In just over a week, I will turn 40.
I have a sense that I am supposed to feel excited or panicked about it, but the number 40 doesn’t engender either of those things for me. Instead, I have been in a reflective mood, thinking about where I am in life and comparing it to where I thought I would be. My superstitious side doesn’t want to say this out loud but as I reflect on where I am, I feel content.
I also feel completely confident that I would not be in this content place if I hadn’t realized I was wrong about so many things! Maybe a nicer way to say it is that my views have evolved, and I have let go of some limiting beliefs that would have held me back personally, professionally, and financially.
I can’t leave a job with so much financial potential.
Love and money don’t mix.
I need a luxury car for people to take me seriously.
I don’t want to be a breadwinner.
I have to dress a certain way to be accepted.
I can’t start my own business.
Recognizing our own beliefs and working on them is an important part of our journey toward financial success. Even views that don’t necessarily seem to be about money can hold us back from our financial potential.
Keep in mind, most of our limiting beliefs are based (at least partially) in truth, follow some logic, and are designed to protect us. The goal isn’t to throw away what we believe. The point of reflection is to better understand why our views developed and to determine if they are serving us in a positive way. If not, we can start to allow in new information that evolves our thinking, and eventually our choices.
For example, I grew up witnessing a good deal of conflict around money. I saw divorces and breakups that had people at odds about finances and fighting about them in court. I told myself I never wanted to be in that position and for that reason, I never wanted to combine my finances with my significant other. It was a belief I established to protect myself from what seemed like a very possible and very negative outcome.
That worked for a while but after years of being married, and as our incomes started to diverge, this insistence on autonomy led to a set of negative outcomes I had never anticipated. It was causing a power differential in our relationship and for my spouse, it was creating a sense that I wasn’t fully committed to our relationship. A system I designed to minimize conflict was now causing a conflict of a different variety. My self-protective beliefs and choices weren’t ill-founded, but they came with negative side effects that I didn’t know to guard against.
When I opened myself up to this new information, which took time, I reluctantly decided it was worth giving combined finances a try. It was exceptionally difficult at first because I felt like I was taking off armor that I needed to stay safe but eventually, I began to see the positive effects of changing my ways. We started making more decisions together, something I had longed for, and it fostered a new level of closeness. These benefits came as a surprise; in my former thinking, I had never thought about the potential upside to joining with someone financially.
I can still easily make a case for financial autonomy, which can work very well in some circumstances and relationships, but I can also see the benefits of a more blended approach to love and money.
With some of my other limiting beliefs, I was running into a different headwind: self-doubt. This one can show up in all kinds of financial decisions!
Here are three times that it did for me.
1) When I was on the partner path at my first financial planning firm, I was unhappy, but I doubted any other company would offer me the kind of opportunity I had there, so I didn’t even look.
2) A few years ago, when a former colleague described my car as perfect for a college student and a client told me that eventually I would upgrade, I became wildly insecure about driving anything other than a luxury car. I bought one for more than I ever thought I would spend on four wheels and a seat.
3) Before I launched my firm, I was overcome with the fear of losing a steady income. Having grown up with limited means, income insecurity was a big deal for me, and I ignored that I might be better off running my own company. I refused to even consider it for years.
In each of these cases, my doubts and insecurities made it harder to do what was ultimately best for me. My reservations came from a good place; l was trying to stay safe, either by maintaining my income or fitting in with colleagues and clients. But leaving my reservations unchallenged led to other negative consequences: lower confidence, lower income, less savings, and less fulfillment to name a few.
The views I have shared may look very different from yours. Maybe you believe you aren’t capable of handling money. Maybe you believe you owe yourself or your kids a certain lifestyle. Maybe you believe in dividend-paying stocks, or burying money in the backyard, or spending it while you have it. Maybe you believe money is evil or that you don’t deserve more than others. Maybe you believe that you don’t buy something new until the old one no longer works. Maybe you believe it is too late to save for retirement.
I have no doubt there are good reasons for whatever you believe. But I bet if you try, you can also play the devil’s advocate. Your willingness to do so could lead you to a more prosperous outcome than you currently imagine is possible. If you are anything like me, you may find what is right by first allowing yourself to be (at least a little) wrong.