*Insert me gazing at a stately brick townhouse* “Awww man, I’ll never have one of these.” This was approximately the 3,546th time I’d told myself that, and it felt bad every time.
Something flashed in my mind: is that true? Like really, forever true? You also thought you’d never find a job you liked, or go to Europe, or fall in love again. But every one of those happened somehow.
Hold up now! I decided to figure out the difference between what was really in my way of buying a house in NYC, versus what I was just telling myself about it. So, I started looking into mortgages, down payments, taxes & income requirements. I came out of it with two things:
- The clear understanding that in my situation and with my housing interests, I’d need to make at least $125k/year
- This whole blog.
On my journey of going from making something out of nothing, to something out of something, I’ve looked for guidance and ideas all over the place. I was raised to have pretty low financial expectations, and I didn’t know anyone who was both financially successful and happy with how they got there. Along the way, I’ve ended up reading some “change your mindset, change your reality” pieces to try to find guidance. A lot of these rub me the wrong way: “Think yourself wealthy”?!? WOW LOLZ, I’d think. Sure you can “think your way” to anything – if your lived reality doesn’t also come with marginalization, oppression, and lack of resources.
Truth: no one can just think themselves free from redlining, generational poverty, or labor exploitation. The movies lie, people.
But these constraints are not the whole picture. We don’t live in a wholly deterministic world. We do have some power to nudge our lives in this direction or that. As a matter of fact, it was only when I did some mindset shifting for myself that I was able to take steps to go from precarious to stable.
Here’s how I see this complex interplay:
- REAL CONSTRAINTS: The real constraints on us and our families define our early lives. Our economic situation at birth determines a good chunk of what’s possible. Our gender, race, sexuality, ability & other situational factors also put barriers later in life due to the world around us being oppressive.
- INTERNALIZED CONSTRAINTS: At some point, being constrained starts to seem normal. “It is what it is.” We get used to not being able to change things. Failing to see options modeled to us that show lives with paths that resonate, we struggle to imagine ourselves having as many choices. Having heard or seen “No” and “It’s Not Possible” and “That’s for _____ people” and “Who Do You Think You Are?”, we start to tell it to ourselves.
- PANOPTICON CONSTRAINTS: Now we’ve assimilated our psyches into a constraint model. We begin to be part of our own constraint, along with the real barriers that are in our way. We prohibit ourselves from imagining other roads, including ones that are not clearly blocked.
Take the example of a first-generation college or graduate student:
Education is technically open to everyone, but the hurdles to not only imagine that you *could* do it, but will also have to provide your own technical assistance to figure out how are much higher if you inherit this constraint. Not to mention the money/loans part of the equation. Without any modeled guidance, it’s that much harder to do.
Another example: coming from a family where no one’s had a “professional” job.
It’s WAY HARDER to imagine, let alone figure out how to have a professional career, if it’s not something that even comes to mind as an option. Working for clients instead of a boss? HOW!? It might be technically possible (and it might not be), but if you don’t imagine it as possible, it will definitely not happen.
HOW TO BREAK OUT:
Your task: Figure out the difference between real constraints and self-imposed constraints, so you can get out of your own way.
- Reality test your “I will nevers.” Notice when you tell yourself “No.” Notice what you shut down immediately. Notice what you say you’ll “never” do. Is it “I’ll never retire” or “I’d never be a doctor” or ______? How accurate is that?
- Try mentally modelling something you previously imagined to be totally out of your grasp. For me, that was imagining what it would take to buy a house in NYC. Before, I’d just shut down the idea as ridiculous and not thought it through. Once I actually let myself imagine it, I got crucially valuable information: how much income and saved money I’d need to make it happen. Even though I don’t have that income now, I have a benchmark that I could try to achieve if I decided that was my focus.
- Reframe your Nevers into your choices. “I am not going to try to get a six-figure job right now.” “I am not planning on getting a BA.” “I am not going to try to buy right now.” and observe the way it makes you notice what you are doing and are choosing.
- Identify what’s gotten in your way so far and separate out things out of your control from things you do have power in. Is it time for a new job or side gig? To raise your rate to your clients?
- Bonus: think about what you can do to make more choices for yourself and other people. Is it advocating for universal healthcare so folks feel free to try to start businesses? Is it talking to a friend or a friend’s kid about what going to school is like?
I think this blended model is important: yes there are real constraints that are in your way. But, there are also constraints we put on ourselves. Finding the difference is one way to find where you can change your life.
If you want to read more, check out Part 1 of How To Have Enough.
These mental hacks matter and can really help you out! Learn more in Fearless Money Management, given online and in-person monthly. The next classes are listed here.