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 and 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 available 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 very 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. I would have understood if he ended up on the streets or worse.
Spoiler alert: David Pelzer didn’t end up on the streets or 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.” Well, how do you think they got a great job? By sitting around bemoaning the world around them? 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.
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 what choices they made have led them to the place where these things happen, they’ll never live life differently and will continue to make the same kind of 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 have you purchased over the last few months that you didn’t need? Maybe that is also the reason you have no money left when your 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 should 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
You could be free from financial debt that keeps you cold and hungry because your money goes to the debt collectors. Freedom from living paycheck to paycheck and being forced to stay in a job that you hate is possible.
You could be free from the emotional bondage to 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 job you hate and still be fiscally responsible. It is living below your means and building enough savings so that every circumstance doesn’t feel like a catastrophe.
Freedom for 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. We continued 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. Someday I’ll write a post about it. We still look back on that vacation fondly and laugh at all the crazy things that happened.
Personal finance is personal and everyone makes different choices on what we deem is important to spend our money on. The important thing is that you are saving. If you have a healthy saving then you are free to take that great opportunity that comes your way even if you earn a little less.
Living debt-free gives us the freedom to take more opportunities. Be ready for anything, understand that life can change in an instant. 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 you make any excuses, look to see if there are any changes you can make. Even small ones can make a huge difference over time – start brown-bagging your lunch, eat out less often, stop buying expensive coffee.
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 you have the more freedom you have to take opportunities that come your way.
Forgiveness does not mean that the victimizer is absolved of their guilt or responsibility. It is removing the power of the victimizer on your life. Forgiveness is important for your own personal emotional freedom. The Greek word where it originates literally means “to let go.”
Humility is recognizing the circumstances around you that helped you get where you are and honesty about the good and bad choices that led you to that place. You may have worked hard for what you have, but just because you might be wealthier or healthier doesn’t mean that the person next to you didn’t work just as hard.
Humility is reserving judgment and it helps us continually learn. Humility seeks to understand others and not judge them. When we recognize that we could be wrong we are leaving the door open to new learning opportunities and equipping ourselves with information needed to continuously make better choices.
Step 5: Find Your Blue Door
That cold, miserable morning when I opened the grey door of the fridge, shivering, 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 right 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 being victimized can give us.
October marks two years of location-freedom for us. Two years ago Trinity and I 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 and had to course-correct. It has been 15 years since my bondage to debt ended and I no longer had to skip meals or be cold in the winter.
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 yourself.
My worldview says that we each have a purpose, that 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 doors.
Retired from Corporate America at the age of 43 along with her husband Trinity. In 2016 they sold their home to begin a nomadic life of slow travel. Bonnie writes of their experience on the road in each country. Subscribe to follow her stories here.
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