can see the sense in owning up and being as open as possible about it.

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  10. I honestly wish that folks would walk around with a sticky-note on their forehead that told us whether they were in debt or not.

    Let me explain…

    My goal in life is to focus on me and not worry what others are doing — in the realm of buying things, in making money, etc.

    I just want to Live — Love, Experience, Help, Enjoy, Serve, Laugh.

    But in reality, this is Hard. I’m human. I crave things. I want what ‘they’ have even though I say that I don’t.

    So it would be much easier if I knew that someone was in debt in order to have things. And that while I have less, I have very little debt (still have small loan on my home) and that I am more flexible because of it.

    Of course if the person was living large and the sticky note said “Zero Debt” then I’d want to know what that person knows.

    The sticky-note would just be a wonderful filter for who I’d want to talk with about finances 😉

    1. Can’t believe I missed this comment, sorry! But I LOVE this idea. Then we could all just hunt down the large-living post-it-free people and grill them for the secret to life, the universe and everything!

      1. That’s it!
        But it’s not the way it works is it 🙂
        But that’s ok. It’s a good reminder to me that it doesn’t matter what other folks are doing financially (debted, debt free, etc.)
        I just need to keep focusing on WHAT’S RIGHT FOR ME and KEEP DOING THAT.
        Thanks Again

      2. That’s it!
        But it’s not the way it works is it 🙂
        But that’s ok. It’s a good reminder to me that it doesn’t matter what other folks are doing financially (in debt, debt free, etc.)
        I just need to keep focusing on WHAT’S RIGHT FOR ME and KEEP DOING THAT.
        Thanks Again

  11. My facebook is always lit up with posts from friends talking about student loan debt, car payments, and credit cards. I think with the millennial generation, since a lot of us are used to being in debt anyways, it’s easy for us to talk about it more casually.

    1. I think you’re right for a majority of people, except we all tend to clam up when it becomes a real problem. We’re happy to moan and groan about how terrible it is to be strapped with student dept when we’re earning enough to pay our way through it, but I find people a lot less open when it means their car is being repossessed or they’re three months behind on their electric bill.

      That’s the kind of openness we need to encourage.

      1. That is true, and not just in regards to finances. When it comes to struggles with weight, relationships, stress, and other issues, there’s a point at which people feel hopeless and out of control. Like you say, we as a society need to encourage openness – especially for the most vulnerable. If we all shed our pride and acknowledged that each one of us has had some experience somewhere on the continuum of at least one of these issues, we’d be more compassionate and less judgmental of those who are really struggling. Hopefully, everyone knows at least one such person to confide in when things are overwhelming.

  12. That’s it!
    But it’s not the way it works is it 🙂
    But that’s ok. It’s a good reminder to me that it doesn’t matter what other folks are doing financially (in debt, debt free, etc.)
    I just need to keep focusing on WHAT’S RIGHT FOR ME and KEEP DOING THAT.
    Thanks Again

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