I’ve always been pretty good with money. I live within my means, never have credit card debt and am lucky to have a professional ambition that allows me to be financially independent.
Being good with money is a big part of my identity. As a child, my family regularly joked I would earn enough one day to pay for everyone in retirement. My confidence and drive convinced the family, including me, that whatever I did I’d make a success of it. I’ve mostly believed the story that I’d never have to worry about money.
There are several downsides to that story. Not wanting to worry about money means I’m careless with it. Never to the point of running out of it, but certainly in a wasteful way. It also means that when some financial pressure builds, it can rock me at my core, like any threat to one’s identity.
This happened for me last week when I lost a valued client during the week that a major financial reality hit. My daughter Mala has started an intensive learning program this term that is a massive investment and not covered by the NDIS. In an instant, my perception of being financially secure was shattered as my wounded ego paid attention to all the scarcity signals around me. My mind and heart raced for days, my sleep became disturbed, my stomach was unsettled and I was on the verge of tears, if not actually in tears.
Like all major surges of emotion, I needed this one to move through me. I let myself feel the feelings to completion so I could access the wisdom on the other side. Through it all, I asked myself: what is this upset here to teach me? In particular, how is this situation showing me that I am living from scarcity?
Asking those questions prompted me to start reading a book I bought a year ago called The Soul of Money by Lynne Twist. This book unpacks our distorted relationship with money that becomes destructive when we don’t connect our income-earning with personal meaning and purpose.
On Friday my favourite podcaster, Sam Harris, dropped his latest episode titled Constructed minds. In this interview with neuroscientist and psychologist Lisa Feldman Barrett, they discuss how the mind is a prediction making machine. Our reality is entirely simulated based on what the brain thinks is going to happen. And what the brain thinks is going to happen is directly related to what it pays attention to.
The power of using the spotlight of your attention to reframe your problems is abundantly clear in this context. You can train your mind to pay attention to stuff that worries and upsets you. Or you can choose to pay attention to the stuff that inspires and comforts you, like your greater calling or life’s purpose. For me, this was the difference between focusing on scarcity – money to be spent and money not earned – or abundance.
Focusing on abundance is helping me reframe the financial burden of single-parenting a child with disabilities as a tremendous gift that inspires and infuses a key part of my life purpose - helping Mala live an extraordinary life because of her disability, not despite it.
What tools do you have to disrupt downward spirals and potholes so their grip loosens and leads to growth? Paying attention to what you pay attention to is a great start.