Some things are beyond our control, and having a happy and fulfilling life requires accepting those things we cannot change. It’s possible, however, to control more than we believe we can.
Right before I first started on my journey of getting my life and finances in shape, I left a low-paying job that depleted my money and increased my debt, I lived in a terrible apartment in a bad area, and the relationship with my girlfriend at the time ended. Most of my life seemed beyond my control for years leading up to that point. These bad things continued happening to me, and there was nothing I could do about it. Of course, a series of bad choices — including, in some cases, not making any choice at all — resulted in these bad situations, but I didn’t want to see it that way.
My boss at this company often talked about how every aspect of our lives is a result of a choice that we make. For example, in his opinion, someone who was late coming to the office due to traffic was primarily at fault for not preparing for delays by leaving home well in advance. Someone who oversleeps, even if the alarm does not wake him, makes a conscious decision that lying in bed is more worthwhile than getting out of bed and living life. At some point, something clued me into attribution theory. I was attributing various outcomes in my life to situations beyond my control, and I had a low opinion of my self-efficacy.
After some introspection, I was able to see that both the good and the bad things that happened in my life were results of the decisions I made, and I began approaching my life differently. The choices I made were making a difference in my life, so I started making better choices. It hasn’t all been perfect since then, and I am constantly trying to improve everything about me, but my mind is in a different space than it was ten years ago.
All of the items below are within our control.
1. You can get the job you want. The rate of unemployment is still high, and the official government numbers might even understate the number of people looking for work. Blaming the lack of gainful employment on a government statistic is a good example of an external locus of control, believing it’s not worth looking for a job, putting in the effort, because there is nothing out there. Even if you feel those who work hard a networking and researching employment options will be successful in this environment, and you believe the individual can transcend the state of the economy to find a job, but you believe that nothing you can do will help you compete with others for the same, limited positions, then you’ll be stuck not taking any actions. That may reflect an internal locus of control but with low self-efficacy.
There are jobs out there now, including the jobs you want, and they are available if you do the research and prepare yourself for competing at a high level.
Perhaps you do have a job right now, but you’d like a promotion. When I left my company in December, it was following a departmental merger and there was a hiring freeze. Yet, before I left, I was offered a position that, while it wasn’t perfect for me, shows that even company policies, often used as an excuse for immobility, can be circumvented in some situations.
2. You can pay off your credit card debt. It’s easy to believe that your debt increases because unexpected expenses keep coming. Your income may be enough to pay for your normal expenses, but every month, someone in your family is sick, an appliance breaks, or a family member needs to borrow money because they’re in a worse situation than you are. This can be a terribly frustrating position. You’re struggling, yet everyone is still leaning on you for support. You can get out of this situation, and it comes down to replacing the use of credit with better planning for expenses and the use of an emergency fund.
Getting started is the hardest part, though, and the spot where most people will be overwhelmed and will give up. Chances are that most people in this situation have not cut back their expenses as much as they can. They might have cut back just enough to remain somewhat comfortable, but extraordinary results require extraordinary actions. Occasionally, you need to take it to the extreme for a short time. Getting rid of cable television isn’t the last move, it’s just the start. Try following this six steps to building a better debt snowball.
3. You can reach your life goals. Few things bug me more when I ask someone what she wants to do with her life, and she tells me she wants to retire with $2 million or some other figure. That doesn’t tell me anything other than the only thing important to her is money. That may be true, but most people have something beyond money — or would benefit from thinking about why they want to retire with $2 million. What is the point of working hard, trading your time and effort and money, only to have a bank account with a high enough number? Money is just a tool for something else, and the “something else” that is most meaningful can be your primary goal or mission.
Sometimes it feels like there are people out there who don’t want us to succeed: so-called friends who would rather compete with you than work as a team to build each other up, insecure bosses who need you to handle the work but don’t want to admit they don’t have the skills they should have, This is just noise that can be relatively easily circumvented. I do this by shutting out negative energy, and when someone approaches me with this type of attitude, if I can get away with it, I rarely dignify it with a response.
I suppose, if this blog were like so many others, this article would be followed by some kind of product that you could buy that tells you how to live your life. I have no such product. I’m not selling anything. These thoughts come from my own, real, authentic experiences and I’m not pretending to be some sort of guru. If you want more, though, you can look at my series on taking control of your finances. Don’t worry, I’m not selling anything there, either. Of course, most importantly, I’d like to hear from readers.
Was there a moment, a turning point, when or where you decided you could control more of your life than you originally thought? What was the catalyst? What was the outcome?
Photo: Jude Doyland
Updated April 29, 2011 and originally published January 31, 2011.