Money, another big topic (I guess I like the bigger issues). Amassing money is one of the most ubiquitous goals we have as humans, and is connected to a lot of different emotional states. Safety is a big one, and not without some wisdom. For the purposes of this article, I will be focusing on how we relate to money from a perspective of how it may make us feel safe. There are numerous reasons to want large sums of money to be sure, but if I don’t narrow it down, we’d be here for a while!
My views on money are not entirely in the camp of, the root of all evil. For example, without money, or some form of interchangeable, fluid asset, I more than likely wouldn’t be wearing clothes, because I don’t know how to create a bolt of cloth on a loom, or really know how to grow cotton. But that doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be cautiously skeptical of the accumulation of wealth and the power and influence that it may yield.
There’s a lot of area we could cover to be sure. But let’s look at how it’s correlated with our feeling fearful if we aren’t on our desired financial track, and is more always better? In the way we have society set up now, you reach a certain age after working a specific amount of years, and then hopefully you’ll have saved enough funds to comfortably live out your plans for retirement. If we don’t have enough, we could become destitute, living hand to mouth and relying on government subsidies in low income housing. Or so I imagine many of us who fear not having enough feel our future will look if we don’t save as much as possible, as quickly as possible.
I had a wake up call not to long ago, when I went through a divorce. I found myself with no savings, no assets and a daunting amount of debt. Mostly in the form of student loans and credit cards at the tender age of 34. I was pretty normal, as Dave Ramsey likes to put it, and yeah, I was scared for sure. I had images of being homeless, begging for handouts because I felt like I had no resources to change my future for the better. With nobody to guide me along the way I felt lost. Luckily I have a father and stepmother who have been with me every step of the way since I woke up. Without them, I don’t like to think where I’d be.
That’s when I started to aggressively pay down my debt and set up an emergency fund for six months. So that I would be taken care of should I be unemployed for a long stretch of time or any other unexpected financial troubles. After I reach those goals, I will revisit what my retirement goals will look like. But I had no idea where to even begin. And speaking of no idea, if you read my post on being a part of someones solution without solving their problems, you’ll know that I had absolutely no parental guidance as to how to eat properly, let alone balance a budget and how to diversify my retirement portfolio (which I’m still a little fuzzy on :)! So at 34, I was close to 100k in debt, nowhere to live because the woman I left my wife for just kicked me out of the apartment we were sharing with three other people, with no real job prospects or stability.
That’s when I found Dave Ramsey, and his baby steps to getting out of debt. I’ll begin by saying, he’s not for everybody. He can be a bit overbearing. But for someone like me who was given nothing in the way of personal boundaries, he was just what I needed. What I like about the steps and the ways he lays them out is: when you are so used to debt being an abstract number so big that you can’t possibly see your way out of it in your lifetime, you need the small wins of completing a step. Or even paying down a smaller bill. That way you begin to understand that you are the one who is in charge of getting you out of your current situation. Not only that, but it’s obtainable!
And for a long time, I felt as though I were a passenger in the journey of my life. Not the one who was behind the wheel. When you’re the passenger, it’s easy to get into debt, because the numbers don’t really mean anything. It’s not until you know your agency, know your power and the effect you have on your life, that you are able to take control of your situation. And are able to make the decisions and choices that keep you on the right track. Be them financial, or healthy eating and exercise habits. Every choice you make in regards to your goals are what either drives you forward or sets you back. So if you decide to stop eating out to save money on your food budget, that’s a commitment you make to yourself and a choice to stay on the right path.
And of course, it’s not easy. If it were, everyone would be financially stable. But you need to show up everyday. Even when and especially when you don’t want to. The phrase fake it till you make it exemplifies this mindset well. Because it focuses on the need to cultivate discipline in order to make the transition from achieving lesser goals to larger ones. The reason I like the saying so much is that, obviously it shows us that we can make mistakes and learn how to, while we do, but more so for the perseverance element. You keep trying, keep “faking it” no matter if it looks like you know what you’re doing. The point is to keep doing.
And it’s this motivational aspect that will keep you rooted in achieving your goals. You need to find your why of course, or as we say in the yoga community, find your drishti. Your drishti is your focus. And it usually refers to a point of reference to focus your gaze while you attempt a difficult balancing pose. For me, it was a combination of fear of being destitute, mixed with a longing, almost a romantic idea, that my life could be the most interesting and gratifying endeavour I could undertake. But this motivation, this drishti, if left unchecked, could perpetuate the fear of not having enough rather than satiating it. Once we’ve reached our financial goals, we could take this motivation and desire for more and more, all under the guise of feeling safe, for ourselves and others.
This type of accumulating wealth under the pretense of safety, is akin to hoarding. If you already have enough, then no matter how much more you feel you need to collect, it’s still extra, too much. If you already have enough, and you keep collecting, the questions you need to be asking yourself are, why are you still collecting? Is it out of fear based thinking that you are collecting? Are you feeling you need to take care of those you love? Why are or aren’t you giving your money to charities, or helping the greater good in some way with your resources? Be they time or monetary?
It’s the answer to these questions that will help you to understand your relationship with money, and whether you own it, or it owns you. Because there’s nothing wrong with earning high wages, or even amassing a large sum of wealth. The issue is when it becomes your drishti and correlated with your safety.
So how do we keep ourselves focused and humble, while dealing with something that can be hazardous if handled without regard for the power it is capable of yielding? I should probably mention here that I don’t make boatloads of money, so I may not be the best qualified to answer this question. But I can draw on some parallels to how we react in moments of crisis or panic.
When I first heard about Covid, and how potentially deadly it could be, I was not one of the many who ran to the grocery store to stock up on toilet paper and bottles of water or bags of flour. As I’ve said before, I’m a baker by trade so I get enough baking in while I’m at work. And that’s not to say that I wasn’t frightened at times. Pandemics, no matter how you package them, awakens a primal fear that few are exempt from. So if I was afraid, what allowed me to focused on the calm in the face of fear based reaction?
I owe a lot of my steadiness to my meditation practice. I know that if I react to the unknown with fear, I will more than likely make poor choices. If I take the time to sit with the fear, and ask myself, “how do you want me to be with you?” Then I will usually make healthier decisions. And again, I’d like to reinforce that this is not easy to do. Our fear is driven by millenia of evolution, telling us to protect ourselves in the face of danger. And rightly so! But when our decisions are made from fear based thinking, panic sets in and that’s when we are prone to use violence or make choices that exclude others for our own benefit.
In the case of a pandemic, if we’re lucky, this type of fear based thinking may lead us to purchase large amounts of pantry staples and toilet paper we may not need. But if we are scared and focused on money, a six month emergency fund may not seem like enough, which then turns into a year or more. But then that may seem too little, and now your focus becomes broader. How much can I get, who do I have to take care of and for how long? These are valid questions, but if you already have, or on track to have enough, the more you have won’t make you feel any safer. And what’s more, this constant growth state isn’t sustainable. Sooner or later, whether we realize it or not, no matter how much we have, safety is not intrinsic to money.
So how do we feel safe, safe enough to not collect what we may not need because we’re reacting from a place of fear based decision making? From my experience, this happens when we face our fears. And this is as individual as each person is unique. But there are some resources that we may all be able to rely on.
First is community. Friends and family, a group of trusted people experiencing something similar to what we’re going through. People to ask advice from and to lend a hand when we’ve gone through something another is struggling with. For me, while paying off my debt I had close friends I could ask advice from, and share resources with, such as Dave Ramsey’s Baby Steps. The Ramsey community is also a great resource, providing feedback on a number of budget related questions and also moral support and enthusiasm. Which is definitely needed when you’re in the midst of such a tremendous task.
Second, finding a mentor, someone who’s forged a path and knows some of the road you are about to travel. How you may get stuck along the way and resources to get you back on the right path. Again, this is something I learned from the Ramsey community. I didn’t know how to put a budget together before I was 35. Which is embarrassing to admit, but no one ever showed me, and you don’t know what you don’t know. I learned how to use an envelope system which, in brief, is as it sounds. A variety of envelopes with cash allocated for each category of your budget for the month in them. And when you run out of money, that’s it until you refill the envelope next month. This can be a bit of a wake up call if you’re not used to budgeting cash this way so be forewarned and be vigilant! You don’t want to run out of grocery money in the first week of the month!
Third, trusting your own truly good nature. To be the person you envision as being your best self. The person who can deal with and handle unseen situations as they arise. Follow through with your plans that are in your own best interests and be trusted to know what those are.
The more often you make these decisions that affect you for the better, the greater the trust you build with yourself. And really, that’s the goal. To build a trusting relationship with yourself. To know that you are able to rely on yourself when the important decisions need to be made.
If we’ve spent a lifetime making questionable decisions about our future or present, then we may have some work to do to regain the trust we once had. Not every decision is going to be without uncertainty. But the more we show up for ourselves and forgive ourselves for not knowing the way, the greater the trust we cultivate in our core. And trust is definitely correlated with safety. The greater the trust we have in our actions from the day to day, the ease of knowing we have our best intentions at heart will give us the cussionning we need to feel safe if we do stumble and fall along the way.
Working to build trust with yourself is priority for a sense of safety. And we build it by making sound decisions from a calm, non-fear based, mindset. Dealing with the fears and insecurities we have, as they come up by talking them through with trusted friends and family. Or a community of like minded people who are experiencing similar situations, will help to calm these worries, and reset our focus on what’s important. The sense of wellbeing we gain from setting an intention to complete our goals, by following through in a calm, consistent manner. Not by grasping fearfully onto what we feel will solve the “problem of our fear”. I.e. lack of money and the more is better mindset.
So friends, it is with this that I leave you. Do not fret, the path is difficult at times, but we are here for one another. You are strong, you are wise. Everything you need, you have in you already. All you need do is call upon it. I’m here if you need a moral boost, but just know, you got this :] Be well, and peace.