The following is an excerpt from my new book, In the Altogether: Trusting God with All We Hide From the World. This is a story I tell in the chapter on the importance of opening up about what’s going on. You can’t deal with a problem unless you’re willing to talk about it.
It's important to remember that there's not a clear cut list of subjects that everyone is always uncomfortable talking about. Some people are ok with opening up about their love lives while others get really nervous. Some are willing to totally own mistakes from their past, others try to pretend they never happened. Some people have no fear at all talking about financial troubles while others, LIKE ME, chicken out.
I'm terrible with money, and I hate talking about it. Dave Ramsey, if you're reading this, get ready to rip someone else's hair out at this story. I'm so sorry.
Ever since I started traveling and speaking full time, I've had to deal with all of the responsibilities that come with being self-employed. I'm my own boss, which is a problem because I'm a terrible boss. A real pushover. It's so easy to convince my boss to let me have the day off for no reason.
I have to be the one who pushes me to work hard. I'm the one in charge of keeping things organized. I have to stay on top of my finances. Or at least try to.
My primary financial strategy is what I like to call "Out of Sight–Out of Mind." Here's what you do: never check your bank account. Ever. Assume you're completely broke and silently freak out every day as you try to spend as little money as possible. At the end of the month, you're allowed to check your account balance once.
Hopefully, the strategy worked, and you'll actually have a lot more money in there than you thought.
Reward yourself by taking all that extra cash you didn't know you had and spend it recklessly on any dumb thing you want. You'll probably spend too much, and then you'll be too scared to check your bank account to see what you have left. That's perfect. Now you're ready to start the cycle over for the next month.
Is it a perfect system? Of course not. It's so stupid. It rarely works out in my favor. Sometimes you'll check your bank account and realize you weren't worried enough and you have even less money than you thought. In those moments the best thing to do is, take a second, breathe in, and freak out harder than you ever have before because you're in so much trouble!
Having no money is actually a really great motivation to work harder. Sometimes (I'm about to sound like the biggest idiot so get ready, Mr. Ramsey) I'll feel like I need to kick my butt out of being lazy so I'll go buy some big expensive thing I don't really need for the sole purpose of making me a little poorer.
Let's see you work your way out of this one, Taylor, I think as I spend $200 on a microphone for my camera that doesn't really sound much better than the $70 microphone I've been using.
I know these are all terrible financial strategies. The main reason I haven't tried anything else is that I know it would require having to ask someone for help. That's so embarrassing. I've been my own boss for almost a decade. You'd think I'd have it figured out by now.
But that's just part of the reason I don't want to reach out to someone. The other part is what REALLY paralyzes me.
If I were to get help, there would come a moment where the other person says, "I'd be glad to help. Tell me about how you've been handling money so far." Then I'd have to look them in the eye and describe what I've just told you. And then I'll have to watch their reaction, whatever that may be. They could laugh in my face. They might yell at me and call me an idiot. They could look down on me for acting like a child and never take me seriously as an adult again. Picturing someone's reaction has always been the main reason I've kept it to myself.
That's also true for my taxes. Being self-employed means, I don't have The Man taking taxes out of every paycheck. Not only do I have to be my own boss but I have to be my own The Man. The last few years I've filed my taxes by myself and...I think I'm doing them, right? I have no idea. I'm winging it. Making it up as I go along with some BOLD guesses on the right way to do it.
My catchphrase as I submit my completed tax form to the government is, "Welp. Let's see if I'm going to jail!"
So far, so good.
Maybe I'm so poor I'm not even on the IRS' radar?
Oh no. I just had a thought.
What if this book becomes a huge hit and I make millions off it? The IRS is going to read this and come after me! I can't have that. I need to make sure this book doesn't become a giant success. I have to do whatever it takes to make sure it isn't a #1 best seller (so if this book comes out and it isn't a smash hit, just know that my plan worked. It was on purpose).
After a while, my tax strategy of "Guess Until You Go to Jail" started affecting me. Whenever tax season would approach, my anxiety would intensify. My mom must have noticed because she recommended I visit a financial advisor who handles taxes for small businesses. I put off setting up an appointment for a long time. Again, I was terrified of what her reaction would be when I told her about my taxes. What if she yelled at me? What if I make her so mad she throws up? Is that possible?
I knew there was some hardcore vulnerability waiting for me at that appointment when I finally called and set it up. It was terrifying. I was already preparing myself for the meeting going badly. I thought if her reaction was too much to handle I'd just immediately leave, never file my taxes again, go off the grid, cut up my social security card, hitchhike to Alaska, and probably die by accidentally eating poison berries.
I'M NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE WEAKNESSES!
I want to be perfect and have it all figured out! It's so frustrating that I'm not and I don't. I'm far from that. The IRS is going to find out and eat me alive!
When I sat down in the financial advisor's office, about to open up about my problem, I started by letting her know what I was thinking at that moment.
"I have no idea how big of a mess my taxes are. I'm scared I've been doing them wrong, but I've also dreaded coming to you because I don't want you to get mad at me. Please don't freak out. Please be gentle."
She agreed and braced herself as she asked me questions.
"Did you do your taxes last year?"
"Did you owe money?"
"Did you pay it?"
"Did you do that the year before?"
"OK. Well, you're actually doing way better than a lot of the people who come into my office. I get people haven't paid their taxes in fourteen years, so don't worry."
I was blown away. Fourteen years?! That's wild.
That meeting lifted a few different burdens off of my shoulders. I found out my situation wasn't the worst this lady had ever seen. It was pretty small when you compare it to what it could have been. After that initial relief, she walked me through some simple next steps I needed to take to keep my taxes on track. I thought it was going to be so much more work. Nope, I left with a list of three things I needed to do. That's it.
She helped me shine a light on the monster that was hiding in the corner of my mind. When I got a good look at it for the first time, I realized I could actually take this thing on. That would have never happened if I didn't walk into that vulnerable moment of admitting why I needed help. Up until that meeting, I was desperately trying to become the man people already thought I was. I put on a good face and made everyone think I had it all together. But I was able to find the hope of change when I laid that aside.
When we allow ourselves to be vulnerable, we are saved from having to pretend.
More about the book
Comedian Taylor Johnson has written a hilarious and honest book on one of the most uncomfortable topics for Christians: vulnerability.
This is not like any Christian book you’ve ever read. It’s weird. It’s funny. Some bizarre true stories and illustrations will catch you off guard. Taylor Johnson’s unique approach is all on purpose to help us get comfortable looking at our shame, our secrets, and our fears around opening up. Yes, it’s scary to share, but because of Jesus, it doesn’t have to be.
Available on Amazon