In writing on the Oprah Debt Diet message, I keep seeing people stuck in financial drama. The latest one is in regards to a person who lost his IT job to a person in India that he trained. He talked about his “righteous indignation and justifiable angst” about people and government not helping the down trodden and about bad management at companies (e.g. Enron). He was looking for new ideas and to understand how people have made it to be a “Have” because the “old” advise of work hard, save more and spend less does not work anymore. Unfortunately, most of the advice that people gave him probably did not sink because he is caught in his financial drama. Yes, I do not know the whole story, so I am making a big assumption based on a gut feel. However, I will use this as a starting point to discuss an important financial lesson about drama.
Drama plays a role in our everyday lives. We especially love watching and reading about dramas. In any drama there are three characters: a hero, a perpetrator and a victim. In our lives, we can play each of these three roles. For example financially, a college graduate can go out on his own to conquer the world (e.g., play the hero and climb the corporate ladder). After a few years, he may be fired. The key question is does he choose the drama of the perpetrator (getting angry at the greedy company for putting money ahead of people) and then the victim (poor me – how will I ever survive in this cruel world) or does he choose to take responsibility for his/her situation. For example,
• Did he set up an emergency fund?
• Did he keep his resume up to date?
• Did he network well (to call in a favor now)?
• Did he keep up with continued education
• Is he sending out resumes?
• Is he willing to do a project for free for a company (a test to show his worth for a full time position)?
• Is he researching the companies he is interviewing with to show them that he is enthusiastic about working for them?
• Is he willing to switch careers if his current occupation has an oversupply or a lackluster demand of workers?
Drama is a trap because if we blame others for our situation, we can not see how to get out of it. In any one situation, there is one person who can change it (us). If we wait for someone else to change it, we could be waiting a long time. Thus, we need to step back and see our responsibility for the situation instead of blaming someone else.
The key is to see when you are feeling trapped in a drama is to ask:
1) Are you angry (are you playing the perpetrator roll)?
2) Are you a victim (e.g., by blaming others)?
3) Are you doing something to win the approval of others (e.g., being the hero)?
If so, you are probably in the drama.
Note, the trap of the hero is if we do not get the approval of others, we can easily slip into the perpetrator role by getting angry at them for not seeing what we are doing for them. For example, we may be volunteering or helping the homeless. After doing all this work, we may have several homeless individuals (hypothetically) begging for another handout and complaining to us how no one is helping them these days. We may get frustrated because they are not taking responsibility to change their situation, angry that we are busting our butts and they are doing nothing. We may also think that we need to work harder for our retirement because so much money is going to ungrateful and lazy people through our taxes. Then we feel trapped in our jobs that we do not like in order to fund our retirement, pay our mortgages and get gouged by taxes. Being frustrated and angry, we may start to pull back our assistance. At which point, we may feel a little guilty because we are not saving anyone. Thus, we go off to find someone else to save while still feeling trapped in a job that we do not like instead of taking action to change our financial situation in order to stop feeling trapped at work.
The key is we are always responsible for our feelings. No one is doing anything to us. We are not trapped by the drama going on around us. We are the creators of our lives and can decide when to step out of the drama to take action to change our own lives instead of playing the hero (or perpetrator and victim role) and trying to change someone else in order for our situation to change.
The key steps to stepping out of the drama are:
• Investigate other possible reasons for a situation
• See how you could be responsible for the situation around you
• Forgive those that you are currently blaming
• Take action to change your situation instead of changing others
• Look out for when you are plugged into a situation (feel that you know the answer and feel the need to fix it) because it is the trap of the drama to need to know the ending
• Turn off the news or look at it as just facts instead of what to fear because fear keeps us in the drama
• Practice gratitude
For example, if you are a parent stuck in fear about how to send your children to college and blame government and colleges for not doing more:
• Investigate – see if costs are rising because of the increase demand in students wanting a college education (supply and demand) or see if there has been an increase in private scholarships and grants to offset the lower government assistance
• Take responsibility – you would not be blaming the government if you felt that you had some more college money saved up or showed your child how to get a piece of limited scholarships before it was too late
• Forgive – step back and see that the government and schools are just playing their part in this situation (e.g., government is stuck with people wanting less taxes but more assistance for their needs while schools need to improve their infrastructure and pay for higher medical costs)
• Take action – how can you motivate your child to get the additional money he needs or how can you adjust your budget to fit in the higher costs of schooling?
• Look to see if you are plugged in – Do you know the solution? Is it colleges lowering their tuition or government just giving more grants or subsidized loans? If you are locked into one of these or other solutions, you will not see the alternatives to get out of the drama.
• Turn off the news – The news is driving your energy (fear) with stories of how the young are the victims of needing to take out huge loans and then not being able to buy a house due to their debt. Or, see the news just as a fact (neither good nor bad). Children need a larger loan to pay for college and a college degree is still a good investment for the long term even with higher costs.
• Practice gratitude – It is great that we are having more opportunities for learning in our society (e.g., community college, 2-year degrees that can turn into a full 4-year program, internships, online education programs, companies (e.g., UPS) that pay for college degrees for their employees, etc.)
• Lastly, as a friend’s t-shirt says “Save Your Drama, For Your Mama”. We stay stuck in the drama when we just want to talk about it (complain about it) to others. Thus, take a step back and remove the energy from the drama by not continuously talking about it. It is one thing to use someone as a sounding board to learn what is going on and move on. It is another thing to use the situation as a pulpit as to why the world sucks.
One last note, you may be asking if we should fight for what we want or I am suggesting that we should just give up. It is alright to speak for what you want (e.g., more children being able to afford an education). Yet, the key is to:
• Not fight for what you do not want (e.g., stop the increase in cost of education) because when we focus on what we do not want it expands
• Start moving towards what you want because the situation will not change until you change (e.g., what are other ways to make school more affordable? Part-time work, online education, gifts to pay for tuition instead of gifts of iPods, etc.).
For more information on financial drama click here