Jenni Stackman

A Handful of Spare Change.

Guest Post by Jenni Stackman

When my sister, Julie asked me to write a piece for the Compounding Courage community, I wasn’t sure what I would write about. I could write about moving across the across the country to build a life with my then boyfriend, now husband, Jared. Or our fertility struggles and IVF. I could write about the challenges of raising an autistic child. The obvious one might be the courage it took to move my family around the world to Singapore. Yet, I am not going to write about those things because I didn’t do them alone: I had a crutch. I had Jared. He is a brave dude and his bravery is contagious. I can do almost anything with him by my side. But there was this one thing that had crippled me for decades and of course it was something that my steadfast crutch didn’t understand so I couldn’t depend on him to carry me through. I found courage in the unlikeliest of places. 

A handful of spare change.  

We all have change; maybe it’s on our dresser at home, in the console of our car or thrown in the bottom of our purse but other than being a nuisance, it’s pretty much worthless. We might randomly dig it out if we really need it but mostly, we ignore it. But in Singapore, they not only use change, they love change. Everywhere you go, they ask for exact change. They insist upon you making change. The train station, a restaurant, in the grocery store, at the zoo or the park, people pay with change. And then I noticed something else: I never see change on the ground. I have walked all over the streets of this island and I have never seen a penny on the ground. Not only are they not on the ground, they aren’t anywhere. There are no spare penny dishes at the 7-11. No charity coin boxes in the grocery store. Everywhere, everyone is keeping and counting all of this change, it is maniacal. 

This spare change game completely fed into one of my biggest shame games, money equals worth and only poor kids pay with change.  For me, paying with change is absolutely an act of vulnerability and pure torture. I know that isn’t true but it’s one of my truths. I can have hard conversations about hard things, but bring up money and I am instantly uncomfortable and armor up to protect 8 yr. old Jenni at the 4-H softball game, paying for a grape Jolly Good soda with nickels, praying no one would notice she was poor and therefore, worthless. Paying with change has been avoided my whole life. I was already feeling vulnerable on this ridiculously hot island (my sweat game has leveled up) when Singapore ripped off the Band-Aid covering up my shame and poured salt directly into the wound.  

The first few times I was asked for change, I blushed (which is too modest of a word for the shade of red I turn) and turned behind me to offer my long practiced, standard apologetic smile and head nod to reassured the person behind me that I was sorry and that I knew I was worthless. But no one behind me seemed to notice. They smiled back confused by my shameful looks and carried on. Everywhere, everyone was paying with change and no one cared. How? Why? What was happening here?  Get me off of this God forsaken torture island!!!

Smash cut to me standing in line two months later, counting out change, pissed at myself for forgetting my debit card, feeling the familiar warm embrace of my shame blanket slowly rising up, when a moment of clarity washed over me and I froze. The warmth is gone. My shame blanket had fallen and by doing so, dragged my old ‘truth’ to the ground and wrapped me in a cold, hard truth.

WORTH DOESN’T CHANGE…but how I value worth does. 

Every penny is worth as much today as it was the day it was minted and its worth is equal to every other penny. The value can change but the worth is constant. A toddler values a penny more than a 17 yr. old but that penny is always worth one cent. Some pennies get tarnished from neglect, bent from trauma and carelessly tossed in the street because their worth was not valued but no matter what happens to each penny, no matter how many times their value changes dirty hands, whether it’s a shiny new penny or a penny run over by a train, it’s worth will never change. Each penny is always worth one cent.

It was so simple but it took me counting out change in Singapore to realize they pay with change because they see each penny exactly for what it’s worth and value it to its fullest potential. Counting out change wasn’t just a hassle to me, it was hustle. And in that moment, I saw myself just like a penny, laying in the street, abandoned, waiting to be picked up and seen for what it was worth. And I knew who had to pick it up: it had to be me. No one else. I needed to see me for what I am worth because if didn’t value my worth, who would? I was born filled with worth, same as everyone else and I realized, I am responsible for how or who assigns value to my worth. It is my worth and cannot be taken away.  It was always there and it will always be there, I just needed to sit in the discomfort of my shame counting out pennies, long enough to see through the hustle and realize:

I was never less, I had just refused to see the value of my own worth. And it was time to pick it up. 

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Julie Stephenson

Julie is one of the founders of Compounding Courage, a company that provides personal growth and leadership development programs. CLICK HERE to learn more.