What do you do as a driver if your car gets stuck in the mud or a snowbank? You probably try shoveling, rocking the car back and forth, or putting something under the wheels. Sometimes, though, you can’t get unstuck by yourself; you have to call for help.
What do you do if you find yourself financially stuck? According to Vocabulary.com, “stuck” describes something that’s frozen or fixed in one place and can’t be moved. We can become frozen in almost any financial task or situation: needing to earn more money or reduce spending, needing to make a will or draw up a health power of attorney, investing a sum of money, being financially dependent on someone, setting up a retirement plan. We know we need to do something different, but we can’t move.
Another form of stuckness is doing the same thing over and over, expecting different results and getting the same result. Budgeting is a great example. We write out a monthly spending plan and resolve to follow it. We do, until the third week when Jaden breaks his arm and ends up in the ER. Then the next month the car’s transmission goes out. The next month it’s unexpected school expenses. After several unsuccessful tries at changing a behavior, it’s likely that the behaviors or beliefs we are using to change course aren’t working and are probably anchored in some type of unconscious emotional and financial dysfunction.
My typical answer to getting financially unstuck is to enlist the help of a trusted financial mentor, financial planner, or financial therapist. Yet calling a tow truck when your car is stuck is much easier than asking for help when you’re financially stuck. Much of that difference has to do with shame.
Many of us feel a ton of shame, a belief that something is wrong with us, if we can’t do money well. We assume others manage money well, so we must be terminally stupid. For example, I once had a client who was ashamed and beating herself up over her six-month-old business. She was making enough to take out a salary, but was mortified to think her peers might find out there was no profit beyond that.
We don’t realize feeling this way is normal, so we try to continue to get well by ourselves. We tell ourselves we need to find the right book or video and we will be cured all by ourselves, without anyone needing to know.
I know this first-hand, because I’ve been down that path. I hated therapy, I didn’t want to do therapy, and so I tried to read myself to emotional and financial wellness for several years. If this is you, let me save you a lot of time and expense with what I learned: it didn’t work for me, and it’s highly unlikely it will work for you.
Changing your money behavior is like learning to play golf. You cannot read a bunch of books on golf, then go out and be an expert golfer. You need to practice out on the course, and typically you need to hire a coach. Learning golf is experiential and rarely learned on your own. The same is true for gaining financial and emotional wellbeing.
With the new business owner mentioned above, I began by telling her it can take the average business 3-5 years to become profitable. I added, “Being able to take a salary after only six months is pretty darn good if you want to compare yourself to the average.” That information alone immediately reduced her shame, an essential step in helping her to get unstuck and begin to move forward.