“I am blessed and grateful to be able to support my family with a well-paying job.”
The number of times I said that to myself over the past few years is staggering. And while it helped me drag myself out of bed each morning, bite back tears as I kissed my son goodbye, and head to the office, it didn’t actually make me feel happier.
In fact, it made me start to hate myself for my real feelings. Which only increased my stress because I was supposed to be “blessed and grateful.”
Affirmations, in some scenarios, have been proven to improve mood and reduce stress. Much like standing in a ridiculous superhero pose before a job interview or big meeting kickstarts your confidence, an affirmation can – supposedly – help you re-wire your brain to embrace the positive and the good in life.
Except when you’re using them to avoid the truth.
My Failed Attempts With Affirmations
Up until December of last year, I was the Vice President at a hedge fund. A position I achieved at the ripe old age of 25. When I left, my portfolio was valued at $1.4 billion.
Making mid-six-figures with a wonderful husband, no debt, an adorable baby boy, and another child on the way, I should have been happy. Heck, I should have been over the moon.
But I wasn’t.
And that is where the affirmations came in.
Since regular cry-fests on the morning commuter train didn’t exactly feel normal, I did what any self-respecting high achiever does. I sought out the experts and bought some self-help books. On my Kindle. Because I mean, obviously you don’t want anyone to see you reading these things! Then you would have to admit to having human emotion and fault! Oh no, secret reading was a must.
Flipping through these books on the train and before bed, they told a wide variety of helpful and unhelpful things. But the tip that came around time and time again was affirmations.
I was having the definition of first-world problems. I was immensely privileged (which, oh my goodness, I certainly was and am). So, the solution was to constantly tell myself that I was happy until I was.
Let me introduce you to some of the absurd internal dialogue that craziness created.
“I’m blessed, grateful, and happy.”
“I’m blessed, grateful, and happy.”
“No, I’m not. I’m miserable. I hate leaving Fuss Fish but it’s not like I have a choice.”
“Hey! You’re supposed to be blessed, grateful, and happy! Some women have to go back to work, leaving their children at daycare, at 4 weeks! Not to mention all the people around the world that don’t even have clean water!”
“You’re right, you’re right. I’m blessed, grateful, and happy.”
“No, no, I’m really not.”
Did that make your head hurt? Yeah, me too.
Affirmations Prevent Radical Honesty
I kept up this spiral with affirmations for as long as I could. Mama Fish Saves was created as an outlet for something I was truly passionate about. I learned about financial independence and added, “It’s only six or seven more years,” to my mantra. Things got incrementally better.
But then, one day, an innocent and profoundly caring question from my husband made me snap.
As I sat on the couch, fighting yet another migraine, Papa Fish offered to go back to work. Being a stay-at-home dad was a dream job for him. He is incredible at it. And the fact that those words even had to come out of his mouth made all my self-doubt, self-hate, and misery come pouring out.
I explained (probably not all that nicely) that I couldn’t leave my job. Who walks away from that kind of money? What would I say to people? It is only a few years until financial independence! It would carpet bomb our goals!
And, not to mention, I didn’t want to stop working. I hated going to the office every day because it forced me into an arbitrary schedule that took me away from my family. Because the work seemed to have no greater purpose. And because networking and advancing required me to spend every day pretending I was someone I wasn’t.
But I enjoy working. Just not that work. And just not that way.
And through this rant. Through this one emotion fueled dump of raw honesty, something magical happened.
Papa Fish: “Then quit. Do something else. Work on Mama Fish Saves.”
Me: “I CAN’T!”
Papa Fish: “Why not? We have the money. And what is FI/RE worth if you kill yourself from stress before we get there?”
And while my compulsive saver soul wasn’t on board right away, that was when it started. I cracked the door to what I needed. I considered listening to my true desires. And, together, Papa Fish and I started to plan for our two-year online income experiment.
Never Ignore Your Soul
I’m not sitting here recommending that everyone who isn’t happy with their life should wallow in self-pity. And I’m certainly not recommending that you up and quit your job without consideration for your financial health.
But I am telling you that affirmations can mask your ability to find real answers. And that what society says should make you happy doesn’t have to make you happy.
Solutions come from staring our problems in the face. Creative solutions require laying it all out on the table, honestly, and connecting with what it is you want. Then finding a path to get there.
Because there are always solutions. You just have to be brave enough to find your Door #2.
So, screw your affirmations. What just sucks for your right now? Drop it in the comments, and see if we can find a way out.