I was absolutely hopeless and lost. I was also embarrassed and humiliated. If my parents even knew the amount of debt I had gotten into... It made me feel worthless, unwanted, undeserving, helpless, terrified, angry, fatigued, ASHAMED and GUILTY. And I felt those things every day of my life for years.
How does this happen!????? It's a great question. And the answer for me is: NAIVE STUPIDITY and then hopeless indifference.
I initially moved to L.A. in 2003 to pursue acting. Before I left, I read somewhere in the dumbest book of all time that a real actor only acts. If you tell an agent or a casting director you have a job they won't take you seriously. You're job is auditioning. Your occupation is that you are an actor. So I moved to LA with very little money but knew in my guts I was so special that my talent was going to get me noticed immediately. HAHAHAHAHAHAHA....*sigh* Oh, LA...
I worked very part time at a diner my sister worked at for minimum wage I got a credit card for a trip home for Christmas ($400+). I wanted to pay it off slowly to build my credit. When agents didn't show up to my first improv show and discover me (How is that possible!!??? Wait, only my sister is in the audience!???), I used my emergency credit card for my headshots ($400+). For Groundlings classes ($500+ for a 6 week class x 6 classes). For duplications of headshots ($400+). For postage to send out headshots on a weekly basis ($50). For membership dues to take classes at the theater nobody comes to watch me at ($125/month). Sketch writing classes with an 800 year old SNL writer ($500)... Costumes ($70), wigs ($100+)... I bought a mattress ($100+), etc, etc, etc...
What I WILL say, is that when I pursue something, I PURSUE it. I was in classes or performing six nights a week doing whatever I was told, whatever I read you should do. I was diligent about sending out headshots, going through Backstage West and constantly submitting. I just kept thinking, "It would just take one national commercial & I pay off my classes." I looked at it as an investment and was adamant I was going to get there.
Soon I began thinking work might be a good idea so I began to work part-time as a server. Because I was a new server, I got the worst and fewest shifts. I increased the limit on my card. My sister asked to put her car repairs on my card which almost maxed it out. So I got another one-- strictly for 'emergencies.' My sis paid me small increments until her repairs were paid off. I used those small payments to live. I bought groceries or used it to buy the latest acting monologue book. I was also the girl who had the bestest broke friends in the world. "Don't worry, guys-- this is my treat!" At this time, I was about $4,000 in debt and I was in the process of accruing some moving expenses.
It was around this time that I remember watching a Dr. Phil show about couples in debt. I was dumbfounded and disgusted with these people in debt 50k with huge screen tvs and walk-in closets. I yelled at the screen, "Well stop buying stuff, idiots!!!" I judged them. I could make my payments; I had excellent credit. I was fine.
The thing is, with my debt, I had absolutely NOTHING to show for it. Not even a line in a tampon commercial! I didn't get called in to audition because I didn't have an agent to get me an audition. I couldn't get an agent because I wasn't a working actor. It's a catch-22 in good old Hollywood and some of the most talented people I've ever met in my life don't even get a glance because they're not in the right place at the right time. Someone quit at the diner so I was officially full-time now and began working Fri/Sat nights til 4am.
I began to burn out. I was taking classes every night, performing twice a week and working full-time. I got tired of the smell of ketchup & landed a job at a title company where my sister was temping. It was decent money but once summer was over, everyone was laid off. I picked up shifts where I could at the diner but they were staffed up. I kept taking classes at Groundlings and racking up debt thinking this was an investment. If I'm not working, at least I'm working. I had to keep going. I couldn't quit now. God would look out for me. Everyone said I had 'it.' I just needed to be discovered. I increased the limit on my second card.
The diner didn't need me so I began working at a hipster cafe in Los Feliz. It paid 36 cents an hour but it was so cool, man! All the celebrities? Working full-time in no way covered my bills so of course spending money went on my cards. I was taking the Sketch Writing Lab at Groundlings. I moved again.
I quit at the cafe because the man who runs it is a horrible human being. He made people cry on a regular basis. The final straw was when asked me to engage customers more-- "Because, you know, otherwise I'd just have vending machines." A real charmer. Needless to say, I didn't feel 'honored' to be at such a trendy place like everyone else did. Besides have you MET me!? I'm not ironic. I'm just WEIRD. I wore a 'Free Willy' t-shirt on a regular basis in highschool. (What? I liked movies.). It was just a job and by that point, I'd had PLENTY. I knew I'd find something else.
Like the title company! After another brief bout of joblessness, they rehired me. (A total of three times by the way).
My best friend came out to visit and I had no money. I wanted to take her to Solvang to wine country. She's had a rough life and I wanted to treat her to something kind. What a good friend!!! So I came up with a gameplan... I would take out an $11,000 line of credit, consolidate both of my cards onto that one creditor, have a little spending money and then after this completely crack down on my spending and get rid of my cards. Who's wincing!!??? *raises hand*
Guess who spent too much? I transferred the amount & kept using the cards. I got laid off at the title company again and decided they reeeeeally needed to call this employment seasonal! I began taking a writing class at Acme. I got new headshots. We are doing this!!! I JUST NEED ONE DAMN COMMERCIAL!!! I began working at a medical billing company part-time. It wasn't enough. I began working at a bakery as a counter staff. I got NEW headshots ($800+). Then...
Wait, what??? WHAT????????
...In the blink of an eye, my acting life came to a screeching halt. A humiliating screeching halt.
I got passed on at Groundlings. WHAT!?????? WHAT, WHAT, WHAT!???? They didn't want me. I'd been in these classes for four years. I had waited an entire year just to get into this class. We did the final show, the members voted and they didn't want me. I was DEVASTATED. Everyone said I was a stand-out in class. But class doesn't count. Did I think too highly of myself that the comedy gods snubbed me? Did I play my cards wrong? Did I not play them at all? Am I not really special? Am I not as talented as they say? But complete strangers have come up to you & said amazing things. Kathy Najimy came to an I.O. show once and mentioned you to a friend: "I didn't find any of these girls funny except for your friend. And I look for that." Tsai Chin from 'Joy Luck Club'-- said I was so good she knew I was an actor. HOW COULD THIS DESTINY BE SOOOO UTTERLY WRONG!!??? HELLO!!?? TSAI CHIN!!!??? ;)
But it was gut wrenching. Groundlings was my back-up plan!!!! If I wasn't discovered at a huge audition somewhere (I never got real auditions, mind you), SURELY I'd be discovered at Groundlings. It was a shot in a million but I was special, right? The final class and then Sunday company and then discovery and then SNL and then millions and then and then and then-- 'Dear Mom & Dad, I'll send money. I'm so rich that it ain't funny" song!!!! That's how it's supposed to go!!! The talented girl who has every right to make this her living is supposed to win!!!???
What do you mean I didn't make it?????
Suddenly, I wasn't just wildly in debt but devastatingly sad and empty. What on earth was I doing with my life? What did I have to show for any of it? How long could my parents keep sending me money? Who was this person? THERE WAS NO HERPES COMMERCIAL. I'M NOT EVEN JOEY TRIBBIANI!!!!???
At a certain point, I just became numb and this is when the indifference set in. I hated my life and prayed everyday for God to get me through it. I was extremely unhappy. I was now the AGM at the bakery with an hourly rate and I began to hate people. I was OVER customer service. None of my friends saw me as a depress case or anything but when you work 60+ hours a week between two jobs that don't pay you enough to survive, you shut down. I might as well have been a zombie-- all I did was work. I couldn't believe the girl who was Vice President of her class, captain of her hockey team, loved by friends & family, blah, blah, blah--- THAT girl did THIS.
Totaling Corolla was the final straw. I had to have my mom co-sign on the loan for my beloved Hannah Honda. It was a humiliating 3-day process and an absolute miracle they let me take it off the lot... I had no choice but to consolidate all of my credit card debt into a monthly program with CareOne Credit. For the next five years of my life, I would make rent-worthy sized payments every month to this company and it felt like dying over and over and over again.
I knew something had to change and it had to be big. I signed up for a full marathon in Alaska and raising money for Team In Training is how I met my ex (which was a big deal for me). I began taking classes with Candace Silvers. I remember her asking me, "Aren't you tired of being tired?" I was desperate to do anything to change my life so I listened heartily to what she said. I began taking little steps forward by changing my thought processes.
"Wait, I could make more money?"
"Wait, I don't have to work myself out debt before I have a life?"
"Wait, I could start my own business by using investors?"
"Wait.. I'm whole & complete now?"
Suddenly, there was possibility.
That possibility gave me the energy to bring new things into my life-- a salaried position at UCLA, the courage to move across country for love and adventure, the willingness to shed the prescribed faith of my past and create my own belief system. I was LIVING for the first time in my life.
And then break-ups and life blogs and being refined by fire... Making the constant choice to never stay comfortable for too long. Things like 'A Letter From the Future' are written... and you're changed. Four years have passed & you think, "I only have ONE MORE YEAR on my program!!??? When did THAT happen!!??? You realize you're a probably a better manager for the lessons learned in making stupid decisions in your youth and you realize you're going to be one hell of a business owner because you got all of your huge mistakes out early. I was actually grateful I fell in love with the world again. I was beginning to think I was pretty lovely as well!
And then... On October 4th, 2012... I made the final payment to my debt consolidation program.
I knew it was a college education's worth of debt but when I got my congratulatory letter this week, I lost my breath. It was waaaaaay higher than I remembered by about 8k!!!!
So pleeeeease judge away... Judge, judge, judge, judge, judge... (Around year four I stopped judging and decided to forgive myself so it might take a while for you...)
But then join me in CELEBRATING the FREEDOM that is NO LONGER..
WORTH OF CREDIT CARD DEBT.
SORRY FOR THE SWEARING MOM!!! :)
And the song that popped into my head immediately after my last payment?
There are no words. ;)