The Bird is The Word

For most of my life, I’ve been taller than my peers.  Even now as an adult, I’m a woman right at six feet tall.  In elementary school, my nickname was Big Bird. I was pretty good at basketball, and so sometimes it was Kareem Abdul Ja-Bird.  I was well into adulthood before I realized that it might have been a name given to me as an insult.  I never thought of it as a negative, I loved (and still love!) Big Bird.  He’s a great role model. Big Bird teaches a lot of life lessons.

Here in the Center for Financial Resources, life lessons are about financial literacy.  Financial literacy is knowing the basics of your finances.  It’s about how the choices you make can affect you both in the long term and short term.  This includes things like managing your money, understanding your credit, borrowing, saving and things like that.  Those are some significant life lessons to learn!

There is one area of life that financial literacy helps a lot, and that is the emotional side of things. Financial stressors can cause a lot of problems with relationships, families and our personal health.  Arguments, sleepless nights, bad choices, and emotional distance can all happen because of financial stress.  However, I want to talk about the emotional issue that I see in lot of my clients.  Shame.

When people come in, they are often wracked with shame. They feel like they have let their family down.  They feel like they should have known better, that they should have done better and that everything their fault.  And maybe it is their fault. But even when family members are ready to forgive, they have a hard time forgiving themselves. Sometimes that shame leads to arguments when people know they messed up and they can’t forgive themselves. They might point the finger at their spouse or partner, not willing to acknowledge their part in it. It can be very difficult to work through this situation. I had a client a few years back that was so ashamed, he couldn’t get out of his own way. He had made a mess of things, it was true. He was apologizing over and over with every question in the interview.  I finally stopped and told him that was enough. That it was good that he could acknowledge what happened, but that now it was time to move past it.  I asked his wife, right then and there, “do you forgive him?” and she said that she did.  So then it was agreed that it was time to look forward and not back. It wasn’t easy for him, but he was able to begin letting go of the crippling shame that he felt.

As Big Bird sang it on Sesame Street, “Everyone makes mistakes, oh yes they do! Your sister and your brother and your dad and mother too! Big people, small people, matter of fact, ALL people! Everyone makes mistakes, so why can’t you?” We have all done things that we shouldn’t have.  We’ve made choices that we regret. We’ve hurt people we love. Sometimes those are very big mistakes. Sometimes it’s hard for the people we hurt to forgive us, and it takes some time. But hopefully we can learn from it and move forward a better person.

When I’m teaching my class in the prison, I talk about self forgiveness and moving forward a lot. When you are talking to felons, it doesn’t do any good to pretend that the world is all roses and sunshine. They see the world from a very different point of view than I do. When I’m talking about budgets, some ask “I don’t have a job or any money, why do I need this?”  And I tell them it isn’t about right now, it’s about having hope for the future. They have made bigger mistakes than most, mistakes that can either just slow them down or completely drag them under.  The anchor of shame is a weight we don’t need to carry our whole lifetime; when we can’t forgive ourselves, the shame spiral will pull us down. Even if we did something for which we should be ashamed, we need to make our apologies and then find the way out.  Admit our mistakes, make amends and move forward.

Money management is a skill.  Something you learn, like walking. Some people get in over their heads financially because they tried to run before they could walk. But not knowing is not something to be ashamed of.  It just means it’s time to learn something new.

If you or someone you know needs help finding their way out of a financial mess, or to learn some new skills, the counselors at the Center for Financial Resources are here to help.  Our number one rule? No judging.  We aren’t here to judge, we’re here to help.  Contact us at 1-888-258-2227 or at to make an appointment.

After all, you can’t argue with Big Bird.

Written by Sylvia Selgestad, Financial Counselor and Educator

Photo credit:

LSS Center for Financial Resources
Consumer Credit Counseling Service | Housing Resources | Sharpen Your Financial Focus | Financial Fitness Education
705 East 41st Street, Suite 100 | Sioux Falls SD 57105-6047
605-330-2700 or 888-258-2227
Strengthening Individuals, Families & Communities

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