When I started my photography business I got in debt. Photography is an expensive field, and if you want to shoot weddings professionally, you’ll need thousands of dollars worth of equipment from the get go. I really didn’t want to get into debt, but that was the only way for me to get the minimum amount of equipment I needed at the time. What made me feel really bad about myself was that everyone I met or heard about said that they had saved money, gotten clients right away, and had gotten into business with no debt. As I networked and met other business owners, they always told me how they had done it all by themselves, worked hard and saved – in short, they were incredibly good at being resourceful, staying focused, hustling, and growing their business. I didn’t feel like that at all, and the math didn’t add up. How could they be making the money they said they made and still afford buying equipment, going on vacation and long trips, saving, and buying a house?
All the financial advice and information out there made it sound like there was something wrong with me – while everyone else was being responsible, I was this undisciplined, not-good-enough person who couldn’t resist temptation and stay within her means. Needless to say, all this made me feel mostly like a failure.
Fast forward a few years, and I got to know some of these self-made business people much better. And what I found out was that they were not smarter, more disciplined, better prepared than me. It turned out that in many cases they were simply not self made. Or they were in debt too, but wouldn’t admit it. Talk about bursting the bubble! One owed the IRS thousands of dollars in back taxes and was in a dispute with a previous business partners for tens of thousands of dollars of debt. Another had received all equipment and her house as an inheritance. And yet another had started his business while his partner worked full time for many years supporting the family.
If you feel everyone else around you has it together and you don’t, consider it is simply not true. Successful people tend to overestimate their own achievements, while minimizing the help and advantages they got along the way. If I had $100 for every business person claiming they were self made while their spouse or parents were paying for health insurance and mortgage (sometimes even for decades!), I would be rich.
There is nothing wrong with getting help from family, it’s wonderful, and if you have a supportive environment, it will make your life much easier. The problem is that if you don’t and you are stuck trying to change careers, or start your business, the myth of the hard working, bootstrapping millionaire often makes you feel like there is something wrong with you if you are struggling. And make no mistake, it is a myth. The reality is that it is common to struggle financially if you are truly doing it all by yourself, and there is nothing wrong with you if you do.
As a colleague once remarked, no one is self-taught, we all learn from someone else, even if just by reading their books. The same is true for success, and the faster, and biggest the achievements, the more chance it was not self made.
Why is this important? If you are feeling stuck, and insecure about your abilities, it is important to get a much more realistic assessment of the situation and the society we live in. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Lots of successful people are in debt, they just don’t talk about.
- Lots of successful people have had or still have help: this can be family support, a teacher or a boss who championed them, etc.
- Lots of successful people are lucky: if you picked up coding in the early 90’s and loved it, you were lucky to have a passion for one of the most lucrative contemporary professions. Lots of people have passions – some pay more than others.
Of course all of the above does not take away from the hard work and dedication successful people put into developing great skills, and building their career or business. But no one here is a man or woman to themselves. We are influenced for better or for worse by many things that are outside of our control and just as we take responsibility for what we can do, it is important to recognize what we cannot do.
If you want to get unstuck and truly find what you want to do next, stop comparing yourself to others. Period. And stop reading all that cliche’ stuff about the habits of wealthy people. I am all for picking up healthier and more productive habits, just realize that your inability to wake up early in the morning is probably not the decisive factor in why you are not rich 😀
Do you really want to get out of the funk, and come unstuck? These are the habits you want to cultivate:
- Appreciate what you have, and the people around you – Thank them for their help.
- Accept and love yourself as you are – yes, you can start waking up earlier, and being more productive – but remember that you are already wonderful.
- Focus on what’s really important to you: success takes many forms, don’t feel you have to be as successful as your neighbor if it’s not what you really want. This also includes discerning what success means to you vs. your family/community/country.
- Take responsibility for your actions and recognize there are many things outside of your control that will affect you.
- Help others: it will make you feel better about yourself and you’ll be able to connect with more like-minded individuals.
- Invest your time in researching different professions, be especially on the look out for jobs you never even knew existed, or are just popping up. For example, I had no idea what a marketer did when I was in college, and by the time I decided to pursue this career, marketing had changed so much to make it appealing to me (it would not have been appealing 20 years ago!).
There is nothing wrong with you if things are hard, it is very common to go through a rough patch. Let’s focus on how you can get out of the funk to find your own path to achieve your idea of success.