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Success is hailed. We read about it. Speak about it. Spend sleepless nights working towards it. And when it finally makes its way down our avenue, we celebrate it. But whilst striving towards it there’s this awkward financial period that many of us go through where, like a belt around one’s waist after thanksgiving dinner, the ends just won’t meet. Basically, being broke.
It’s easy talking about being broke when you’re still a college student who attends every event that promises free food. But there’s a certain stage in one’s life where being broke is no longer fashionable. It’s that age where the check-ins to various destinations around the world from your friends on social media start becoming popular. Where attending social events becomes a drag because not only is your gas tank on life support, but you dread bumping into a peer, an ex-classmate, or even worse an ex-school mate’s younger sibling who was like 100 years your junior going on about they’ve just sealed a deal worth millions a few days ago.
The interesting thing about it is how you’ll do a scan check into your past to see if you’ve missed anything. I mean, you went to school-check. Graduated from college with a good enough GPA-check. Got a job- check. Have a more or less above average financial sense altitude-check. So where did you seem to drop the ball somehow? Did you perhaps peak too early and have now reached the premature anticlimax of your young life?
Well, if it brings you any comfort, my dear friend, you are not alone. And you’re also not the first to the “The Life of Broke-lo” party. The good part is that this period doesn’t last forever. And yes, believing in that light at the end of the long dark claustrophobic tunnel is darn difficult. Ask me, I know.
However, don’t indulge in self-pity… or be a hater
It is so easy to blame the forces of the universe for being against us, and totally for some people. This perception can lead to two things. Slightly feeling sorry for ourselves and feeling helpless. Or it can lead to being resentful towards others for their seemingly unfair success. Many of us are guilty of this from time to time. From the whine sessions we silently have in our heads about how unfair life is to us. To the subtle shade we throw at someone who broadcasts their achievements. Humans are emotional creatures. So it’s okay to have these emotions from time to time. The danger is in the indulgence.
The indulgence I’m referring to isn’t the extreme case of that one person we all know who thrives on being pitied. It’s that calm acceptance that this is the plate that life has dished out for you, and that you’ll never have better than this. It’s those voices that we listen to that make us believe that the super financially successful have super-powers that you and I just don’t and never will have. So we must just deal with it. And we resent them, because why them and not the rest of us right? This indulgence leads to somewhat of an inferiority complex, where we start to feel inferior due to discouragement. In his book titled Inferiority Complex (yes, someone wrote a whole book about it), Lanre Ajiboye describes it as a negation of the principle of positive thinking and the attitude of faith. In other words, instead of the sad and gloomy “Pity-me-Penny” you become more like Squidward from the Oscar deserving series SpongeBob SquarePants. Pessimistic. Cynical. And a tad bit bitter.
The first step in overcoming is to dig in deep…
In his book The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey refers to digging in deep as self awareness. It is defined as the conscious knowledge of one’s own character, feelings, motives, and desires. According to Covey, self awareness allows us to acknowledge how we are not our feelings, our moods or even our thoughts. It enables us to stand apart and examine even the way we see ourselves-our self-paradigm, the most fundamental paradigm of effectiveness. In this materialistic “success-driven” world we live in, being broke, especially for extended periods, can really mess with one’s self-image. Being self-aware gives us the freedom to separate who we are from the circumstances we face. This gives us the ability to be proactive rather than reactive.
Proactive people do not allow their lives’ outcomes to be a function of external conditions, as reactive people would. Rather, having separated the external conditions from themselves they focus their energies on the things they can control-their circle of influence. The nature of their energy is positive which keeps enlarging and magnifying, causing their circle of influence to expand. Once the circle of what they can control expands big enough, all they do is win, win, win no matter what.
Invest and cash in on your strengths
Identifying your circle of influence essentially involves working from a point of one’s strengths. So you’re broke because of valid circumstances that are beyond your control. That doesn’t stop you from using the skill set gained from your degree to set up a business where you can market those skills to small companies that may need them and can’t afford exorbitant rates offered by big players in that field. Neither does it stop you from networking, learning something new from free online courses, reading to empower yourself or doing anything else to gain skills that will make you more competitive in your career.
Nobody can deny how aggressive the job and business market is right now. It truly is a dog eat dog world. Using the opportunity of being indoors (because you’re too broke to go out) to empower yourself so you can monetize your skills in the near future is never a bad idea. Do not be discouraged by how long it might take you to learn a new skill, or take certain strides in empowering yourself. The time will pass anyway. Rather let it pass with prospects of becoming richer than remaining broke.
Use the lightness of being broke to innovate
In his book The Power of Broke, Shark Tank investor Daymond John writes about how empty pockets can become your greatest competitive advantage. He states that when you are down to your last dime that’s when you’ve got no choice but to succeed. “You’re out of options so you double down, dig deep and switch into that relentless turbo mode we’ve all got kicking around in our machinery. And that’s where the real magic happens”.
In line with the famous phrase “necessity is the mother of invention”, John asserts that innovation happens from the bottom up not from the top down. By this he means that the most innovative creations came from people who had been down and out by most people’s terms, and since they had nothing to lose they kept going at their passions and what they believed in. Until one day their efforts turned into revolutionary inventions like Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Steve Jobs, although he wasn’t completely broke said something that attests to this. In his Stanford address, he said that being fired from Apple, the company he co-founded, was the best thing that could have ever happened to him. In his words “the heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter into one of the most creative periods of my life”.
Embrace the journey
I will say it again: you will not be broke forever. And since this is a moment of your life that you will never get to relive, like any other moment in your life, you might as well embrace it. By this I mean keeping a record of all the really embarrassing or awkward events that all come with this rather bitter season of your life. These can include things like taking crazy selfies of yourself: pushing a car due to empty gas tanks; having shopping sprees in one dollar stores; with your food drawer colorfully stacked with only ramen noodles; or something similar to that effect. These will serve as somewhat of a funny reminder once you’ve dug yourself out of that financial pit. Finding humor during difficult moments helps you see things in perspective. That the bad moments by no means spell the end of the world. Additionally, it also gives you the freedom to enjoy every single bit of your young & precious life. The good, the bad and of course, the broke.