Do you ever feel stuck? Ever wonder how in the world you got to where you are? Do you ever look around you and wish life could be different?
The day I asked myself these questions was a cold winter morning. I woke up and knew I didn’t want to face the day. I reached out and pressed two fingers onto the layer of ice on the wall next to me. They melted the thin sheet leaving two fingerprints behind. Overwhelming debt ate every dollar I earned. There was not enough money that winter to purchase propane to heat the house.
I wrapped the blanket around me to ward off the frigid air. Hunger drove me to the kitchen. I opened the door and gazed at the single jar in the center of the middle rack, a jar of dill pickles. It was the only food in the refrigerator that morning.
“How did I get to this point?” I wondered. How can I change the direction of my life? I was not yet at rock bottom, but I was well on my way there. The answers to these questions would come to me years later.
Life is fluid. Everyone’s path looks a little different. Here are five steps I’ve learned along the way that are vital to being prepared to find opportunities and then be able to act on them. I call this “finding your blue door.”
Step 1: Recognize Cause and Effect
What causes success or failure?
People who are successful often attribute their success to their hard work, tenacity, and intelligence. People who are poor and struggling often point to circumstances out of their control that led them to that place. The thing is, both of them are partially right.
Time and chance do happen to all of us. We can not predict what others will do or how the markets change. However, we can choose how we respond to these circumstances.
What about Circumstances Beyond our Control?
Years ago I read the book entitled “A Child Called It” by David Pelzer. The book details one of the worst child abuse cases in California. It was difficult to read about the pain and suffering that this child went through. He received hate instead of love as a child.
If David had ended up on the streets as a drug addict I don’t know that any of us would have found fault on his part. We would have said that he was a victim of his upbringing (or lack thereof). I would have looked at the situation with great sadness, heartbroken at the hand he was dealt.
Spoiler alert: David Pelzer didn’t end up on the streets or spiral out as a drug addict. He became a successful author, a husband, a father. He chose to respond differently to how he was treated, and his story is an inspiration.
Step 2: Take Personal Responsibility
Some people scoff at the idea of financial independence and say, “Good for you, you have a great job.” How do you think great job are attained? By sitting around bemoaning the state of world and circumstances? Maybe they were just in the right place at the right time. But how did they get to that place? Certainly not by sitting around doing nothing all day long at home. Stop attributing success to circumstance only. Look at what that person may have done differently and learn from it.
Example of Life Choices
I know a woman whose entire family regularly uses drugs and other substances. They steal to fund their habits and basically live outside the law. They rarely hold jobs but complain about being poor.
Within the span of a year multiple tragedies struck. One family member was shot in a drug altercation and two family members overdosed. All three died. After the second tragic overdose, she sent this text, “Why do these bad things keep happening to us?”
The tragedy breaks my heart but I am also saddened that she can not see the cause and effect. Without seeing how choices can make us more prone to certain tragedies there is no reason to change those choices or get help.
If we don’t like where we are and want to live differently we have to make different choices.
Step 3: Don’t Give Away Your Power
Stop attributing failure to circumstances only. What choices could you have made that might lead you to another path?
Believing that our circumstances are the fault of others and simply the result of fate is giving up our power. “I have no money now because my car died” might be a true statement, but what else was purchased over the last few months that was not needed? Maybe these other purchases are part of the reason there is no money left when the car dies.
Undoubtedly, many of us may face challenging years through no fault of our own. But it is important to be honest with ourselves and look at what fault we might have had in the situation. It will free us from always being at the mercy of “fate.” It is a thought process that helps us recognize our choices – our power.
If we recognize our own culpability for the state of our lives, we gain power. If we recognize that the choices we make have something to do with how we got to a bad place, then we can also recognize that making the right choices will get us out of that rut. We have the ability to change how we do things and where we go.
If it is always someone else’s fault then life will happen to us.
What about Victimization
No matter how good our choices bad things can still happen. Robbery, rape, abuse, and accidents don’t just happen to those who have made bad choices. They happen to anyone rich or poor, good and bad. Time and chance happen to us all. If one of these things have happened to you it is not your fault. It doesn’t matter what clothes you were wearing or where you were, it is not your fault. Those who choose to prey on others are entirely at fault.
Many of us have been victimized, but we do not have to remain a victim. We have the power to choose how we will respond to any circumstance. We do not have to give the victimizer our power.
I just finished reading the book Lean In by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer at Facebook. I love the book because she focuses on the choices we as women make that contributes to inequality of men and women.
She states clearly at the beginning of the book that her point in writing Lean In is not to let those who discriminate off the hook, not at all. But she does touch on a very important point which is to own responsibility on how we respond or what we have contributed to the circumstances we are in.
In the case of abuse, I’m referring to the choices we make afterward to deal with abuse. If you have been victimized, talk to someone and get help. The power of community and relationships is to help us through those dark time and help us move past them. Life may never be the same, but you still have the opportunity to make good choices.
Step 4: Take Action that will Free your Life
If debt is keeping you cold and hungry and debt collectors are calling constantly, take action that will change the situation. Take action that will gain freedom from living paycheck to paycheck or being forced to stay in a hated job. Reach out to a financial counselor, work extra hours, move if necessary, but don’t keep making the same choices over and over. Try something new.
Take action to create freedom from the emotional bondage of fear and unforgiveness.
Freedom from the servitude of legalism – the beliefs and rules made by men in organized religions to maintain control – can be found. You could be free from the hate of all religious people that keep you from understanding some of their truths.
Freedom comes in many forms, and these are just a few.
Financial freedom is the freedom to live life on purpose. It is the freedom to walk away from a hated job and still be fiscally responsible. It is spending less than the paycheck and building savings. Savings creates a space that make many circumstance become just a bump in the road instead of a catastrophe.
Freedom freedom makes it easier to move forward quickly when things go wrong.
A number of years ago, long after I became free of debt, my husband and I had what could have been a disastrous vacation. Our car died while we were over 200 miles away from home. It put us in a bit of a bind. Because we had healthy savings we were not stuck. In fact, we didn’t feel that our vacation was ruined at all. We continued our activities, donated the old car, and just found another way home.
Our choices for getting home were expensive, but it was not a disaster and didn’t impact our daily finances or the way we were living. It wasn’t just the car that died on that vacation, it was actually a series of calamities. We still look back on that vacation fondly and laugh at all the crazy things that happened.
Personal finance is individual. Everyone makes different spending choices on what they deem as important. Spending on the things we love is fine as long as there is still room to save. Having a healthy saving builds in freedom to take great opportunity that arrive. A very healthy savings can even allow for a job that might pay a little less but improves the quality of life.
Living debt-free provides freedom to take more opportunities. Managing our finances with the understanding that life can change in an instant better prepares us to handle those changes. The choice that Trinity and I made to pay off our mortgage instead of buying a brand new car was not about being rich, it was about being free.
But I don’t earn enough, how can I be free?
I’ve known people with huge salaries and small salaries both living paycheck to paycheck. I’ve also seen the opposite. Before making any excuses, look to see if there are any changes that can be made. Even small changes can make a huge difference over time, eat out less often, find cheaper alternatives to items purchased often. Or make bigger changes like buying used cars instead of new.
My parents have earned under poverty level income almost their entire lives but they have always lived debt-free. We never stressed about money, we never spent what we didn’t have. The less debt a person has the more freedom they will have to take opportunities that come along.
Forgiveness does not mean that the victimizer is absolved of their guilt or responsibility. It is removing the power of the victimizer on the victims life. Forgiveness is important to personal emotional freedom. The original Greek word for forgiveness literally means “to let go.”
Humility is recognizing the circumstances that have lead to success and honesty about the good and bad choices that led to that place. Working hard is a key to success, but wealth and health don’t mean that the person with less money or with heath issues didn’t work just as hard.
Humility is reserving judgment and facilitate greater understand and learning. Humility seeks to understand others and not judge them. When we recognize both circumstance and choice, when we are honest about our own culpability we leave the door open to new learning opportunities. Humility equips us to continuously make better choices.
Step 5: Find Your Blue Door
That cold, miserable morning when I opened the refrigerator to find only pickles, was one day in the midst of many pretty bad days. I eventually made a decision to change the course of my life. It did not happen overnight. It was a journey of making the better choices, including the choice to buy an inexpensive, no frills, beige Honda Civic that had a blue door. That purchase was practical back then and is now symbolic. That car gave me years of problem-free service. It’s choices like this one that has helped me attain financial freedom, and inspired the name of this blog.
At the end of most of my articles, I often add “find your blue door.” It means to find an opportunity to either think differently or do something differently. Find a way to make the world a better place, and in doing so, you will put yourself in the position to find more opportunities.
The choices we make are a result of our worldview. If we believe that the world has us fated to be poor then why does it matter if we buy that video game when we know we need to put food on the table. Defeatism lures us into believing that we need to spend everything now and not plan for the future because we may not have it later. Defeatism tells us that we will never overcome the fear that victimization can give us.
Hope tells us that things can change. They don’t always have to be as they are now.
In October of 2016 Trinity and I became location-independent. We left the USA at the age of 43 to travel the world. Many have asked how we did it or how we got started. It is a difficult question to answer because it wasn’t just one big thing.
The path that got us here has been a series of choices and opportunities taken. Some were so small that they seem inconsequential at the time but in retrospect made a big difference.
I made a lot of bad choices along the way too and had to course-correct. It has been almost two decades since my bondage to debt ended. I no longer have to skip meals or spend a winter without heat.
Don’t give up just because you made some bad choices. If you are reading this you are still alive and have choices to make. Choose freedom, freedom from your past, freedom from your debt, freedom for mind and emotions.
My worldview includes a purpose for every individual. We each have a gift that can make the world a better place. Using those gifts opens doors of opportunity that we may have never foreseen. I hope you find your blue door, that thing that fulfills you.