I like to think of myself as a pretty open person, emotionally, and it’s rare that I’m afraid of acknowledging something about myself, even if it’s pretty ugly. I may not always be the quickest to repair my flaws, but I can usually admit them, and at the very least confirm that you are not crazy: I am, in fact, doing that asshole thing. And in addition to “keeping up with my own shortcomings,” as it were, I try to stay self-aware and lucid about where I’m doing well, and what I should be proud of. It’s easy for women in particular to get into these needlessly self-effacing spirals where they can’t take full credit for any of their achievements, or even say something truly good about themselves. Many of us have mastered the art of seeing where we’ve messed up and committing to doing better, fewer of us have mastered the art of seeing where we’re passing with flying colors.
And that’s sad, because while it isn’t necessarily preferable to be one of those people who is so high on their own self-satisfaction that they don’t even notice basic social faux pas, it’s not good to be entirely unable to embrace the good in your life, and acknowledge your own improvements. But I understand, and very much relate to, this feeling that the person you are in your head — often a person based on a much earlier version of yourself who had their shit together less — is still the person you are today, despite evidence to the contrary. If you still feel like the flailing adolescent, even if you are getting close to 30 and have little in common with that messed-up version of yourself, that is what you’ll see in the mirror. You’ll cringe when you even use certain words to describe yourself, because you don’t think you really fit the titles you have, or don’t think your life is what it actually is. It’s easy to stay in a sort of quicksand of outdated self-perception, and refuse to let yourself evolve.
I feel this way a lot about money, because I was always so comically terrible with it, and now I’m not, and more than that, money dominates a lot of my life now. I talk and think about it all the time, and I know that my socioeconomic status has changed over the past five years just as significantly as my outlook on finance in general. I’m not the same person I was when I was just starting my career, but I still often feel like that person, and even selfishly sometimes want to pretend that I am because it feels more comfortable to be irresponsible, to feel like I don’t quite have to be an adult yet or fully acknowledge my privilege. So, in the interest of stopping the dumb self-deprecating and downplaying, I thought I’d address the six biggest words I’m still afraid of using in my own financial life (even if they totally apply).
I wanted to start with a word I fear using because I know that it applies, and feel embarrassed by that fact. When you live in New York City, it’s extremely easy to feel that what is “a lot” of money anywhere else in the country is, in fact, “not a lot” in your own life. It’s all relative, and when you’re surrounded by literal millionaires and know people who spend upwards of a thousand dollars a month on cabs and Ubers alone, you suddenly feel like you’re living this incredibly frugal lifestyle if you’re not burning hundred-dollar bills. But I live a life that is luxurious in many ways: I go out to restaurants and bars pretty frequently, I buy lots of fancy brands and food items at the grocery store without really thinking about it, I take cabs sometimes, I give semi-expensive gifts, I travel several times a year. My life is luxurious by most standards, and I only delude myself into thinking it isn’t because I know people who have more. Period. But I need to more frequently confront my budget and realize that at least half of what I consider “baseline” spending is actually a luxury of some kind.
Fact: Lauren frequently gets on me because I have a hard time referring to myself as a CEO in any kind of social setting without making some corny, downplaying joke about it. It’s basically a reflex, because I have all kinds of feelings and connotations in my mind about what that word means, and who gets to use it, and blah blah blah. The truth is, my refusing to embrace the role that I have made only ends up making my team look less serious, and the work we’re doing less serious as a byproduct. I know that my squickiness about an objectively-dumb word is only hurting everyone, including and possibly especially myself, and it’s important that Lauren continue to flick me in the nose when I do this out of habit when at some social gathering.
This is a future, hypothetical word, but still one I am afraid of using nonetheless. The truth is, while I know many, many people who have loved and greatly benefited from the experience of homeownership, I also know several people for whom it was a bad choice, or at least a choice made at a bad time. I have a lot of personal fears and hangups about whether or not I’ll actually be able to take the plunge when the right time comes, even if it’s by all rational accounts a great investment. Because, truth be told, a lot of the people for whom home buying was a bad decision felt that way because they shouldn’t have picked the city they chose to buy in. They ended up meeting someone somewhere else, getting a new job elsewhere, or just wanting to move for personal reasons. I have a strong sense that I’ll want the freedom to move around more than I’ll want to be a homeowner in the next three to five years, but I also feel a social insecurity that not being one is somehow missing out on an extremely important marker of adulthood.
4. Five-year plan.
Speaking of three to five years, I know that it’s really important, generally speaking, to have a good idea of where you want your life (and especially your financial and professional lives) to be over the next five years, but I simply can’t. I can’t see more than 18 months ahead, and part of that is because I have a small business that changes so much every day, but part of that is because I have a huge fear of professional and financial commitment. I can make small decisions that I know will impact my future, but I usually can’t do them with that future self fully in mind. And a huge part of that is because I know that, realistically, there is a good chance I’ll have a kid in the next five years, and I know how much that will impact every aspect of my professional life as a woman — no matter how much I go in saying that I’ll be “Supermom.” That person doesn’t exist, and I know that, so I know that there is a big mental block preventing me from truly committing to a five-year vision, one that I’m intentionally keeping there because it scares me so much.
I am still terrified of investing, even though that is an idiotic thing to say because I have been investing in a company every day for the past two years. I write about finance, I read about investing in some form or another almost every day, I have just finished writing a chapter in a book where I consult with many different experts about investing and build out a plan to get started from zero. I know all the key terms, I know the general rules, I know the competing theories. And yes, I am investing every day in something, it just happens to not be what we think of when we conjure the word ‘investing’ in our minds. But I still can’t get over this self-perception that I am simply not the kind of person who does that, because I still don’t feel like I have this almost-abstract understanding of money that other people I know who invest vigorously seem to. I know that the simple act of saying “Yes, I invest, now how do I get better at it?” would be a huge step, but it still feels embarrassing (or, rather, undeserved) to say those words.
I refuse to think of myself as “wealthy,” because I have a fixed image of what a “wealthy” person is, and I still (stupidly) measure it entirely in money. I don’t measure the amount of freedom I have in life (which is significant), or the amount of other happiness afforded to me outside of just my bank account. Because I grew up financially-insecure, I will always have a very monetary idea of what makes someone wealthy, and feel like I can’t reach that point, even if (like now), I have more than enough money to be happy and safe and healthy, and the freedom to have many other joys in life. I sometimes fear that I’ll always sense that gap between what I have and what I should have, because the idea of truly being wealthy will always seem like something you had to be born with to really embody. But I know that the truth is that I am rich in many ways in life, I just don’t usually have enough perspective to appreciate it.
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