It’s been over two weeks since I wrote on this blog, which is a sure sign that something is out of kilter. Having time to blog generally means my life is well balanced – that everything is in its rightful place, that I’m making enough space for creativity, for my visions and dreams, alongside the work that pays the bills.
But in the past few weeks, the work that pays the bills has hijacked most of my time. Why is that? The answer has very little to do with money. Doing the work that pays the bills – the work that’s always paid the bills – is a lot easier, a lot less scary and carries a much lower risk of rejection than the more creative projects that require me to stretch myself, to try something new and to expose myself to being ignored or dismissed.
In fact, I’m so confident of being accepted and praised when I do the work that’s always paid the bills that the pull is incredibly strong, almost irresistible. But why do I keep craving acceptance and praise? When will it be enough? Why this need to prove myself in something I’ve already proved myself in? And when will I be able to walk away from the comfort zone of guaranteed acceptance and praise and walk into the unknown territory where, I believe, my creativity sits waiting to be tapped and where fulfilment lies?
As is often the case, it comes down to fear. It’s no surprise that so many of us stick to what we know, to what we know we’re good at, to what we know will pay the bills and bring us acceptance. This will particularly be the case for those of us who so desperately crave a feeling of safety and acceptance because we spent so many years feeling unsafe, exposed, insecure or unacceptable.
But what I’ve noticed in the past few years about my own sense of safety and security is that it has very little to do with externals. I can own my own flat, earn a decent wage and have a little bit of savings, but possessions and a healthy bank account seem to make very little difference to my sense of security. I construct walls around myself, grabbing at bricks and mortar wherever I see them, adding turrets and spikes, but those walls never feel high or robust enough. I’m trying to create something on the outside that can only be built from the inside.
This feeling of insecurity, particularly financial insecurity, isn’t surprising. When you grow up with a sense that there isn’t enough and there’ll never be enough, those thoughts stay with you and are difficult to shake. In fact, as any good psychologist will tell you, many of us even go out of our way to recreate the conditions of our infancy. Just as a woman who was abandoned as a child by her father is often attracted to men who’ll abandon her, or a man who’s mother was controlling seeks out controlling women, those of us who were brought up with a sense of impending financial doom will recreate that pattern in our adult lives. We’re drawn to what we’ve always known, until we’re brave enough to break the cycle and walk free.
I’ve never felt I deserved an abundant life. I always thought it’d be a struggle, that things wouldn’t come easy, that happiness was elusive and that it was all a bit of a slog. And because that’s what I expected from life, I’ve often created those very conditions or found ways to reinforce those core beliefs. I’ve rarely taken the easy way out, often opting for the hardest route, and I’ve never really felt that success, fulfilment or joy were mine for the taking.
Those beliefs have manifested themselves in a number of ways. No matter what salary I was earning, I lived for years in a state of vagueness around my finances, not really knowing whether I had enough. This was pretty easy to do as an ex-pat living on a dollar salary in Brazil or Mexico – budgeting wasn’t necessary. But living in London for the past decade has been a different story.
A few years ago, it dawned on me that I had to take charge of my finances and I made an attempt to track my incomings and outgoings, but I never really got the hang of it. Then when I became self-employed, the vagueness set back in. I’ve booked holidays without knowing whether I could really afford them so I’ve spent my time abroad worrying about how much I was spending. I’ve stayed out of clothes shops for months but then splurged on three expensive dresses. I haven’t put money aside for taxes or known how much I’ve owed until it was time to pay. Yes, I’ve got by and there has always been enough, but I haven’t enjoyed it. I’ve been living in a state of anxiety around my money and my ability to support myself – very similar to the one I grew up in. I’ve recreated the conditions of my past, conditions I’m familiar and comfortable with.
Of course, this state of vagueness has also fuelled the ‘knight in shining armour’ fantasy. You know the one. Although deep down I know I can support myself – I’ve been doing so since I was 18 – the cloud of financial insecurity that hovers over me means I’m always secretly hoping I’ll meet a man with a few pennies in the bank, who’ll take charge of all the finances and take the pressure off. I’m ashamed to admit I was still hoping to be rescued. (Will I ever get a date again?!).
But I say ‘was’ because, I’m pleased to say, things are changing. No more vagueness about my finances, no more living in a state of financial unease. Thanks to my favourite new iPhone App, My Weekly Budget, I’m tracking everything I spend and I’ve listed all my outgoings on a pretty spreadsheet. For me, this is a real sign of maturity. I realise I could have learned all this stuff a long time ago – I think they should teach basic budgeting in schools, if they haven’t already started – but until recently I was quite happy to live with financial anxiety because it’s all I’d ever known.
Of course, the other half of the equation is to increase my earnings and to believe I truly deserve abundance, fulfilment and joy. Life doesn’t have to be a long, hard slog, overshadowed by a dark cloud of doom and gloom. But changing things is going to require courage. Believing we deserve to prosper in all areas of our lives means taking steps towards achieving that. It means saying No to some of the work that pays the bills and believing we can make a living from our true creativity, from work that delights and fulfils us.
For me, doing this is going to require baby steps. I know there are adventurous types out there who are willing to bet every last penny of their savings on their new business idea or take months off work to write a book. I don’t expect to change my deeply ingrained fear of financial insecurity overnight, so I’m going for the incremental approach – making small changes I can build on, slowly and steadily. A lot of other things will also need to come into play: better time management, more discipline (in a gentle sort of way) and less perfectionism.
But overall I think it comes down to boldness.
Boldness to start working on a synopsis for my book and sending it out to agents – I emailed an agent with my book idea a few months ago, got good feedback although a negative response and I haven’t sent it anywhere since. I think there’s room for some boldness there! Boldness to cold call editors with my story proposals or to follow up on leads or ideas I have, rather than letting them go cold or peter out. And boldness to believe I deserve the best God and the universe have to offer. Life may never be a bed of roses, but there’s definitely room for a lot more flowers.