Are you happy with the figure in your bank account? I wasn’t for the longest time. It wasn’t until after gaining exposure to friends, mentors, and authors who had an abundant mindset that I came to understand that money is a form of energy, and the story you tell yourself about that energy impacts your entire interaction with it.
Now, I have a much healthier relationship with money and, as a consequence, I believe that this is what led to me generating more financial wealth while simultaneously becoming less attached to it.
Financial freedom is not a specific number.
Financial freedom is not even a set formula.
Financial freedom is merely relief from financial insecurity.
I am not minimizing or disregarding systemic obstacles that prevent equal opportunity but rather focusing on the internal obstacles that are entirely within our control.
We do not realize that we all have our own story about money, mostly derived by our past and present environment. Was your childhood marred with concerns about making ends meet? Do you friends splurge on meals at fancy restaurants despite being in six-figures of debt? You might not think that you are internalizing these messages but you actually are. These are constant exposures of different money stories and, absent exposure to other stories, this is what we believe to be true.
Here are a few mindset shifts that I had to adopt in order to develop a healthy relationship with money (and consequently everything else in my life):
1. You will always find ways to make money
This is so hard to tell yourself and even harder to believe. But the truth is that if shit ever hit the fan at your job, you can always push yourself to work multiple part-time jobs to cover, at least, some of your expenses. In Toronto, where I live, there are always coffee shops, restaurants, and clothing stores that are hiring.
The other truth is that compound interest applies to skills too. The longer that you’re in the workforce the more skills and experience you’re acquiring, most of which are transferrable to a certain degree.
The tighter you hold on to your job, especially if you’re less than enthusiastic about it, the more you mentally cut yourself off from other opportunities. I firmly believe that with a good story you can can market your skills and experience, regardless of how niche they might be, to a better employer.
2. It’s okay to want to make money. It’s not okay doing it in a way that violates your ethics, values, and principles.
I used to be ashamed for wanting to make a certain amount of money. Then I realized that it’s not bad to want to be able to provide for yourself and your family and make sure they have reasonable comforts in life. Because of the consequences neoliberalism has had on the wealth gap, I believed that seeking a certain income meant I condoned this form of capitalism. Now I no longer feel like that.
I realize that it is possible to go after what I want without necessarily sacrificing my values and beliefs. I can believe in paying high taxes while placing my legal services in the private marketplace.
We can even refine the point further. For example, I am fine with practising employment and human rights law but not okay with working for a mining company that carelessly destroys the environment.
The same can be said with earning money from writing. When I had a personal finance blog, I didn’t feel comfortable having financial institutions pay me for sponsored posts. I also wasn’t a fan of littering my posts with advertisements. So, instead I joined Medium’s Partner Program and absolutely love that I earn money directly from readers.
This is mostly an exercise of finding opportunities that are at the intersection of your values and practical skills. Moreover, the digital economy has created so many novel ways to make money that I believe that there are more options beyond the traditional career paths.
3. Comparison is a hamster wheel of misery
There is a growing body of research that shows that happiness is linked to relative wealth rather than absolute wealth. In other words, we are happier when we see that we have more than someone else. Not only is this terrible in and of itself but also it leads to perpetual discontent because there is always someone who has more than us.
For obvious reasons, social media has made this easier than ever. We no longer just get to compare ourselves to our physical neighbours but now we can compare ourselves to people around the world! How many times do we scroll through our feeds and see the newest tech, swankiest vacations, and stylish outfits? We are only human. We want what we don’t have. And we mistakenly believe that the pieces that make up the lifestyles of strangers will improve our own. It is a mirage.
4. If you don’t like the game you’re playing, change the game
Only you can take the steps required to change your circumstance. If you hate your job no one is going to hand you a better one. You need to take action and fight to improve your condition. Medium is a double-edged sword: it can be a wonderful source of inspiration and motivation but at the same time we can fool ourselves into believing that we need to read more books or listen to more podcasts before we are ready to take practical steps. This couldn’t be further from the truth. If I waited until I felt I was ready before conducting my first hearing, I would still be waiting! Sometimes you just have to do it.
It doesn’t need to be a huge gesture either. It can be as simple as updating your resume or going out for coffee with a friend who has experience in the industry you want to work in. Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither will your career.
5. Gratitude, always
It almost takes an act of courage to convince yourself that you have enough. We have so many damn wants, including wants that didn’t even exist a decade ago! Why do I want an Apple Watch when I have no use for one? Why do I want these pairs of boots when I already have a pair in my closet? It’s perfectly fine to succumb to your wants but just keep in mind that wants are not needs. You need to pay your hydro bill. You want to eat at that new restaurant in your neighbourhood.
Since I began using my Bullet Journal, I’ve noticed that I’ve felt calmer. To be more specific, I’ve appreciated everything I have — material or immaterial — which has made it easier for me to resist the temptation of accumulating more stuff. Shopping no longer interests me. I could care less about buying tech that has the top of the line specs. The Next New Thing feels awfully similar to The Same Old Thing.
The irony of allowing myself to earn more is that I’ve become less attached to material possessions. Instead, I prioritize more about the security of my loved ones and allowing myself to purchase experiences that I would otherwise tell myself is a waste of money: vacations, tickets to shows, even memberships to recreational sports leagues! You can’t take it with you, so why not expose yourself to the incredible people and places of this world?
Once I understood my limiting beliefs when it came to money, I became a lot happier, healthier, and, paradoxically, wealthier.