10 Ways to Boost Financial Self-Esteem: My Journey
Self-esteem in some ways is akin to self-trust. It can include trusting yourself to have good judgment, confidence that you are capable, and generally liking yourself. In my journey, I have certainly struggled with self-esteem, as I suspect many of us do, at one time or another. This struggle, and the bizarre and gratifying experience we call life, inspired this blog’s name: This Fascinating Adventure. Personal self-esteem has a significant impact on healthy living, and financial self-esteem does the same for our money-life.
What is Imposter Syndrome?
The imposter phenomenon, often called imposter syndrome, is not an actual diagnosis. However, it has been researched and discussed in depth in various corners of the internet, including Forbes and Time. The American Psychological Association has seen fit to weigh in (read their article here), and a quick Google search will reveal lengthy exploration on the topic.
Quoted from the APA’s article referenced above “impostor phenomenon occurs among high achievers who are unable to internalize and accept their success. They often attribute their accomplishments to luck rather than to ability, and fear that others will eventually unmask them as a fraud.”
Imposter syndrome goes hand-in-hand with my experience of low financial self-esteem. For a long time I operated under the limiting belief that I was terrible with money. Some people are good at it, and I just wasn’t. Any personal success experience that translated to financial success (e.g. landing a good job, getting a raise, etc) was a lucky accident. I assumed I would always live paycheck-to-paycheck, as I couldn’t imagine myself making prudent financial choices. What I was familiar with, was just getting by.
And who was I to imagine I might be financially successful? Heck, in some subconscious way, I didn’t even want to date someone who was financally stable. They were too good for me (seriously folks, when I started dating my very smart husband I thought these words “He is too ‘together’ for me.” Talk about the opposite of an empowering belief!). I am reminded of a quote by Marianne Williamson anytime I find myself playing small:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same.”—Marianne Williamson
“A Return To Love: Reflections on the Principles of A Course in Miracles”
My Experience With Financial Self-Esteem
I came from an educated family, was raised in a bi-cultural household, and my parents divorced when I was in elementary school. My parents are Deaf and faced oppression in their everyday lives, both through job opportunities, and economic opportunities. However, my single mom was a teacher, and while my dad was MIA for a few years, she managed to pull through and her 3 kids were raised in an amazing home.
But, we didn’t have a lot of money. We didn’t have conversations about investments around the dinner table, we wore hand-me-downs from a family friend’s kids, and when we wanted a snack, we ate a slice of bread.
We were not truly poor by any means, though some years were leaner than others. My mom had some financial help from aunts and uncles in the years she was reeling from a divorce. In that time she managed to pay off all of the debt my dad racked up in their marriage (he filed bankruptcy so she was liable for all of it). She’s the most amazing woman I know.
The privilege of being raised by a professional educator led to a lifelong love of reading and learning. This positioned me to do well in school, view my teachers as allies, and to thrive in all of my academic experiences.
With a phenomenal transcript in my hand, my mom found a way to shell out for a good ol’ fashioned scholarship book at the bookstore (I hear it’s all online these days). I was also equipped with a couple rolls of stamps, a carton of envelopes, ink in our printer, and an old, rickety computer. Through this home office set-up, I spent my junior and senior year of high school applying for any and all scholarships.
I applied for over a hundred scholarships, wrote countless essays, and earned myself 6. Of those six, four were for $500-$1000 one-time amounts. The other two were my saving grace. They covered all the rest of my tuition, room-and-board, books, and left me with some money for living expenses.
I was emboldened by this victory, and thought myself 100% independent at the age of 17. In typical rebellious teenage fashion, I did not recognize the part my mother played in this success, yet I wasn’t sure who to credit. Surely not myself. I was certain I had bamboozled everyone into thinking I was far more brilliant than I was. As much as I craved success, I was playing small, for fear someone would find me out.
The high school I attended was a low-performing school, and coupled with my love of learning, my grades stood out. I was convinced had I attended a more academically rigorous school, I would not have looked so good on those scholarship applications.
When I attended college, I was sure everyone was smarter than me, and I did not make many new friends. Instead, because the school was in my hometown, I hung out with my high school buddies for most of my college years.
Part of my story includes alcoholism. My father is an alcoholic, my siblings both have struggled with substance use, and at least one grandparent on both sides of my family tree had alcoholism. The genetics, coupled with my self-doubt and low self-esteem set the stage for my own alcoholism. Between the ages of 18 and 25, my consumption escalated quickly to drinking in the mornings, drinking everyday, and heading to the bars every night. Alcoholism looks differently for everyone, and that is what it looked like for me.
Thankfully, I got sober at 25 and haven’t had a drink in 7 years. I am the only living member of my family with a substance use problem who is clean and sober.
Influences on my Self-Esteem
Being raised by Deaf parents who were treated like “the other” in almost all societal interactions, feeling like my home-life was different than other kids (translate: I was different), and developing a substance use problem myself, my experience with self-worth was virtually non-existent until my mid-20s.
However, I was raised with a phenomenal example of a mother and woman, who modeled triumph over adversity. I did graduate college on time without losing my scholarship despite my developing addiction, and I landed a decent job post-graduation.
But I will say, I felt like such a fool. I felt I had always only squeaked by, and others were more deserving of the opportunities I felt had been handed. I did not have experience with managing my money well (addiction is a Hard Master, and can take every dime you have); chronic stress was my daily condition.
Ready for Change
I’ve made several financial mistakes. I’ve done 3 payday loans with all that predatory interest. Because I wrecked a car (3 weeks after I bought it), I had a large outstanding car loan that insurance didn’t cover. I was making payments on this, in addition to the car I was actually driving. All I could do was keep showing up to work and try to juggle all of the debt. Meanwhile, I prioritized buying clothes and junk at Target trying to feel like what I imagined a self-sufficient adult felt like—someone that worked hard, who could have nice things.
Low self-esteem can lead to an altered perception of the facts. Reality can be skewed when viewed through a dark pair of sunglasses. At times, I have considered promotions to be out of my reach, because I just wasn’t smart enough. I have been intimidated to network and chat up colleagues and my boss because I felt I was not competent enough to be in that professional environment. All this to say, my earnings were affected for several years. Low self-esteem has led me to make professionally and financially harmful decisions just to feel ok in the short-term.
Things That helped:
- Support: I leaned on friends and family for emotional support. I became transparent about my internal struggles and how that was translating into life decisions, including money decisions.
- Became teachable: I started to listen to people and their advice and experiences. Previous to this I oscillated between extremes. Either I knew what I was doing, dammit, or I knew nothing and I was the biggest dummy walking the earth.
- Inventoried what I did know: part of moving away from the extremes of knowing everything, or knowing nothing, included examining what I did know. There were things I was good at. And there was still room to grow.
- Read: as a lover of books, I shifted to reading Brené Brown, Oprah, Marianne Williamson, and other authors who discuss the value of knowing and loving yourself.
- Changed the script: I stopped being mean to myself in my head. When I would catch myself thinking unkind things to myself I practiced thinking “That’s not true. And I don’t talk to myself like that anymore.”
- Created a budget: I attempted to look at my money without fear. Debts and all, mistakes and all, all the while not beating myself up for not knowing, what I didn’t know.
- Wrote mantras: I wrote positive things about myself and posted them on the mirror. It helped remind me who I truly am. It’s corny, but our self-talk is so very precious and the best compliments are truly the ones we pay ourselves.
- Allowed myself to be human: being human means doing some things really well, and other things not so much. Compassion comes seemingly natural to me, but financial prowess did not. I had to practice it and work on it like a muscle. Any skill set can be exercised and grown to be strong.
- Do esteem-able things: a very smart person once told me “You know how you gain self-esteem? You do esteem-able things.” Once I made even a small move in the right direction (like applying for the better job, or starting to track my spending), I gained slightly more confidence to do the next right thing.
- Owned my money story: I looked for mistakes I made, and for things I did right, all without judgement. Mistakes are learning opportunities in disguise. Just because I once did things a particular way, doesn’t mean I can’t start doing them differently. Wanting to improve doesn’t mean I must feel shame or foolishness about past decisions. It all has helped me to get to where I am today.
We Are Worth It
These are just a few things I did to change my attitude about myself and my capabilities. It has taken time, perseverance, patience, and making a few more mistakes along the way (I’m sure I’ll still make a few more). Above all, it’s taken believing that I deserve to be happy.
I’ve practiced (with effort) not comparing myself to others. This has helped me not feel better than, or feel others are better than me. There’s been conscious practice of trusting myself to make solid decisions regarding my money. If I am unsure, I research, and I ask those who’s opinions I value. I’ve gotten comfortable with not knowing how to do everything. How would I know?! We are born without knowing very much at all. We learn it on the way. If we haven’t learned it before, so what? We can learn it now. Life is one fascinating adventure indeed.