I’ll cop to it: I’ve always had a little patience "issue." I think quickly, move quickly, read quickly and would drive quickly, too, if I didn’t spend most of my drive time on congested Bay Area bridges and boutique rows. In my family’s spiritual belief system, impatience is clearly not a virtue, so as a very young child in church and school, I was equipped with mechanisms to cope with and counter this tendency of mine.
One was a song: "The Patience Song." "Have patience, have patience, don’t be in such a hurry," the song begins. "If you don’t have patience, you’ll always start to worry," and so on. I still sing the song, and have long practiced yoga, breathing exercises and experienced a number of other mindset shifts, with the result that it is now the exception, rather than the rule, for me to be irritated when something happens more slowly than I would like.
This brings us to the next in a series of shifts I’ve been proposing for the last month in the way we, as Americans, think about our money, spending and investing. Specifically, the next needed shift, in my humble opinion, is a shift away from instant gratification and toward a unique vision of our lives and our futures, and all that comes with it, including:
- A values-and-vision-based plan for our finances.
- Eliminating the need to take on debt.
- Care for our future selves.
- And the shedding of a herd mentality, among many other things.
Instant gratification, like "The Patience Song," is a childlike thing. Yet, in the vein of that financial immaturity that runs so rampant in today’s American money mindset, many of us still battle that "must have it now" sentiment which is promoted at every turn by the retailers who so desperately desire our dollars. "Just throw it in the bag," the rap song says, as though doing so is a badge of such wealth you needn’t bother asking or thinking how much the item costs.
In fact, for most Americans who are in the habit of just throwing it in the bag, the next step is actually just putting it on a credit card, and then paying for today’s momentary retail rush for many, many moons to come.
Do this: Block out one hour on your calendar, ideally on a weekend or off day when you have some time to get into your sweats, curl up with whatever your favorite fall drink in your coziest location — be it your neighborhood coffee shop or in bed. Sit down with a fresh notebook or Google doc, and just start writing out what your life would look like in a year, or 18 months, or 10 years, or all of the above, in an ideal world.
Be as outrageous — or not — as you want. Let your pen go wherever you are moved to take it. Just write — on any and every topic you want. Write about whether you’d be working, how much, for whom and doing what. Write about what you would do in your spare time and who you would do it with. Write about how much you would travel — or not — and in what sort of financial state your accounts would be in.
Just humor me.
Then, I challenge you to begin moving toward that life. Yes, all of it, not just the "stuff" you want without the ease and freedom you also likely want. For example, I’ve never talked with anyone whose life vision involved debt, dodging collection calls or spending large chunks of their income to pay credit card bills.
So, working intentionally and strategically toward your vision will mean planning how you will invest to pay for your kids’ education, how you will save up to pay for your travel or your next car or how you will earn your livelihood without having to work the job you can’t stand — whatever it is that you envision floating your boat.
I’ve also never met anyone whose life vision involved foreclosure, repossession, or scrambling to figure out how to hang onto their possessions. Life visioning, and going after it, means looking at debt as only to be used on very special, rare occasions, maybe limited to buying a home and paying for college, depending on your priorities.
Crafting and pursuing your own unique life vision not only involves saving up to avoid debting, except on the very most rare occasions and investments — it also involves going into debt only with the most deliberate planning and the aim of sustainability in mind. None of that "I’m sure I’ll be able to refinance when the payment adjusts or the balloon comes due."
That is very 2006, folks — this shift is all about making long-term financial commitments only with a high level of strategy and certainty that you’ll be able to make the payments on a long-term basis.
Driving your finances with your holistic vision for your life is about being content in the meantime, while you do save and invest and even evolve your career and earnings to create the vision.
It comes from a place of self-love and care for your future self — not the sort that is obsessed with living in the future rather than the now, but the sort that knows that yourself today delights and lives at ease, now, knowing that you are taking steps to provide for yourself in the future, that you have knitted yourself a safety net.
Creating this sort of vision and using it to chart your financial course also necessarily, and almost effortlessly, sheds the herd mentality that caused so many financial blunders. When you write out what your whole-life would look like in an ideal world, almost inevitably your values and priorities become crystal clear with a quickness.
Let me emphasize that your values and priorities become clear and distinguished from the values of everyone else in your world, or the world at large. So what if everyone you know is sinking money into private school for their kids — if yours are doing fine in public schools and you’d rather pay your house off, go for it.
Who cares if your friends see a house full of original mid-century-modern furniture when they come over or the old IKEA stuff you’re actually pretty comfortable with — if you’d rather put that cash into eliminating a bunch of debt so you can move closer to your vision of a debt-free life, go for it! Or maybe you love the furniture and would choose that over a crazy Christmas gifting spree because you’d rather not charge yourself silly and spend all of 2011 paying for it. Go for it.
First, create the vision. Then, use it to drive your choices and your plans. And revisit it frequently — it can be fun and very rewarding to see your actual life evolve closer and closer to the one you put on paper.