When I started my first job working in investment banking in London it wasn’t long before I started questioning my life and if this was all there is. Commuting for two hours a day to a job that didn’t fulfill me and working long days leaving no space for my family, friends or myself made me feel miserable. I was earning a great salary but ended up spending it all as a compensation for the way I was feeling. This is when it became clear to me that I had fallen into a common trap that many unconsciously still do. I had followed the conventional path of working in a recognized company, in a high paying job, thinking this would bring me success professionally and therefore happiness. Backed up by a lot of self-development work that had made me aware of what I truly value, I decided to quit my job and started slowly but steadily transitioning towards where I am today. I see it as a great “aha moment” in my life and am committed to helping others not fall into the same trap.
When it comes to money, there are two extremes and misconceptions nowadays. For some, being financially wealthy is a sign of success, even if at an unconscious level, and therefore they dedicate their lives trying to grow their revenue failing to question if that is really what they want. For others, money is associated with the obscure. It is a taboo and they would rather run away from it because it brings up a lot of fears and feelings of not being enough. None of these views however considers money in a balanced way. Money is a tool that we should learn to manage with boundaries if we want to achieve a balance in the equation of our well-being and health. Let us then deconstruct each of these views and what we should be aiming for in order to truly succeed.
Money = Success
Possibly stemming from a biased interpretation of the American dream, many chase money and dream of being rich. We are brought up in a society that suggests that going up the corporate ladder is the way to be successful and many don’t question this belief up until later in their lives. Just like me, there are many others that find themselves in big corporations or prestigious professions (doctors, lawyers, bankers) not truly for themselves but because they lacked the opportunity to challenge the values that were injected to them by society and their upbringing. Money is indeed a great facilitator and is necessary in today’s world but it is not all there is. It can’t buy us family for example and it most certainly cannot buy us happiness. We can be making a lot of money but ultimately being happy and truly successful comes down to being the most authentic version of ourselves. How we feel will depend solely on us nurturing what makes us unique and what we love. And, on us eventually trying to make money from that. In fact, money is an external factor that cannot buy the true satisfaction and happiness that comes from within.
Not only can chasing money be a never-ending race but making it a priority can also compromise what is truly valuable in our lives. In fact, time is finite and the time we choose to dedicate to making money means we will be spending less time in the other areas of our life such as self-care or our family, which are the true pillars of success and happiness.
For this reason, there have been many attempts in the last years from great entrepreneurs and billionaires to redefine the concept of success. People like Richard Branson, Warren Buffet or Arianna Huffington have understood, sometimes at great costs, that success is measured by far more than money. By chasing money we end up wasting a part of our lives overworking, undertaking severe amounts of stress, compromising our sleep, our relationships and much more. More importantly, we reach a point in our life where we realize we have done all those sacrifices but it didn’t get us any closer to our dreams and what we actually wanted to create in our life. Arianna Huffington, founder of the Huffington post, realized this when she woke up in a pool of her own blood as a result of a fall brought on by exhaustion and lack of sleep. Today she is dedicated to redefine what it means to be successful and has created an organization called Thrive to show people that the metrics of money and power to measure success are only two legs of a three-legged stool. The third and most important leg that will allow us to thrive in life includes the things that will allow us to live a healthy, balanced and meaningful life. Sounds simple but unfortunately many of us still fail to see the bigger picture.
A great quote that for me illustrates very well the fine line between chasing money and this affecting negatively the other areas of our life is this famous quote:
“We sacrifice our health in order to make wealth, then we sacrifice our wealth in order to get back our health.”Dalai Lama
Ignoring Our Personal Finances
On the other side of the spectrum, we might be afraid to take a realistic look at our finances and hold a negative relationship with money. We spend our lives hoping for the best and living on the edge, not knowing if we will meet the end of the month or accumulating debt on our credit card. Just the thought of money makes us feel stressed and want to run the other way. This is because we were never taught personal finance.
Personal finance is one of the areas that sadly many people still struggle with and is a taboo in many homes. Everyone should know the basics of personal finance. In fact, I believe that if it were introduced as part of the curriculum at school we would feel very different about our lives. A loss of control at a financial level can be truly detrimental in our lives and I have witnessed this many times before.
It has been proven that individuals with control over their personal finances and who talk about them have healthier relationships with their loved ones and more mental health in general. Especially between couples, it is essential to break the financial taboo, which results in secrecy and loss of intimacy instead of a feeling of security that a relationship should provide.
Unfortunately, many of us are ashamed to ask for help and take an honest look at our finances. We are still trying to live up to social expectations but mainly to our own brought on by unconscious social beliefs. This can generate a great feeling of stress and undermine our well-being in the long-term just like chasing money can.
Therefore, rather than how much money we are making, the key is to balance our perspective around money and to harmonize our relationship with it by feeling in control of our finances. This is why financial freedom should be something EVERYONE strives for.
Staying on the Track Financially is Our Objective
Luckily, learning the basic skills of personal finance can be quite straightforward if we put our mind to it! Examining our finances and setting financial goals might sound scary at first but it is much more gratifying than we think. We should not be afraid to look at our in-flows and out-flows, our assets and liabilities and at our investments.
This means keeping up with our bills but also planning for our future. Planning brings direction. Financial control derives greatly from an ability to get honest about our financial situation and budget realistically. Our budget gives us a guideline for our future and helps us accept our financial situation no matter where we stand.
Last but not least, we should be focusing on having an emergency fund but also planning for retirement. Not based on an ideal of how much we would like to have but based on our life goals, which truly define how much we should be aiming for. The 50/30/20 rule is a great guideline for healthy spending when we are getting started in personal finance. This means 50% of our income after taxes should go to the things we need (food, rent, transportation and bills), 30% to the things we want such as restaurants, travel or shopping and the remaining 20% should go towards our savings. There should be three categories for our savings since a portion is meant for near term emergencies, another for medium term goals (such as education, a wedding, moving to a new country) and finally for our retirement.
If we are not within these ratios we should start determining how we can make adjustments to move in the right direction. Also, we can’t forget to track our progress. This might seem overwhelming at first but learning to spend and save wisely will set us up for financial success and create space for what really matters in our life.
Money is intrinsically linked to our well-being because it can be used as a tool to live the life we truly want. However, it can quickly become a limitation if we have an unbalanced perception towards it. We need to learn how to manage it wisely by dissolving our misconceptions around it. We want to consider our life purpose, our goals and our values when deciding where to spend our money and to consciously determine how much we should be making. When our finances are aligned with our values this is when we will actually start feeling successful and wealthy from within. Therefore, we should never undermine the impact of quality time with ourselves, our dreams and the ones we love. This is the ultimate purpose of our life and the one thing people will cherish us for when we are gone.