At a recent Women’s Money Group meeting, I tackled the subject of retirement. What do you need to do to ensure you’ll be ready? How much money will you need? How do you calculate that? What factors are important? How do you handle planning if you’re also in the middle of debt repayment? And so on.
At the end of the meeting, one of the attendees approached me and said (and I quote): “I’m f**ked.” The next day, several people reached out via email to share their worries about the future. The stress was palpable.
So I sent an email out to everyone who had been at the meeting and I said this:
And now, breathe
“Breathe. I mean actually stop and take a deep breath. Now repeat ten times.
You’re fine because you’re aware. You’ll be OK because you are taking the time to learn and course-correct. Give yourself credit for that.
If you did nothing and continued to ignore the fact that old(er) age and retirement are coming, then you’d be f’ed. But you’re not doing nothing.
Today is the very best day to make different decisions. To make a change. To make a difference in your life.
You can get to a much better place in as little as five years by paying off corrosive debt, starting to save much more, and growing what you’ve got once corrosive debt is paid off.
There is always a way, but you have to keep stress at bay so that your brain can do the job that it’s designed to do.
You’re smart and you’re capable. Let go of panic and stress; they will not serve you well. Walk, bike, dance, do yoga, laugh with friends, and do whatever else helps you shed the effect of stress.
Then get to work taking one bit of action. Start with the first item on your Action To-Do list as discussed on Tuesday evening. One thing.
You can do this.
Keep track of it all in your money journal so that five or ten years from now, you can look back and realize that you’re a rock star.”
A member responds
Later in the day, I received this email (shared with permission):
Thanks for this email. I also had the “I’m f**ked” dread consume me after Tuesday’s meeting. I appreciate your response and encouragement. It resonates with me, even though I’m still a little overwhelmed by the “I’m f**cked” feeling.
It’s SO important not to underestimate doing one thing at a time. I constantly struggle with this. Especially now. So many improvements I want to make.
But the true power of doing one thing at a time, even a tiny thing, hit me over the head yesterday. This literally *all* happened yesterday.
I was feeling down and exhausted. I stayed up after Tuesday’s meeting to finish work for a midnight deadline. Woke up at 5 am. I check my bank accounts every day. To stay aware and grounded. I’m prone to emotional spending when I’m empty.
I noticed an erroneous charge to my biz account. This made me *super* grumpy. It happened last month and I was going to have to fix it *again*. Felt like a waste of time. I thought: “I’m working so hard, why are these stupid things tripping me up and holding me back from my *very* long to-do list.”
Honestly, I wanted to give up and do nothing. (Which likely would have happened in my previous incarnation. I would have put it off for a few months.) It was only a dollar, but I buckled down and went to the bank. I’m lucky my institution is only 5 minutes from my house. I got the charged reversed and asked for the error to be fixed in the system. It got done. The next part is hard to explain… I felt a huge surge of positive energy course through my body. I felt free… which is weird, because it was a relatively small thing.
A funny thing happened after debt repayment
One thing accomplished.
Then I did the next thing. I put a chunk of cash into my debt – $2200. That’s a lot for me. Still growing my income from “sad zero to lots of zeros in a fun number”. (Ha!) This step scared me, because my income unexpectedly dipped in April and I wasn’t sure how I was going to grow in May/June. Since we’re using strong language, I was worried I was going to f**k myself over by transferring the large sum. But I’d planned for this payment, and I knew it’s going to help me to hammer away quicker at the debt over the long run, so I made it.
Here’s what happened next.… literally after I put the money into my debt. I checked my email:
– Three (three!) out-of-the-blue freelance project offers. It’s going to be hard work, and I’ll have to ramp up my knowledge/skills along the way (trial by fire), but I’m also very grateful.
– Also, my husband emailed me to say he got a raise at his job! It will definitely help our situation. And well deserved – he’s worked *so hard* in the two years since the bankruptcy.
I’ve read about this kind of thing before… and only half-believed it to be honest… until now…
When the Universe knows you’re “f**ckin serious” about taking care of yourself, it will conspire to help you.
I’m learning not to underestimate the power of small steps. This isn’t obvious or easy. (I’ve wanted to give up at least 1000x in the last couple of weeks due to weird + random stuff getting in the way, feeling panicked, or not exactly knowing what to do next.) Things change at the drop of a dime. You can feel good one day and crappy the next, no matter what happens. But persevere with the next step.
There’s an excellent story about the British Olympic cycling team applying the 1% rule to their training. At one time, this team was known for consistently poor performance at events. When they made tiny improvements (1% at a time) to every single aspect of their training, they started winning medals within a few years.
So… I need to apply this concept to my feelings about retirement. It feels scary and huge, especially since I have to pay debt and increase income by a sizable amount from where I am now. But I guess if the gap is closed a bit at a time (the metaphorical 1%), things get accomplished.
This is hard to remember. I know my sense of time is warped, and I think that’s generally true for most human beings. I like that you’re injecting some accountability into the meetings. It helps. Choosing to do something different is a daily action step in itself. That’s how it’s been for me. It’s intense to make a different choice. Old habits and mindsets can be powerful. So it helps to have support. Thanks again for your email. What you expressed is really important.
The power of small steps
There’s a reason I preach the value of doing one thing at a time and honouring every small step: It’s the only way to get yourself through the emotional ups and downs that inevitably accompany any real change. If you crank out a massive to-do list, a feeling of overwhelm will soon hijack your brain.
Once that happens, procrastination sets in, which often cues the self-blame game, and your goals are shot. That unproductive cycle of negativity serves no one.
I’m sharing this story with you with the intention of inspiring every single person who feels overwhelmed by their financial situation. Over the many years that I have been working with people to beef up their finances, I have seen extraordinary transformations in as little as one year. You need an effective system, a network of support, and a commitment to doing one thing at a time.
The results are cool when you take this approach, but even more rewarding is the sense of relief that comes with psychological weight lifted off your shoulders; that feeling of peace-of-mind that allows you to put your feet up every once in a while and think, “I’m good.”
Breathe and take the next step. You can do this.