If you were given a magic wand to change anything about yourself that would improve your financial and emotional wellbeing, what would it be? This is a hard question. It is not about changing your financial circumstances through winning the lottery or inheriting a fortune, but about changing yourself—the beliefs, behaviors, thoughts, or emotions that could ultimately change your financial situation.
Would you change the way you react under financial pressure, the way you spend, the decisions you make? Almost all of us could find some ingrained behavior or difficult emotion that we would like to modify, improve, and transform in ways that would impact our finances.
So, what stops us? Transformation is not for the faint hearted. According to Victoria Erickson, author of The Edge of Wonder, “Transformation isn’t sweet and bright. It’s a dark and murky, painful pushing. An unraveling of the untruths you’ve carried in your body. A practice in facing your own created demons. A complete uprooting, before becoming.”
Erickson’s framing of transformation doesn’t sound like something most of us really want to sign up for. It feels easier to continue to bear the familiar pain of the present, rather than risk the pain of changing to something unfamiliar.
We typically only undertake transformation when the importance of changing can no longer be denied, avoided, and swept under the rug. Probably no example of transformation is more well-known this time of year than that of Ebenezer Scrooge in Charles Dickens’s A Christmas Carol. Within this popular Christmas fable lie some profound truths we can learn about the path to transformation.
First is the principle that we usually don’t undergo a transformation willingly. Scrooge had no intention of embarking on a transformational journey that Christmas Eve night. He went home, locked his doors, tended his meager fire, ate his tasteless bowl of gruel, and went to bed.
His routine was interrupted by the ghost of his old friend and business partner, Jacob Marley, with a dire warning that he needed to do things differently in his life or his end would not be pleasant.
Marley told Scrooge he had tried to get his attention for many, many years. But for some reason, this year Scrooge heard him. This is how interventions typically work. Often people in our lives try to wake us up, to warn us of the potential negative consequences of attitudes and behaviors. Yet we are usually oblivious to and dismissive of their warnings—until one day we hear them.
The key to transformation that Marley gave Scrooge: visit your past, so you can clearly see what’s in your present, so you can create a different future outcome.
Visiting the past requires courage. It is that “dark and murky” place, that “unraveling of untruths” and “complete uprooting.” This is the place of becoming willing to revisit the events in our lives where our strongly held delusions were formed. Scrooge resisted this step and tried his best to skip over it. Yet his guide, the Ghost of Christmas Past, gently turned him toward the past.
Bringing objectivity and understanding to entrenched financial delusions isn’t easy. Many people want to focus instead on obtaining more information on how to save, invest, or spend wisely. We try to jump into the present without visiting the past.
Yet what we need most for transformation is emotional awareness and intelligence, which cannot be learned academically or developed by oneself. It must be learned emotionally, experientially, and in community. Scrooge found a guide in the Ghost of Christmas Past. Someone today can find assistance from financial advisors or financial therapists. This is a journey that rarely can be taken alone.