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I’ve been financially independent for a long time.
And I’m working hard toward getting to be financially secure as well.
The battle toward being financially independent was long and hard. And the battle toward becoming financially secure continues. Over the past many years, it’s required many hours of planning, strategizing, and working not just more hours, but working smartly and saving money to get me to a place now where I can go to bed without being scared sh*tless about my finances.
I still have a long way to go before becoming completely secure, but I know I’m getting there.
But, for the longest time, in my quest toward being financially savvy, I ignored my emotional stability, emotional freedom, and emotional independence. In hindsight, I now understand that I did not ignore becoming emotionally independent—I just did not know I needed to be emotionally independent.
Does that make sense?
Let me explain as best as I’ve been able to understand it myself.
We are raised—and we can be from any part of the world—to form emotional bonds and attachments to other people. As children, we are incredibly attached to our parents. As we grow older, we become attached to our friends, then we are in romantic relationships where we are asked to find a significant other who can “complete” us. Then the cycle of life continues, and we have children to whom we get attached and then grandkids and so on.
And not for one second am I suggesting that we shouldn’t form bonds or attachments. I wouldn’t be alive today but for the bonds of love and friendship I have with people.
But attachment and bonding should happen by choice—not because it’s expected.
Again, let me explain.
Growing up in India, it’s a very common practice for children to live with their parents till they get married. Sometimes, children stay with their parents even after they get married. This is just how it is. In my extended family, I know of aunts and uncles who were devastated when their kids got married and moved out. The family structure is extremely important to us, so much so that there are many who stay within that family structure forever.
This practice is considered normal to us. But it also means that we are probably a lot more emotionally attached to our parents than we should be.
My young adult life consisted of earning money in my teens, then graduating from college, and running my own business between the ages of 22-25, all of which I gave up to go to graduate school in the United States. I still remember the person I was back then: so brash and confident. I had no doubt in my mind that I would f*cking conquer America.
Then I arrived. And while I’d been on many trips with friends to different places, this was the first time I’d been completely on my own and so far away from my parents, whom I wouldn’t get to see for at least a year. So, the literal day after I arrived in Kansas I called them, bawled my heart out, and told them I wanted to come back.
Here I was in my 20s, someone who’d tossed in a business of my own because I wanted to see the world, someone who’d paid for the trip to the U.S. herself even though the degree itself was fully funded by the college, and someone who was also emotionally devastated because it was the first time I’d been away from my parents.
I was financially independent but still so emotionally dependent on my parents for my well-being.
And then my dad said something that completely changed me forever. He understood how attached I was—especially to him—and this was a make-or-break moment in my life. So, he said to me: “It’s okay.”
He told me that if it was really that difficult for me to live in America without them, I could come back. That there was no shame in accepting that I needed them with me. He said, “Treat this like you’re on vacation. It’s your first time in America. Travel. See the country. Enjoy yourself exploring a new place. And then when you’re done, come back home.”
I’m not kidding when I say that my father’s saying it was okay for me to return changed me completely. That moment is indelible in my memory. When I realized that I could go back, something inside me calmed down. When I knew that I didn’t have to stay in that tiny Kansas town anymore, I breathed. I became emotionally strong in that moment. And that strength carried me through the next few days.
Suddenly, I looked at my being in Kansas as a holiday. I went around the state the next few days like a tourist would and checked it out. Then school started. I started to meet people and make friends. And then, one day became two, and then a week, and then a month, and then so many years.
And for someone who couldn’t live without her parents being in the next room, I went four years before I saw them next.
That conversation with my father made me realize that while financial independence is key to our growth as humans, emotional independence is even more important. In that moment—when I bawled like a little child who wanted her mommy and daddy—I realized that in order for me to be truly independent, I needed to know that I could and should be able to live and manage on my own. And that even if I never had anyone else to turn to in my life going forward, I had to learn to be okay.
And I am.
I’ve tried to share this mindset over the years with many of my family and friends.
Right now, I have so many friends with kids who are going through tough times navigating their relationships with them. “My kids aren’t there for me now and probably won’t be when I get older.” I hear this all the time.
One of my friends feels that her daughter doesn’t look out for her now that she’s getting older. My friend constantly reaches out to her with emails and messages, but the more she does, the less her kid responds. When she told me about it, I asked her to take a step back and give her daughter some space. So she can miss her. So she can come to her.
I also thought, this is so sad. We are now playing games with our own children?
But that’s just it. This is what happens when we allow ourselves to become emotionally dependent on others. Again, don’t get me wrong. I’m not for one second saying we shouldn’t have emotional connections with people. Of course not. But the connections we make need to be ones of choice. This whole notion of “you complete me“—whether it relates to parents, children, or romantic partners—is garbage. We need to get to a place where we feel complete on our own.
Over the years, I’ve loved openly and generously. But I do it (or try very hard to) without any expectations. When people show up for me, I accept their love, their help, their support. But if they don’t, sure I get angry and cuss them out privately, but basically, I’m okay in the end. And that’s a powerful place to be.
It’s only when we’ve bonded with ourselves that we no longer feel afraid of being alone. We don’t get into bad relationships (romantic or friendly) because we’re afraid of being on our own. We wait for the right people to come into our lives because we know that we’re worth it. And if it doesn’t happen, we’re emotionally strong enough to be okay with who we are and what we have.
I fought long and hard to get financial stability in my life. And it’s not an easy task to accomplish—God no. But there are ways to get there. We can, in principle, get 10 different jobs if we so choose (and if we’re lucky) and start earning and saving money. It’s hard but it’s doable. Financial well-being is more of a mind and body thing.
Emotional independence is a different beast altogether. Especially, when we allow our emotional well-being to be dependent on someone else acknowledging our presence and giving them the upper hand to our happiness and our worth. That’s more of a heart thing.
Becoming emotionally independent was a long battle and I still haven’t won the war yet. But I know now that while I would never wish to be alone (and would want my loved ones to be in my life forever), I can and will be totally okay on my own.
Becoming emotionally independent has allowed me to live life on my own terms—to live it boldly and bravely. This journey was a long time coming, but it’s one that I’m truly grateful for.
I’d love to know what you think. Please let me know in the comments below!