This holiday season has felt different for me. As I’ve listened to holiday music, watched Christmas classics, and enjoyed the light displays, I’ve found myself more drawn to the message of Advent than the message of Christmas. In the Christian tradition, Advent is a season of waiting — waiting for the birth of Jesus. We are reminded of our ancestors who waited expectantly for centuries for the coming of the Messiah.
It’s challenging to wait, particularly in this season, because we already know the end of the story. And yet, in our own lives, so many of us are waiting without knowledge of what will come next. We wait for a promotion, for healing, for a new venture to take off, for the birth of a child, for a wedding, for a partner, and the list goes on. For my husband and me, 2018 has been a crash course in waiting. Waiting for surgery, waiting to go home, waiting for a boot, waiting for him to walk, and now waiting and watching as the recovery process unfolds. We have put plans on hold until this process is complete. We wait impatiently, not knowing the outcome. We vacillate between fear and joy for the future that awaits us.
Many of us, my husband and me included, are no strangers to waiting when it comes to our finances either. We are waiting to pay off our student loan debt. You may be waiting to be a home owner, waiting to make that dream vacation a reality, waiting to fund your child’s education … the list goes on.
If you are living in anticipation, here are a few tips to make the waiting just a little bit easier:
1. Focus on the end goal: Can you clearly articulate where you are headed, and what makes this goal worth waiting for? My husband and I have spent eight long years paying off student loan debt. We are finally beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. We talk a lot about what our life will be like when we are free of student loan debt: We are hoping to build our own house, commit more to savings, travel more, be more generous, and have more disposable income to spoil our niece and nephew.
Tip: Find ways to keep your destination in front of you as a constant reminder that the waiting is worthwhile. Put a picture that represents your destination on the fridge, your phone, or the bathroom mirror as a reminder of where you are going. Know you need to make a change but still aren’t quite sure what that change will look like? Try the lighthouse method.
2. Celebrate each small step: Most of our financial goals take a while to achieve, so seeing progress in the midst of waiting can keep you motivated. My husband and I celebrate every time we pay off an individual student loan. For a specific savings goal, you might celebrate every $100 you set aside. For a larger goal like retirement, you might celebrate having one year’s worth of your salary saved, then two years, and so on.
Tip: Be creative as you find ways to celebrate that don’t involve a lot of money. For achieving a smaller goal, it may be going out for ice cream. For a larger goal, it may be a brief weekend road trip or camping trip. Set a budget and include it in your savings plan so you don’t put your goal in jeopardy.
3. Be mindful along the journey: Yes, the destination is important, but the journey is just as important. While we wait it’s easy to stay the course, to keep the plan the same and never deviate from it. And yet, waiting periods are where we often learn the most about ourselves, our goals, and our values. As you learn, don’t be afraid to make adjustments to your plan. That’s what my husband and I have done as we work to repay our student loan debt: We started out full steam ahead, but realized that wasn’t sustainable. Taking a slower, more measured approach has allowed us to focus on other values — like travel — simultaneously. Now, as we are getting closer to our end goal, we’re picking up the pace again so we can sprint to the finish.
Tip: Don’t forget to periodically take a moment to step back before you take a step forward. Check-in: Is this goal still important to me? Why? Do I need to do any course correcting? This time of reflection may reignite your passion for your goal, or it may help you shift your focus to something else. Be open to any surprises you find along the way. Reflect on this poem by Naomi Shihab-Nye to open you up to new possibilities and ensure that you don’t miss the boat.
What are you waiting for this season? Share your story below.
P.S. – On this week’s Facebook Live (Thursday at 8pm Central) – I’ll be sharing about my Big Goal Strategy Session. Having a concrete plan, always makes the waiting easier. I hope you’ll join me! Next week, I’ll be taking a break from my blog as I celebrate with my family. But don’t worry, you can catch me on social media. The blog will be back on New Year’s Day with more great content!