Let’s just start with a nice, big, fat disclaimer: I’m not trying to say money doesn’t matter – this is a personal finance website, so, um, DUH. Of course it matters. Ask anybody who’s had trouble making ends meet whether or not money matters to get some more clarity on that subject.
But once your basic living expenses are covered, it’s rarely just about the money, right? One of the luxuries of living in a first-world country is that we have the privilege of worrying about our “work-life balance” and our “standard of living.”
We can worry about whether a job will sufficiently grow our skillset, whether the people we work with will be great mentors, whether the commute is too long.
It’s about your income, your spending, your goals, your vision for your life, your ability to negotiate, your willingness to learn new skills sets and apply them to new income opportunities, and a million other caveats.
If We’re Not Talking About Money…
It’s not just about the money. It’s about behavior changes and impulse control. It’s about priorities and decision-making. It’s about understanding trade-offs and compromises.
If you want to make a significant change in your financial situation, it’s more than just addressing the income and spending. You’d think those would be the answers, right? Just make more money! Just spend less money!
It’s kind of like losing weight: just eat less, you circular lifeform! Run a little. Ok, so why aren’t we all billionaires with six pack abs?
Ultimately, neither will happen without addressing the root cause of the problem. [Again, to clarify, we’re talking about a point in time in which you’re making more than enough to cover your basic life needs (not luxuries – basic life needs).]
For example, I’m not a circular lifeform because I eat too much and don’t exercise enough. Both of those certainly don’t help, but there are underlying psychological reasons about why I eat too much. There are other issues that lead me not to prioritize exercise. Until I address those particular issues, I will continue to be round. (I have no issue with the word fat, btw, but it tends to make other people uncomfortable. See below.)
Finding Your Why
Have you ever taken a business or goal-setting seminar? At some point, a motivational speaker will say with great fervor, “You need to find your WHY.” Usually, this refers to why you want to achieve a certain goal, hit a certain revenue target, fit back into your skinny jeans, etc.
I want you to examine a different, and potentially less fun, why. Why are you in the position you are in today?
For example, I am at this place in my career because I have worked my tail off in every job I’ve had. I’m here because of the relationships I’ve had with several influential mentors. That’s a fun one – my hard work is paying off.
I am in this financial position because I have made certain decisions – some good, some bad. I have made unwise spending choices. I made the decision to work after having children. I decided to invest in higher education and gain short-term debt for longer-term payoffs.
The point isn’t to beat yourself up. I don’t actually regret any of my financial choices. People make mistakes. However, for me to improve, I had to identify patterns of behavior that were leading me astray. I had to root out belief systems that weren’t serving me anymore. I say that in the past tense like I’ve got it all sorted out, but honestly – this is ongoing work.
I’ve begun that work in my financial house, yet barely skimmed the surface of the same questions when it comes to my health. It is hard to take responsibility for the choices we have made and the history that has shaped us. I can no longer blame past ignorance for my mistakes if I knowingly continue bad behavior. I can no longer blame the people who helped shape those behaviors. I have to accept that at this point, I am an adult, and I am making a choice to continue down this path. That shit ain’t easy, but progress towards meaningful goals rarely is.
Today, I’d like you to examine the deeper why of where you are. Are you in debt because shopping makes you feel better when you’ve had a bad day? Because this is the first time you can ‘afford’ nice clothes? Are you afraid of pursuing a higher-paying job because you think you don’t deserve it? Are you selling yourself short by self-sabotaging one of your goals?