I stared at the blinking cursor, frantically urging me to enter my name. My fingers rested on the computer keyboard – paralyzed and unwilling.
M-I-C-H… That was all I could press out before tears starting filling my eyes. Why is this happening to me? How could I be such a miserable failure?
I came from a good home. I was loved. I was well cared for. I was raised with strong values and solid principles. The fact that my dad made me read the book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People when I was 14 is evidence of the kind of upbringing I had. I was poised for success, and I didn’t squander it.
I went to college right out of high school, earning a degree in English. I was employed immediately out of college and began traveling the country as a corporate trainer for a computer software company. Eventually, I met a man, was swept off my feet, got married and started the next phase of my life that included becoming a mom, buying my first home (with a white picket fence) and starting a business.
Who would have thought that just over a decade later I would be sitting in front of my laptop – a weeping, miserable and broken mess – applying for government assistance? I sure didn’t, but there I was feeling as if the word FAILURE had just been permanently etched on my forehead.
In that moment, it was difficult to think beyond my circumstances. I had just finalized my divorce, and although I had been able to secure a new home for my children and myself to live in, every day was a painful struggle to make ends meet. I hardly felt comfortable paying for the necessities, let alone health insurance premiums. The cost for self-employed individuals and their dependents was exorbitant.
I remember confessing my woes to my mom and she plainly suggested, “There’s a program for that. You should apply for aid.”
What?! No. I was too good for that. After all, I was educated. Smart people don’t file for aid. I had years of professional experience and before the wacky circumstances of my crumbling marriage and subsequent divorce, I had a stellar credit score and made over six-figures. Successful people didn’t file for government aid. It was blasphemous for her to suggest it and even if I did apply, I was certain someone like me wouldn’t qualify.
Then she reminded me, “You’ve paid into the system your entire adult life. That’s what it’s there for,” and I realized she was right. My blown up ego didn’t like it, but I needed help, so later that evening I finally sat down and submitted an online application to get my kids on state-funded health insurance.
Surprisingly, I was very much qualified. Just so you know, the government doesn’t ask you about your education, nor do they ask you how much you made when you were an awesome success. They just want to verify whether you’re financially insolvent at the time of the application, and I was (how totally and utterly mortifying to admit). I clicked the submit button, and then it hit me like a loaded shotgun: I’m a step away from being a welfare mom – another statistic added to the lengthy roster of minority single mothers who can’t get their sh*t together and need government support.
How did this happen?!
As I look back, there are a billion reasons this happened. But when I examine it all collectively, I know that where I was in that moment was a direct result of my choices – a lot of really bad choices. I chose failure. It didn’t choose me. It was in the moment of clarity that I knew one thing for certain: If I could choose failure, then I could also choose success.
And that’s what I did.
After a year, when the time came around to re-submit paperwork to renew my kids’ government healthcare, I cried again. But this time it wasn’t because I was a failure. It was because I had successfully grown my business and managed my finances so that I no longer qualified for aid. I could easily afford to pay for my own ridiculously priced healthcare premiums – so take that! Those were tears of unrelenting and overwhelming joy. I had reached a point where I could very comfortably support my children and myself, and my trajectory was only heading up.
How did that happen?
I spent every day of that last year choosing success – in both my actions and also in my thoughts. It wasn’t easy. I wanted to give up hundreds of times. There were countless moments when I didn’t think I could dig my way back to my former self – confident, successful and vibrant. But guess what? I did – proof positive that our lives are a direct result of our choices.
What do you choose – success or failure?