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Is a cross-country move a great way to put a Band-Aid on your problems? You bet it is.
At the end of 2007, I did exactly that. After twenty-five years, I left my home state of Texas—the land of big skies and big highways—to move more than 1,500 miles east to Washington, DC—the land of cherry blossoms and public discourse.
I made a snap decision after a staff meeting on a hot day in July. Among the more mundane updates that day, my boss shared a significant piece of news: “There’s been a reorganization, and it’s possible some of us are going to be spending a little bit more time in the DC office.”
Moments after the meeting ended, I followed him to his office and said, “If you’re looking for volunteers, I’m in.” I’d never even been to DC.
Within six weeks, I’d packed up and sold my house in Austin and moved into a cute little row house on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, within walking distance to the US Capitol building. “I’m on an adventure!” was all I would say to people who asked, “Isn’t this all a little sudden?”
The truth is, the move provided a huge distraction from the devastation the previous five years of my life had brought me. I could focus on all the logistics of the move and the discovery of a brand-new life. I also got a lot of attention from colleagues who thought I was brave in deciding to leave home while envious at the professional growth I would gain in a new, expanded role.
The frenzied change allowed me to avoid fully grieving years’ worth of traumatic experiences. These included the early death of both my parents, a lost adolescence and early adulthood, and the bitter end of my first marriage after my spouse cheated on me.
Yet, less than a year later, the cracks in my Band-Aid plan were beginning to show. The novelty of the move had worn off, and I realized I didn’t even like the professional role I was in. I was frustrated I wasn’t making more progress on my personal and professional goals. I didn’t feel happy or fulfilled. Maybe it was time to start over again? Moving across the country didn’t work. So, I thought, “Maybe I need to reinvent my career.”
I took some time to journal and write out the subject matter and experiences that were important and motivating to me. One of the things I had written was that I wanted to help people one-on-one with their finances, including working on financial literacy.
As I penned this aspiration, I immediately thought, “That’s not where I can put my focus right now. I have to concentrate on making the right moves in my current career trajectory.” I took pride in being a realist.
As a federal lobbyist advocating public policy work for the state of Texas, it wasn’t clear to me how I could ever parlay that experience into personal finance. Since I wasn’t on the personal finance career path, I had no clue. I believed what I wanted to do didn’t exist or that I’d have to become famous to have a platform. Meanwhile, the more well-known and common career paths within this field, such as becoming an investment banker or stockbroker, weren’t appealing to me. So, I pushed my personal goal aside and did nothing to make it happen.
Flash forward eight years. By all accounts, I was a success story. I had found new career goals and climbed the corporate ladder. I got closer to my goal of working in finance—at least in the public policy realm—and was well paid and well known in financial circles. I was respected as a sought-after speaker and author on financial regulation for a global news and data organization. I was inching closer to working directly in personal finance.
I enjoyed filling up my life with “to-do’s” and achievements. On top of working full time, I was completing an executive MBA program while also traveling every other week between New York and Washington, DC, for work. The travel alone would be exhausting for anyone—but I thought, “Why not get my MBA?” It was something I always wanted to do, and it would check the box off my list. But even though I was a high achiever with corporate recognition, I was not living my best life.
Contentment was elusive. I experienced burnout regularly, along with bouts of depression. I lost track of the number of times I found myself crying in the work bathroom. Being outwardly successful wasn’t enough—I was unhappy, stressed, and worried that despite all I was doing, I wasn’t enough.
In 2015, the exhaustion caught up with me. I felt like I couldn’t take on one more thing. I was increasingly frustrated and depleted by almost any task I took on—personal or professional. I finally realized I’d been filling up my life with busyness and overachievement because it made me feel like I was worth something. I also started to recognize this type of overwork didn’t begin when I took on the extra travel or the MBA. It had been decades in the making.
So, on the day before my last MBA group presentation, and a week before graduation, I gathered up a lot of courage and quit my job. I graduated and then took a six-month sabbatical from any work. For the first time in years, I set aside my incessant need to do more and more so I could feel like I mattered.
The break was transformational. It led me to start my own business in—you guessed it—personal finance. And as I look back on it, I wonder why it took me more than eight years to get where I wanted to be.
Interestingly, I’m not the only one who has a story like this. As I started working one-on-one with clients, giving them the clarity and confidence to see that their finances could allow them to live the lives they were meant to, I noticed a pattern. Far too many of us aren’t living the lives we dream of out of fear, uncertainty, or simply inertia. And this is not because we lack success or the will to work for it. For many of us, our drive toward outward success is a symptom that needs to be treated before we are able to live our best lives.
Here’s how this shows up in real life. A 2015 Deloitte study discovered that 77 percent of respondents experienced burnout in their current position—feelings of energy depletion, negativity, or cynicism about work, and/or reduced personal and professional capacity. As it turns out, another study linked this high rate of burnout to health care spending and mortality, finding that more than 120 thousand US deaths per year are associated with workplace overwork.
For years, we’ve read articles and had discussions about how imposter syndrome gives us limiting beliefs, making us feel unworthy to pursue our big dreams. But did you know just how prevalent imposter syndrome is? Studies dating back to the ’80s show up to 70 percent of us experience it. It turns out the stronger your overachieving tendencies are, the more likely you’ll feel like an imposter.
Personally, I’m the kind of person who craves understanding. It’s motivating to understand not just how prevalent these beliefs are, but why they are so prevalent and why so many of us aren’t living our biggest dreams.
In my experience talking with friends and with clients, I’ve found that nearly everyone believes they’ll tackle their dreams “one day.” The problem with this approach is all those other years in between when we’re giving in to workaholism, burning ourselves out, traveling to another state or country, or job-hopping to get ahead. It feels like we’re always trying to achieve yet another thing on our list that is not related to our big dream.
“You’re such a good student,” they said. “You’re so strong. We’re proud of all your success and how well you’ve done for yourself.” No matter how many times I heard this, I didn’t feel like enough. A six-figure career, being published, appearing on TV; none of this success brought lasting fulfillment or happiness for me. Upon deeper reflection, I discovered these feelings of not being good enough date back to the way I grew up.
My parents were alcoholics, meaning that a lot of the time they weren’t paying attention to me or my needs. I learned from an early age to be hyper-focused on everyone else’s needs and feelings as a coping mechanism. On top of that, I felt the need to do everything I could to appear like I had it all together and didn’t need any help. I didn’t want to make waves in the family and add complexity to an already complex situation. Becoming an overachiever earned me a lot of outside validation and praise, but it also helped me hold the family together.
Both my parents died of alcoholism-related diseases within two years of one another. As the oldest of three, I was suddenly in charge of not only managing their estates, but also taking care of my two younger siblings. At the age of twenty-two, I became the guardian of my sixteen-year-old sister, which was an unbelievable amount of responsibility to be handed to a young adult.
However, I was always given and took on way too much responsibility because of the household I grew up in. In fact, becoming the guardian of my sister was probably one of the least challenging responsibilities I experienced as a child and young adult. All of this has lasting effects on me today, especially, I learned, as it relates to pursuing my deepest dreams.
Sadly, the topic of trauma and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) is still so loaded and focused on either treating members of the military returning from war or what I call “capital-T,” event-related Trauma like abuse, assault, or injuries. Within the realm of PTSD, there’s significantly less focus on the millions of us who grew up in households that seem okay from the outside, but actually lacked basic support, communication, and understanding.
In addition, these public discussions about trauma often focus on physical and mental health, but not on how they relate to our career and finances. Studies show that 64 percent of us have experienced one or more Adverse Childhood Experiences, or ACEs—a list of ten specific types of experiences that include having a parent with a mental health issue or experiencing divorce or neglect. Based on that fact, it’s rare to be a person who grows out of childhood free of adversity. Yet no one is making these linkages between our early struggles and how they affect our ability to find contentment in our calling.
I believe trauma is the root cause behind much of our limiting beliefs. Given how widespread traumatic experiences are, this undoubtedly has an impact on our ability as a society to act on our biggest dreams. The good news is that going through trauma also creates resiliency. When we channel our resiliency in the right way instead of letting our coping mechanisms take center stage, we can find more purpose in our lives.
Starting with my sabbatical, I embarked on a new inner journey—one that was not achievement-focused, but rather more exploratory in nature and without expectation. It gave rise to a self-employed career that affords me time for service to others and introspection. I have been able to create a life for myself that has more balance, more purpose, and most importantly less stress, fear, and pain. I want to help you find that, too.
In the The Resiliency Effect, together we’ll dive into why this happens to us and learn from other people about how they’ve found and acted on their true callings without suffering financially. We’ll talk more about what trauma and ACEs are, why it’s important to acknowledge the double-edged sword of resiliency, and how you can turn your experiences into opportunity. We’ll also talk about how to unlearn coping mechanisms that may be getting in your way and what you can do instead. Finally, we’ll give you some actionable insights and journal prompts to sort through your thoughts so you can take steps to launch your biggest dreams.
This is an excerpt from The Resiliency Effect: How to Own Your Adversity to Act on Your Biggest Dreams. To read more, check out the book here.
We’ve all experienced some form of adversity in our lives. The good news is we naturally develop resiliency as a result of negative experiences that we had. Resiliency gives us skills, techniques and coping mechanisms that help us bounce back in the face of future trauma or challenges. Typically, resiliency is a really good thing.
It means we survived.
But I’m here to tell you that resiliency is also a double edged sword. Sometimes the traits that make us resilient, like an “I can do it myself” attitude, over-functioning, or over-responsibility, can lead straight to burnout, anxiety, and depression.
These traits can be valued by society though, so it’s often hard to recognize them as challenges or limiting beliefs. Resiliency keeps us safe, and the skills protect us from future pain or disappointment. But often these coping mechanisms may be hindering us and holding us back from making progress towards the big dreams we have.
That was true for me. Growing up in an alcoholic family as the oldest of three siblings, I started life with more responsibility than the average person. I helped hold the family together by doing the grocery shopping in high school and working in various aspects of our family business.
Tragically, both my parents died of alcoholism-related diseases within two years of one another. As the oldest, I was suddenly in charge of not only managing their estates, but also taking care of my two younger siblings. At the age of twenty-two, I became the sole guardian of my sixteen-year-old sister, which was an unbelievable amount of responsibility to be handed to a young adult.
I didn’t have a typical young adulthood with the safety net of family to learn skills from and fall back on. Failure wasn’t an option. I was “adulting” long before “adulting” was a common meme among millennials. I became self-reliant and was praised for my maturity and “having it all together.” My “can do it” attitude meant that I also excelled in my career.
I was resilient.
But this came at a cost. For instance, I didn’t get to have spring breaks and learn how to “unplug” and turn off. Most of my breaks during school were spent working to support myself financially. I didn’t learn the value of finding balance with my time and my boundaries. I struggled to understand and pay attention to my own needs for support and protection from others or learn when recharging and taking a break would make sense.
I had a belief that I have to work hard, and keep working hard in order to be worth something. Eventually, through self reflection, I made this link between my incessant need for busyness and achievement and how it was the only thing fueling my self-worth. It was mostly driven by my imposter syndrome – a belief that despite outward success I didn’t deserve it or it didn’t really mean anything.
It’s no wonder I struggled with anxiety and depression throughout my teens and 20s. It’s also no wonder that I moved through a career path and career ladder simply because of the circumstances I found myself in, not because it was the path that I designed or dreamed for myself.
I’m trying to speak out against this idea that we need to be busy and achievement focused to be worth something.
It took a long time for me to consider how these traits left over from my trauma — which are often valued in a career — were hurting me. Once I did, the good news is, I think my inherent resilience kicked in. I was able to adapt and consider another path, one that was more even keeled and includes more balance.
You may not think to describe embarking on an entrepreneurial journey as “even keeled and balanced,” but the truth is it was easier for me to create that for myself than trying to create it within the corporate environment.
Crusade Against Busyness
One of the reasons I dared to write a book exploring some of the traumas I had and profiling experiences of many others who made big changes in their life as a result of their own self-reflection and inner journeys is because I’m trying to speak out against this idea that we need to be busy and achievement focused to be worth something. It’s a bit of a crusade that I’m on.
And it’s warranted because burnout is an epidemic right now. People experience burnout in different ways. Burnout can show up in an obvious way like exhaustion, the inability to sleep, or maybe the strong need to sleep all the time. A hallmark of burnout is not having any personal time or self care in our lives. It can also show up as more of a simmering frustration, anger, resentment, or unpleasantness at your job.
Busyness and burnout can also just be a distraction. A distraction from experiencing uncomfortable emotions. It prevents us from looking too closely at how our past painful experiences in life might have given us coping mechanisms that hold us back from living in more happiness and fulfillment.
Once I made that link between busyness and my self worth, I was able to start letting go of the societal pressures to always stay busy and productive. Letting go of my corporate job helped me let go of my busyness faster, as I could now set the bar without input or guidelines from a boss or corporate culture.
Becoming an entrepreneur allowed me not only to live a life-long dream of working to help people with their personal finances, but do it on my terms with protections in place to prevent getting too close to burnout and overwork again.
Naming and achieving a big dream takes courage and being comfortable with a fair amount of risk. However, if we fear risk because it reminds us of something we experienced in the past — it means we have a lot more to overcome in order to do something scary and life a big dream we have in life.
My most important personal goal today is to spend time going back and living a more carefree lifestyle, as opposed to one that’s over scheduled, overworked, and burned out. I invite you to do more of your own self reflection to discover some of your coping mechanisms — what might be holding you back from living your biggest dreams?
The Resiliency Effect draws on the disciplines of life coaching, psychology, and financial planning. My goal with the book is to offer a way to develop excitement and energy around your purpose which often is preceded by deep, inner work. It’s available on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and everywhere books are sold.