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If nothing changes ... nothing changes

I’ve spent years in the pursuit of happiness. I’ve changed companies, jobs, and industries, sports, name it. I’ve worked in non-profit and for-profit organizations. I’ve been married. And divorced. And moved across the country. All because I thought some place else or someONE else would make me happy.

I wanted to find the thing — the key that would unlock my happiness and then I’d be done with this whole pursuit thing and could just spend the rest of my years living the dream. And I could stop this exhausting, perpetual pursuit of “better” or “happier.”

What I didn’t understand or want to know is that the key wasn’t outside of me; it is me — who I am and how I treat myself.

And once I become willing to change a belief or behavior that isn’t serving me (that’s critical), then, finally, things begin to change.

When people first meet me and hear that I’m a career and life coach, they think I help people change the external things — their resume, LinkedIn profile, their job/boss/company/industry. They believe that changing these things will make them happy. I can and help with all those things, but it’s not the focus of what I do.

What I actually do is help people change themselves. And when they change, the world and people change in response, so, yes, sometimes the external things change, too.

Almost always, it’s the belief I hold onto as sacrosanct that I have to let go of in order to find freedom and happiness. It’s not that the people or situations around me change; it’s that I start looking at what in me needs to change.

It feels pretty much like jumping off a cliff.

That is the nature of uncertainty; it feels like a cliff. But my fear is far worse than actually jumping.

When I decided to become a career and life coach, I knew the hard part would be the running-a-business part. I had never been a person who balanced my checkbook on a monthly basis, back when checkbooks were used more often. I paid my bills on time, but I didn’t invest a whole lot of energy examining where my money was going. I either had enough or I didn’t. A handful of times I tried creating a budget,and keeping it up to date usually lasted a month or two.

I carried this relaxed attitude into my coaching business, believing that at some point, once enough money was coming in, then I’d buckle down and get serious about bookkeeping. Or just pay someone else to do it.

I knew that my way of doing things was not the recommended way of running a business, but I didn’t see a reason to change. My income was haphazard to say the least and there wasn’t much of it, so there wasn’t a whole lot to keep track of. I wasn’t spending money on anything other than basic necessities, so why bother creating a P&L? It just sounded like a great way to make it really clear that I was failing.

At one point, I participated in a business coaching group, and every month we wrote down our money goal and evaluated it at the end of each month. It was excruciating. I never met my monthly money goal. It all felt very arbitrary since none of my marketing efforts seemed to work with any predictability, setting a goal was a joke. I didn’t know which activities resulted in clients, and which didn’t. It all seemed random. Every month I barely held myself together before I fled from the meeting to my car where I could let the tears of shame flow freely. All I knew was that I wasn’t making enough money and putting that into a spreadsheet was not helping.

The following year I joined a business building program and, again, I was encouraged to track my money. I purchased Quickbooks and even paid someone to help me set it up, and then didn’t use it. For an entire year, I paid the monthly subscription fee and didn’t use it. I felt guilty and embarrassed that I was wasting this money, but that wasn’t enough to motivate me to start keeping track. I resisted because I did not want to endure the shame and sense of failure I’d been putting myself through in the other group.

Then I started to attend a friend’s free accountability workgroup. A couple of the women used the time to do their bookkeeping. I did not.

Until tax season was fast approaching, and I realized I could use the time during the accountability group to get started on that. Each week, I took a baby step toward getting my finances in order. Sometimes I only spent ten minutes on it. But I knew it HAD to be done, and once it was set up, doing my taxes would be relatively easy.

The fear of jumping off the cliff was far worse than the actual jump. And with dedicated time to do the bookkeeping, I got it done. No big deal.

A couple months after that, I connected with a colleague who was a financial coach, and I’d always been curious about how she worked with people, so we decided to trade services. Her approach was holistic, non-shaming and based on neuroscience. After a few weeks of doing a variety of homework exercises geared toward reducing resistance, it was time to start tracking my personal spending.

I found that I was willing to do this. I took baby steps. First I just tracked expenses in my phone. No spreadsheets involved. No goal setting. No conversations about how it was time for me to stop spending on ____. I was just tracking what I spent. That’s it.

Over time I realized I actually LIKE tracking my receipts and looking at the categories in Quickbooks and seeing where I’m spending my money. I didn’t start there. I had to start with super teeny baby steps. Ten minutes of doing something uncomfortable made it possible for me to get my taxes done on time, and a strange thing happened. My income increased.

If nothing changes … nothing changes.


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