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Overcoming Financial Drama

Tuesday, December 5th, 2006

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

Do You Judge Your Financial Situation?

Thursday, November 16th, 2006

As a society, we believe in right and wrong and in black and white. So, when we see something, we want to judge it as good or bad. Today, many would judge being in debt as bad and having $1 million as being good. It is what it is. When we place a label on financial health, we are actually robbing ourselves of peace and happiness in the moment. If we label $1 million as good and $5 million as great, then if we get $1 million then we will be happy for a moment and then wonder why we do not have $5 million, yet. If we never reach $1 million, then what do we feel? Are we not good enough to be wealthy? Money is what it is neither good, nor bad, nor right, nor wrong.

There is a fable about judgments that I always liked:

A farmer had a son who went for a journey and came back with a wild horse. Others exclaimed what a find to the farmer. The farmer said it is what it is, neither good nor bad. His son one day went riding and got bucked from the horse and broke his leg. Others exclaimed how disappointing to lose his son’s help in the fields. The farmer said it is what it is. A few weeks later, the military came around and enlisted many of the young men, yet left the farmer’s son due to his broken leg. Others exclaimed how fortunate. The farmer said it is what it is.

Life is about trusting (not judging) that if an event does not go your way is that it can be worked out which is easier said than done. A financial disaster will not ruin you forever yet it may seem like it. If you do not get one job, then another job is probably on its way. We learn in life that we can not always change the events (especially those in the past unless you have a time machine), yet we can change how we feel about them. The key is to take the judgments off of what we believe about the event. Even if we label something as good, there must be a bad, as well. For example, if we are a saver, what will happen if a disaster comes and wipes out our life’s savings (e.g., stock market crash or medical illness)? If we see ourselves as good because we saved, then how do we feel if we lose it all? The key for me is that money is money. If I had it once and lose it, then I can have it again. Yet, neither saving money nor spending money is good or bad, just is.

For example, we can get so worked up about having a car wreck or having an unexpected bill that it will deter us from achieving our goals because we judged the event as bad. Yet, in reality, events like these things happen. It is how we interpret them that are the key. One may ask wouldn’t the absent of judging something as good leave us feeling bland? No. As an exercise one morning (or even now), close your eyes for a few minutes and take a few deep breaths. Just concentrate on your breath and let go of all thoughts that may come up (e.g., meditate). If you can, do this outside while sitting, standing or lying down on the grass outside. What do you feel when you are not concentrating on your thoughts, your “to do list” and judgments? Peaceful? Calm or at ease? What I am learning is that our natural state is one of peace, joy and love. Yet, when we start to judge things, we bring in all the negative emotions as well.

To remove the effects of judgments, we need to learn instantaneous forgiveness. We may get upset for people who we perceive as taking advantage of us or hurting us in some way (e.g., a boss not giving us a promotion). The perception is that not getting a promotion will hurt us when in reality a better job may be on its way or the promotion may have lead us to working long hours and ruining our family life. In reality, we do not know what is around the corner. Yet, if we stay angry and resentful, we are just pushing away our future prosperity and peace.

For example, as a manager looking for new employees or as a coach helping people with their resumes and interview skills, I can tell who is angry at their current jobs. As a manager, this sent a red flag to me that they wanted to work for me not necessarily for the right reasons but more for getting away from their current situation. This red flag was if they are angry at their current job will they be angry in this job? Or, do they have the skills to stay even keel when things did not go their way?

For prosperity to work, we need move towards what we want (happiness, peace, joy, etc.) instead of running away from what we do not want (what we deem as bad). If we are running away from something, the situation is going to follow us.

Instantaneous forgiveness is about learning to let go of the judgment as quickly as possible. As a friend says, we are human thus we will judge, yet do not let the judgment affect how you treat others. This is about accepting credit card companies and your company (and boss) for who they are. A credit card company may charge you a high interest rate, yet do not let this affect how you deal with them (e.g., as the evil empire). They are just a company doing business. You will probably have more luck working out a payment plan if you recognize this instead of getting angry at them over the phone where they just want to hang up on you. You may initially dislike you boss when he does not give you the promotion you wanted, yet get back in there and see what you can do to change his mind the next time the promotion comes up.

At the end of your life, will not getting promoted or being in debt really define who you are? It is really our judgments on the events that affected our happiness and peace, more than the event itself.

Do You Have Courage to Face Your Financial Situation?

Tuesday, November 14th, 2006

In David Hawkin’s book, Power vs. Force, he defines courage as the energy level where a person moves from weakness to strength. In his book, he uses kinesiology testing to show that many other emotions (like fear, shame, guilt, etc.) weaken the body while courage is the first emotion to strengthen the body. This is one of the first energy levels where a person takes responsibility for what shows up in his life instead of being a victim of life around him. He starts to use his life events to see how he can grow and learn. Courage is the ability to look at the situation and accept it for what it is. People use courage when facing a line of fire (e.g., soldier or police). Courage isn’t about taking unnecessary risks in the situation, yet courage is about taking the steps needed to control the situation and not stepping back in fear. With courage, fear and worry do not control a person’s life, but gives him a willingness to face the situation and grow from it.

David also talks about courage being the first energy level that a person gives to the world more energy than he receives. This is important for prosperity because prosperity increases as energy grows. Energy and prosperity is limitless if we give back to the world what we get. When people are just taking without giving back, their prosperity will diminish because energy gets depleted. At these lower energy levels, we tend to drain the energy around us with anger, blame, fear, etc. For example, if you have an angry employee at work, how does he influence the rest of the company? Does his anger tend to affect others and possibly make them angry as well and thus become less productive?

To summarize the lower energy levels in Power vs. Force (from lowest to higher energy levels) taking a situation of someone who is in debt:

No hope for changing the outcome:

Shame– humiliating disgrace of his situation (e.g., around amount of debt)

Guilt – beating himself up for the past (e.g., for getting into debt)

• Apathy – giving up on a situation (e.g., no hope of getting out of debt)

With these emotions, people tend to take no action for getting out of debt because they do not see any other possible outcome to their situation.

Seeing different outcomes are possible:

• Grief – sense of loss of what he could have had (e.g., morn loss of a peaceful dinner without being called by a debt collector)

Fear – anxiety of what may happen (e.g., going further in debt if he loses his job)

Even though people know what they can have, their energy is focused on the loss or potential loss of what they want (inaction) and not focused on action.

Taking action against what we do not want:

Desire – need to escape where he is at (e.g., wanting to be rich to stop feeling less than others by being in debt)

• Anger – hating where he is at and taking action against others (e.g., yelling at the debt collectors and credit card companies)

Pride – trying to justify him self-worth by being better than others (e.g., thinking that it is noble to be poor)

Even though these emotions are about taking action it is the wrong action (e.g., cutting others down with anger or pride to feel better or desire to escape the current situation instead of action towards what you really want).

As you can see, these lower energy levels do little or nothing to change the situation. Even desire where it is about escaping the current situation (e.g., of debt), is over looking what the person may really want (e.g., self-worth, peace, happiness) and focus instead on money believing that will change the situation. Courage is realizing that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. Thus, if you want your situation to change, you need to change your reaction to the situation. From a financial situation, courage is looking at your situation and learning from it:

• Do I need to find a better job by getting the training that I need instead of thinking no one want to hire me for more than minimum wage (shame) or getting angry at the economy and government

• Do I need to cut my expenses until I can get back on my feet again instead of waiting it out and see what happens (apathy)

• Do I need to see that those who have wealthy are just like me (not greedy or evil) instead of believing that being poor is noble (pride)

There are always going to be reasons why things are not going your way. You can use this as an excuse not to take action (live with is no hope) or have courage to be honest with yourself. You may not be able to change the situation (e.g., incurring medical bills due to illness) yet can change the outcome by managing your spending and debt. Courage is the point where we see that life is not just happening to you (on a roller coaster with no steering or brakes) but where you can take charge of your lives (elect to get off the roller coaster and choose your next step). This is a scary step because it means that everything in your life, you have some degree of control over. Thus, instead of blaming others, you need to look at yourself and the impact you have on the situation.
So take the first step in chaning your financial situation is to see what situation you are in:

• Are you in debt?

• Are you underemployed (should have a better job)?

• Are you saving for retirement?

• Do you have health insurance?

• How else would you describe your financial situation?

Then take a moment as see your feelings about these situations. Are your emotions in the list above (e.g., seeing the situation with anger, fear, apathy, guilt, etc.)? Have you started to stand up and address these situations? If not, take a few more moments and brain storm ideas on how you can start taking action to change the outcome of your current situation. Brain storming can show that there are other possibilities to solve the situation instead of being a victim and giving up.

Courage is the tipping point to a different life. It is easily to revert back to believing that we are a victim to others. Thus, you need to look at your thoughts. One of the biggest traps is thinking, “yes … but …”

• Yes, I can pay down my credit card debt, but not at their outrageous interest rates they charge

• Yes, I got myself into debt, but the credit cards are making it impossible to get out of it

• Yes, I should get a better job, but the economy stinks and government is not fixing the situation

It is easy to say that you can control your life, yet it is harder to stay focused in believing it. Thus, when you have emotions that tell you that you are not in control (e.g., all the emotions listed above, shame, fear, guilt, apathy, etc.) then your emotions are telling you that you have an opportunity to choose courage by taking action to change your situation. For example,

  • Instead of fearing debt collectors, be proactive and call them with a proposed payment plan
  • Instead of ignoring your investment summary during down months in the market, open them up and understand where you stand
  • Instead of ignoring your retirement plan, sit down and map out your retirement strategy even if you currently do not have the money to save for it

Are You Content, Happy or Disappointed about Your Finances?

Monday, October 30th, 2006

Or, just anticipating a better future? These are some of the emotions that children may be experiencing on Halloween. They may anticipate the stash of Halloween candy that they will receive. When they are collecting the candy, they are usually happy and content. Then after they compare what they received to others, they may feel disappointed that they missed the good houses with the big candy bars. These are similar emotions to what you may are feeling about your finances. So, what can we learn about finances by seeing what children go through on Halloween?

The key to a fun Halloween is being happy and content in the holiday itself. In other words, do not get too involved in anticipating the future or disappointed about the past. Unfortunately, children (like adults) tend to live more in the past or the future than enjoying the present. If you ask a teacher what is on children’s minds on the day before and day after Halloween, it is not on school.

There is a saying, the past is history, the future is a fantasy and the present is a gift and thus the reason it is called the present. Yet, how often do we experience the joy of the present moment. If you think about it, as a society, we tend to live our lives 50% thinking about the past, 30% thinking about the future and 20% of the time in the present. Yet, if we really want to enjoy life, the mix would be more like 15% thinking about the past (learning the lessons we need), 15% thinking about the future (goal setting and planning) and 70% in the present.

Many emotions that we feel and thoughts we think are about the past. Even though we feel many emotions such as disappointment, shame, guilt, etc., we should not constantly live our lives based on these emotions. For example, we may be disappointed that we did not get a raise, yet the event is in the past. By living in the past (the disappointment), we lose site of what is needed to be done in the present to get the raise the next time around. We as a society are usually more focused on blaming companies for their greed for not giving raises but increasing prices versus what we can do about it (rather than just passing the cost onto our credit card debt). We are also focused on what we should have done in the past, like going to college or taking the other job opportunity. Then we obsess about what we should have said or done during the day (e.g., if I just have said this instead of that what would have happened). There is a reason why we only have 1 history class a day in school. History is good to learn from, yet there is a point of analysis paralysis.

There are other emotions like fear/worry or anticipation that is based on the future. Note, anticipation is not really an emotion, rather usually a waiting on a better emotional state than you are currently (I will be happy when …). There are times where looking forward is good for setting goals and direction that you want to go in. Yet, if we constantly look forward towards how things are going to get better, we may never get to where we want to go. This is because if we are waiting to be happy, we believe that an outside event is the determinant of whether we are happy or not rather than an internal decision. For others waiting to retire for their peace and joy, they may not end up reaching their retirement due to health condition. For some children, looking forward to Christmas (as the end all be all of getting presents) can lead to disappointment if they do not get what they dreamed off. When we tend to build up a future event, we get disappointed if the event does not measure up to our expectations. Thus, happiness continues to elude us.

Lastly, when you are anticipating the future, you are not participating 100% in the present taking care of business at hand. For myself, I am looking forward to The Ohio State Buckeyes playing Michigan on November 18th. In the excitement, I am reading all that I can about the pre-game analysis. In looking at all the message boards, it is robbing me of time that I could be writing my blog. Some mindless anticipation is fun and a good break, yet sometimes it goes too far in distracting us from what needs to be done in the present.

So where is your energy with your finances?

• In the past

Are you beating yourself up for past mistakes (e.g., credit card debt)?

Are you regretting not investing in a stock or getting a college degree?

Are you thinking about what you should have done?

Are you blaming a company for raising their prices while not giving you a raise or promotion?

• In the future

Are you anticipating your retirement?

Are you worried about sending your children to college?

Are you stressed about how you will pay your mortgage?

Are you wondering when your car will break down next?

• Present

Are you giving 110% effort to work during working hours?

Are you grateful for what you have?

Do you enjoy giving and receiving money?

Are you happy?

If you are relating to more about the past and future, think about switching your attention to the present. In the present is where the “gift” is because love, joy and happiness are only experienced in the here and now. So when you send your children out trick or treating tomorrow, remember that their joy is in that moment.

Double Edge Sword of Pride

Thursday, October 12th, 2006

I have been writing a series of articles on feelings around money (shame, fear, desires, etc.) to show how these feelings can have an impact on your money. Pride is usually thought as a feeling of honor and is associated with:

• The few, the proud, the Marines

• Pride of homeownership

• Pride of a job well done

Pride is a feel good energy. Yet, it is sometimes based on a false sense of being better than others or being better than where you came from. This feels good in the moment. Yet because it is based on outside conditions, it can be lost easier than the work it took to get there. And, when it is lost, it feels devastating.

There are many times that we feel pride in our lives, birth of our children, their graduation, paying off the mortgage. Aren’t these good things? They can be. Yet, from a financial perspective, is like a sword. It is a beautiful piece of art that can be hung from the mantel or worn by a soldier with their dress uniform. It looks good during good conditions. Yet, it can be used for destruction as well. One edge of the sword is the destructive force of greed. It is defining who you are by your money, such as “Upper Class” or “Wealthy”. Yet, what will happen if it is all gone tomorrow? Unfortunately, if money defines a person, the results of losing one’s financial identity can be deadly.

The other side of the sword is just as deadly. This side of the sword is a person having pride in shunning wealth and money. “You do not need money to be happy” is their motto. “I do not want to be a slave to capitalism” is another motto. Unfortunately, viewpoint is looking at life from what they do not want (e.g., associating money with greed) instead of what they do want. They glorify meagerness which not only affects their money situation, yet it affects who they are. Sometimes, you need money to spread the message that you came to share with others. Look at Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa and Gandhi; they couldn’t have been who they were fully without attracting money to their cause. It has been said that it took a lot of money to make Gandhi look so meager. Money is just energy. If either of these great leaders cut off money, they would have cut off their energy (and message) that they were spreading to the world. I doubt it. It is fine to say that you do not need to live the first class lifestyle, yet do not take pride of cutting off money either.