A few months ago, I had the opportunity to read Charles Duhigg's latest book, Smarter, Faster, Better: The Secrets of Productivity in Life and Business. One story of the emergency landing of Qantas Flight 32 stuck out to me as a lesson in debt and life management.
As the pilots made their ascent after takeoff from Singapore in 2010, they heard a boom and then a crash. What investigators found later was that an oil fire had caused a turbine disc in the engine to detach, break into multiple pieces and rip through the left wing. Eventually fuel began leaking from the left wing into the open sky.
As systems began to shutdown and instruction upon instructions spewed out from the computers, the pilots debated what to do in light of the multiple conflicting pieces of advice they were receiving.
Finally, the main pilot, de Crespigny, stopped and took his hands off the controls. Instead of trying to account for everything that wasn't working, he realized that they needed to look at what still was working, and how to use that to land the plane. Once it was clear that their jet was functionally more like a Cessna, de Crespigny had a better idea of how to land the plane.
I found this story to be insightful on a number of levels, primarily because it fit what we often face in debt repayment or other financial challenges. Imagine your budget as a plane, and a successful flight to be a balanced budget with no debt, where everything necessary is provided for and you are living within your means. Then, imagine a financial emergency, mistake or challenge as that disc ripping through the wing of your budget.
It is easy and tempting to look at others budgets and wish that you had their means or situations to help you, just like I'm sure that pilot wished he were flying a normal plane, but he wasn't. And only when he faced the limitations of his own reality was he able to land his own plane.
Wherever you are today, it is okay to acknowledge limits. Whether it is to say, "This is all we can do today with the budget we have," or "this is as large as a debt payment that we can afford," getting real with yourself will help you deal with the situation you have, not someone else's.