Raise your hand if you’ve ever made financial mistakes?
You made a financial decision or took an action that, in retrospect, made you think, “Well crap, that was dumb!” or “Oh, I really shouldn’t have done that”.
If we’re being honest, 100% of the people reading this post should have their hands up. We have all had moments where we regretted a choice, decision, or even inaction with respect to our finances.
That’s what I want to talk about today. We’ve got to cut that out. Not the so-called mistakes, but rather the way we frame the past.
This past week, I spoke with a lovely woman we’ll call Sandy. Sandy is a deeply intelligent, capable professional who has had the light beaten out of her by life.
One difficult experience – a divorce – led to a choice she now regrets, which led to self-recrimination, unhelpful behaviors, and a current financial situation that is hindering her ability to thrive. Her stress is palpable.
When we spoke, she looked exhausted and defeated – but not completely out. There is enough of a spark and courage left over for her to reach out for help. And let me reiterate this point: it is an act of courage and strength to ask for help.
What struck me during our conversation was the way she framed much of her past:
The choices? So many mistakes.
The consequences? Awful, and all because she “screwed up” and made the wrong choices. She has suffered and her have children suffered.
Now she feels immense guilt and shame. She also fears it’s too late to turn things around.
The price of financial shame and judgement
I am not a therapist, but I can tell you from fifteen years of experience working with families on financial challenges that shame is one of the most damaging emotions of all.
It keeps you anchored to your past.
It keeps you feeling and playing small.
A feeling of not being worthy takes root when fertilized by shame.
Any small, helpful steps you might take to move your life forward are crushed under the weight of judgement.
I don’t often make categorical statements when it comes to personal finances, because the answer to so many questions is, “It depends on you”, but I will say this:
It is impossible to make financial progress with the Shame Ball & Chain strapped to your legs.
It’s high time you break up with financial shame if this is an emotion you’re dealing with. I’ll show you how.
A researcher’s perspective
When I first started trying to figure out the best way to make, manage, and grow money, I was working on my own massive challenge:
- no sustainable source of income;
- and $400,000 of inherited debt to deal with.
It didn’t take long to realize that if I was to get anywhere, I needed to tamp down my emotional brain.
When your emotions kick into gear, your executive brain – the one that is capable of solving problems, creating plans, and making fact-based decisions – goes on holiday. It’s M.I.A.
The only way to get your brain back on board is to tone down your emotional reactions.
During my own crisis, I pulled that off in a variety of ways. You can read about my story in my book, Protect Your Purse.
For the moment, I want to focus on your emotions and the judgements you’re making about your financial choices.
Here’s what I want you to do: take a researcher’s perspective. Set aside the emotions for the moment and approach the whole situation with intellectual curiosity. Ask my favorite questions:
Isn’t that interesting? I wonder why I did that? Was the outcome helpful or unhelpful?
You’re simply gathering information – what the result of the choices or actions was, whether that results was in your highest, best interests, and what led you to make those choices.
There’s no judgement about whether it was smart or not, or what that means about you as a person.
Because the reality is that it doesn’t mean a damn thing about you as a person. It’s all about the input and the consequence.
I did A and B was the result.
Isn’t that interesting? Did that achieve what I wanted to achieve? If yes, proceed. If not, take a different path next time.
You are a researcher in your own life and you’re on a quest to figure out what works for you. Congratulations! You’ve just discovered a path that doesn’t work. On to something that does.
Time to reframe
What if instead of beating yourself up and referring to past choices as “mistakes,” you simply said, “OK, that didn’t work. I wonder what would be better moving forward?”
By reframing past outcomes as points of information rather than failures, you send yourself an important message: It’s OK to make so-called mistakes. It’s OK not to be on the right path for you at the moment. That’s part of the learning process. It’s time to learn and to make more helpful choices for you moving forward.
You haven’t screwed up; you’ve acquired important knowledge. In other words, you’ve just completed another course at the University of Life.
Now you need to apply that knowledge.
As Maya Angelou once said, “When you know better, you do better.”
If you don’t know how to move past your current situation, that’s OK, too. What’s not OK for you is staying stuck. That will keep you playing a small game, and you weren’t put on this planet to play small.
Why do you expect that?
Part of the problem with the shame and the blame game is that we expect outcomes for ourselves that are not warranted.
Picture this: You have a toddler at home who is just taking her first steps. She pulls herself up at the sofa and has her sights set on the arm chair a few feet away. With total enthusiasm and a smile on her face, she lets go of the sofa and launches herself in the direction of the chair. Two steps in, her legs give away and down she goes on her diapered bottom.
If you’re the mom looking on, your immediate reaction would certainly be excitement and delight. Your baby is learning to walk! You don’t care that she didn’t make her goal. She’s practicing. She’s not giving up. In time, you know she’ll make it. It’s just a matter of practice.
So practice is key.
Now picture this: You’re sitting with your 8-year-old son to help him with his math homework. He’s just starting to learn multiplications and he’s not getting it. He shows you his first sheet of answers and it’s all wrong.
It would never in a million years occur to you to think, “Man, this child is terrible at math.” You would realize that the issue is three-fold: First, he hasn’t yet been taught how to do multiplications. Second, he hasn’t been taught in a way that clicks for him. And third, he hasn’t had enough practice.
When those three elements are in place – being taught how, in a way that clicks, and with sufficient practice – you completely transform your results.
If my conversations with thousands of women over the past decade demonstrate anything, it’s this:
- Financial education is either non-existent or woefully inadequate.
- When professionals do try to convey information – I’m looking at you, financial advisors – it’s in an incomprehensible, jargon-filled language and it’s often patronizing.
- Outcomes are judged as a sign of competence rather than merely an indicator of what remains to be learned.
You were probably never taught how to make, manage, and invest your money. Why, then, do you expect to be great at it?
You haven’t made financial mistakes in your life; you’ve gained valuable data.
You’ve learned what works for you and what doesn’t.
Ditch the judgement, unshackle yourself from the shame ball and chain, and reframe your past experiences in a way that opens up possibilities for the future.
Use my No Shame, No Blame, No Judgement approach to your finances.
It doesn’t matter what lies behind you, it’s what you do today that matters. Many things are possible without the weight of harmful emotions.
It’s your move. Go!
Do you know a woman who needs to hear this message? Please forward this post to her.