I didn’t earn the nickname “Little Hustler” for nothing.

This past Monday morning, my net worth was $5. After scouring my couch cushions, purses and waitressing aprons I made my way over to Bank of America. The staff seemed rather shocked when I handed over a ziplock bag bursting with coins.

“When will this be deposited?” I asked, in a panic. “My T-mobile bill is due Friday and, trust me, based on my experience, they are unforgiving!” As they rolled their eyes I looked on the bright side: at least I hadn’t bounced a single check.

Being an artist ain’t that glamorous at times. Especially when this Renaissance woman realizes she has reincarnated into an era that is expensive as shit! However, thank god everything is relative, right?

My dear friend, a Vanderbilt professor, and I met later on in the day to plan a workshop for her fall semester. Immediately, she could read that something was wrong. “Why the sour puss and where did your Lily spark go?” She was right! I was feeling like a scrub rather than my usual shiny penny self.

After I professed my monetary ills, she said, “When my husband and I moved to Nashville from New York we were unbelievably broke. It was a fiasco. I didn’t receive a paycheck for three months. My man was unemployed and on top of that, we had a son to take care of. All of the cards were stacked against us and we literally lived on canned good for three months.

One day after I had sold all of our belongings a friend rang me up. He was someone so put together that one assumed his life was perfect — an Instagram highlights reel as you would say! Yet, he broke down and admitted that his finances were a mess. He was millions of dollars in debt, and was on the hunt for a significantly larger salary to compensate for the life he had created. His success was all a projection!”

Suddenly, those pennies of mine didn’t seem so bad after all. At least I wasn’t sinking in quicksand trying to keep up the facade.

My own “coming to J” moment came in the form of a self-made millionaire who, after an interview I had with him, gestured around his house and said, “Everything I own is paid for in cash therefore, I can guiltlessly enjoy my life. If I were you kid, I would make it my number one priority to be debt-free.” The second I walked in my front door, I snipped up my plastic gem. I vowed at that very moment to never be anyone but who I am.

MTV and the American dream have imprinted on us the idea that one day, if we’re lucky, we’ll live above the rest of society. Yet it isn’t the Mercedes Benz, pile of bricks or bangin’ gym body that brings us together. It is those sticky life lessons, we clumsily learn, that connect and give us something to say. After all, putting up walls only pushes us farther apart.

Lily Clayton Hansen

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