All I could do was try to go to sleep. That was the only thing that would cure my hunger pangs—not the kind of hunger pangs because I didn’t eat in a few hours or had a hard workout but deep, painful pangs because I hadn’t eaten a balanced meal in days.
If you’ve ever gone without regular meals because you couldn’t afford them, you know what I’m talking about. You likely will never forget the gnawing, the almost stinging sensation well beyond the pit of your stomach. I certainly won’t.
There is being “hungry” or “starving” like you might say to friends as a hyperbole without thinking about it. And then there is hunger because you don’t have enough food to eat or access to proper nutrition. The latter is not just a warning sign that your body is breaking down, but also a side effect of the terror sirens going off in your head because you feel like your world is on fire, with questions like: Will I eat again? Am I going to be okay? Will I even make it to tomorrow?
Some think that I was born with a silver spoon in my mouth. I get it. It’s easy to judge and assume my life was charmed like others whose faces you see on TV or on book covers. “How could she know what it’s like to be hungry?!” Believe me, I wish I didn’t know all too well what it is like.
Even though I’m far from that time in my life—I have access to more good quality food now than I ever imagined—I will always remember the hungry nights I couldn’t escape from even in my dreams. In hindsight, it’s easy for me to have an appreciation for the harder times in my life. Looking back, it’s pretty clear that my actual hunger drove and continues to drive my career hunger, and a ravenous appetite it is. But, my younger self wouldn’t have wanted or needed to hear that. She just wanted a good meal and to be told it’s going to be okay.
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Of course I had no idea just how okay and then some it would be. I never imagined I would be a network news anchor for a decade and I certainly didn’t imagine I would focus on business and money news or grow into teaching others about it for yet another decade. No, I didn’t set out to become a financial expert or author. I set out to get a job, support myself and use my passion for helping others in some way.
Ét voila. Here we are. Moi: the least likely money expert ever.
For a long time I suffered from Imposter’s Syndrome. I pretended to have a pedigree I didn’t. I tried to whitewash my real story that included days without a spoon in my mouth, much less a silver one. I thought that going through dark periods of not having money, where I only ate brown rice and beans (because it felt slightly fancier than Ramen) would be my biggest weakness as I grew my career in the financial service space. I thought that if anyone found out, I would somehow be disqualified. Canceled.
Little did I know it was actually my biggest superpower. The superpower to honor and be vulnerable about where I really came from. The superpower to remember and empathize with what that’s like and to champion for those still there.
When long-time financial author and host Dave Ramsey recently said “you’re already screwed if the stimulus check ‘changes your life,” I felt an immediate deja vu. The pangs. The pain. And then, the indignation.
Advice is, by definition, given to those who need help. Financial advice isn’t consumed by those who have finances figured out. Rather, it is for those who are struggling and today, during a global pandemic, millions are hard-pressed to make ends meet. That doesn’t mean they are bad. It doesn’t mean they aren’t smart. It means that they are in the middle of a battle in the ring with darkness, likely not for the first time and likely for a combination of macro- and micro-economic issues that won’t be fixed in time for dinner.
People currently going through hard financial times, who need help putting 3 meals on their table for their families aren’t screwed, they are hungry. People for which $600 or $1400 changes their lives today aren’t screwed, they need a hand getting out of the ring.
You aren’t screwed if you need help. I won’t lie to you—just like I wouldn’t lie to my former self—and say that it’s going to be okay tomorrow. But it is going to be okay.
There are people who once felt financially helpless, too, who will meet you with extra kindness and compassion. There are experts who remember the pangs; who hold the pain of walking through financial flames deep in our sense memory. We are the ones holding buckets of water for those still battling them.