**This is a follow up to my first I Have No Money post **
This title may sound a bit sanctimonious, but I’m not here to tell anyone what should be important to them. It’s quite frankly none of my business.
What I’ve come to find has been the most helpful step in my money journey is determining what’s important TO ME. This may seem like an obvious component of self-awareness for many people, but I didn’t even pause to consider what was truly important to me until I was in my 30s. I thought I had, but I was simply compiling a collection of “accomplishments”: a few more letters to go after my name for a growing collection matte finish business cards, stressful financial obligations in the form of a mortgage and car payment, and a shiny diamond on my left ring finger gifted to me by someone who didn’t truly know me (not his fault, that was a strategic move by my former perfectionist, people-pleasing self).
Society has a long list of unattainable and often contradicting standards to meet, and then there’s the mountain of uninvited cautionary “advice” from family members and friends.
“Do you want kids? You know you’re getting to that age…”
“You need to buy a house and stop wasting your money on rent.”
“Don’t waste your money on (insert activity that genuinely makes you happy)!”
A lot of those individuals are quite frankly scared to go inward and determine if they are truly happy themselves, and questioning what’s important in life can make a lot of those people feel threatened. It’s best not to take offense. Many of them mean well. Perhaps just be mindful about who you open up to as you begin to build your emotionally intelligent, boundary enforcing muscles.
So what is important to me, really?
I’d love to say that I came to a solid conclusion after some meditation, a long walk, and a couple of hours in solitude with my journal, but that would be an egregious lie. It took multiple cover-to-cover journals, months of long walks, dozens of therapy sessions, and a few lengthy sob fests after I opened up to individuals who were less than supportive of my proposed life changes.
It didn’t come across like a lightning bolt of clarity flashing in my mind. It was subtle – a cloud slowly lifting and a knowing that settled in once I stopped resisting the urge to seek validation from others that I was selecting the right cut outs for my vision boards, focusing on the right goals, and prioritizing properly. As I did the work and began to release my grip on the approval of doubters in my life, I was able to put on blinders to what those around me deemed important. What was important to me eventually became clear.
What I find most important is:
Freedom: I do not like feeling stuck. I enjoy having mental, emotional, and physical freedom. I like being able to express myself freely. I like being able to make changes that I know intuitively are the next step for me. For example, I know without a doubt that I don’t want to be tied to a desk for the rest of my life. I also know that right now is not the time to leave my corporate job. I actually enjoy my role and the people I work with. I’m learning, I’m growing, and I’m awarded the opportunity to support myself while I grow my blog and work on writing a book. Instead of viewing my current position as a lack of freedom, I consider it a stepping stone on my path to freedom.
Simplicity: I spent many years addicted to a cluttered life that was full of drama. Romantic relationships had to be tortured and complicated, friendships were often a source of anxiety, and my relationship with my family was constantly contentious. It was utterly exhausting. No one was winning in those situations, least of all me. I also had a closet bursting at the seams with designer clothes and shiny stilettos, many of which still had the tags attached. I still like nice things, but I spend more on the few things I truly love instead of “spending less” (quotes because it certainly added up to the same amount if not more) on a closet past its capacity with things I purchased on sale. I enjoy having my space clean, simple, and calming. I’m very much a work in progress, but I just feel happier and more at ease when my space and my life in general are as uncomplicated as possible.
Adventure: I crave new experiences much more than things these days. I know plenty of people do not feel that way, and that’s 100% okay. I just realized at this point in my life that traveling means a lot to me. I want to be able to hop on a plane to see Ireland this summer if I feel drawn to do that. It means more to me than a new pair of designer shoes or a weekend indulging in top shelf booze. I also enjoy little adventures. I woke up yesterday and decided I wanted to grab some coffee to go, walk across the Brooklyn Bridge (getting some much needed Vitamin D after weeks of gray skies and drizzly rain), and read a book in the park.
Healthy Living: I would expand upon this one, but my entire blog is devoted to it so please read away if you’re curious 🙂
There are other things I enjoy and devote time to (trips to the beach, watching Jeopardy, volunteering at a dog rescue, etc.), but those are icing on the cake of my life. At my very core, the part of me that releases attachment to external expectations, I find freedom, simplicity, adventure, and healthy living to be the most important.
One important note: You have to embrace your imperfection in the process.
For my fellow recovering perfectionists out there, practicing new habits often results in thinking and acting in extremes. If we stumble even slightly on the path towards a new goal, we often throw in the towel and are content to consider ourselves back at square one, a spot where our self-critical audio loop awaits. “Way to go! You have failed yet again. Damn, you suck. What are you even doing with your life?”
I know, I know. That was WAY harsh, Tai.
Yes, it’s extremely harsh. And it’s been playing on repeat intermittently for 30+ years. I know I am not the only person who has experienced this. We are human (gasp!), we slip up, we brand ourselves incapable of being enough, and then we proceed to give ourselves the lashings we feel we deserve in the form of hateful self-talk. It's like an unmerry go round that you'd only want to ride ironically at Banksy's Dismaland. It's not funny or enjoyable in your actual life.
It was not until I assessed what was truly important to me that I could get back on the path to financial freedom quickly and with ease. If I spend more than I intend to one weekend, I am mindful of my choices as the 5 pm finish line approaches the following Friday. If I buy something on sale and realize I was actually just avoiding an emotion I didn’t care to process by shopping, I march myself back to the store and return it (or list it on ebay if I fell into the “no refunds on sale merchandise” trap). I keep my focus on what’s truly important and correct my path with self-compassion and grace. Slowly the self-hate megaphone begins to get muffled. It hasn’t completely gone away but it’s control over me has weakened significantly… while my bank account has benefited greatly.