“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.
8 thoughts on “Affirmations Suck: Don’t Avoid The Truth”
This was such a great post, Chelsea. It’s so hard to take a different path when your life looks like the perfect life on paper. But your body was telling you differently, through those migraines. You weren’t living the life you wanted. Congrats on having the courage to step away from such a high-paying job. Have you ever read “For the Love of Money” by Sam Polk? He talks a lot about how you get addicted to the money on Wall Street, just like you can get addicted to drugs or booze. We went through something similar with our 3 year experiment. On paper, we live in a picturesque, beautiful community. But it’s not right for us. Not the big house, not the good school, not my job at said school where I get to see my kids everyday. About the hardest part of our plan was making the decision to walk away. But man, we’re so much happier at the prospect. Thanks for writing truth today.
I haven’t read that book but I just put it on my to-read list on Goodreads! Sounds right on the addiction to the pay. I had a colleague who was making seven figures for years. One of the first employees at my firm and we managed over $30 billion. When he left, I remember saying to some other colleagues that it was so awesome he got to retire young. Someone actually said, “Oh, he definitely can’t afford to retire. He will go back to work in a year or two.” I couldn’t believe it.
It must have been hard to walk away from such a picture-perfect life. But I’m so glad you are making moves to be happy and less stressed 🙂
Life is about the right choices for you not
others. It sounds like you were fighting that feeling of what you felt society says you should do with what you wanted. Glad want won out.
Absolutely! We were fighting that idea pretty hard.
Wonderful post and thank you for sharing. It really is hard to quit high-paying job, and I am impressed you did so at a young age. I had to wait until 34, and I still had massive doubt. Only the severance made me feel better.
I just had a realization. If you were promoted to vice president at 24 years old, you must be a good investor. Hence, would it not be best to spend time focusing on actively trying to make money in your investments?
It is and was a scary thing, but I am so happy to have the flexibility and time with my family. I would never have considered it as an option if it wasn’t for your site. So, thank you! 🙂
As far as personal investing, I could go that way and have considered it. I choose to stick to an index fund strategy at this point because (1) doing the necessary in-depth analysis is a full-time job and not something I’m particularly interested in doing – especially as it is harder to do without hedge fund resources on your side – and (2) my specialty is in distressed & high-yield debt and equity for really cyclical sectors, which isn’t well suited for a personal portfolio unless you have the stomach to handle the swings – which I don’t. But I’m sure when I’ve been away a little longer I’ll want to dip my toe back in the water…
Very insightful article. My husband and I were in a similar position (though we were both working a soul-sucking, high-paying corporate job).
Even telling yourself that financial independence is “only” X years away isn’t helpful if you’re that miserable. Or if you feel you’re missing out on your children growing up and that’s adding to your misery. X years is a blip in our lives as adults, but so much happens in that same amount of time with children. No amount of money or financial independence will get those years back with your kids.
I definitely think you can be grateful for all the good stuff you have (running water, nutritious food, etc.) and be miserable at the same time. I bet people in the developing world wouldn’t think we *should* be happy but would instead wonder why, with all the choices we have, we’d stay at a job that we despise.
I’m so glad you’re on a different path and are happier. We’re on a different path too. And though we both work a lot, we’re home with the kids doing what we like and it’s improved our lives so much.
This is a great example of what I don’t like about affirmations. I do mine an entirely different way. We shall see if I can win you over. =)