As a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional, I certainly never expected that a money mindset journaling prompt would be the thing that truly changed the trajectory of my financial journey. When I first started out, I had massive amounts of credit card debt that I just assumed were a part of adult life. Like, I actually thought that you just always had a credit card bill and you always had a car payment and that’s just kind of how life worked as an adult.
And yes, I worked in financial services, so there’s your proof that education alone isn’t going to cut it with helping people better manage their money. What changed for me is that I’ve done a lot of work on my money mindset, examining the ways I was holding myself back and questioning the “truths” and stories I told myself to check if they were actually true or not. That work changed me so much that I’m now at a point where I could actually retire and start living off my savings in less than 10 years. And it’s not because I inherited a bunch of money or made some big career shift, I’ve actually made quite a few money mistakes throughout the years that I’ll be sharing as well. But I’ve overcome them through a combination of adjusting my mindset and adjusting my behavior. Will I actually retire in less than 10 years? I’m not sure, but having the option is pretty dang freeing.
I want to share the journaling prompt that I’ve used at a few critical junctions in my life that served as a pretty big wake-up call. The first time I did this exercise, I was approaching the age of 30 and I was in a miserable marriage. We’d only been married for just over a year and we’d just purchased what was supposed to be our forever home – the one where we would raise a family and likely live until we retired.
There was a little voice inside me that was whispering that maybe this wasn’t the path I wanted to take with my life – maybe I’d rushed into marriage with a guy that wasn’t right for me and who would be a lot happier with someone else. As Liz Gilbert once said when I saw her give a talk, listen to the whispers or soon you’ll be listening to the screams.
So I did this exercise: I journaled what my life would be like in 10 years if I continue on the current path I was walking. I saw myself at about 40, with 3 kids, as a busy, frazzled mom who wasn’t taking great care of my health – I was busy raising my family and taking care of the home we’d just purchased. I got really honest with myself and asked my heart if that was the only option for me. Was that what I really wanted? I wasn’t sure what my life would be like if I didn’t choose that, but in that moment, I knew for sure that if that was my life in 10 years, I didn’t want it to be with the man I was currently married to.
So I started the process of basically blowing up my life. It was embarrassing and scary and shameful and I was really worried about money. But I had one thing that I didn’t have in that vision I’d projected of myself: I had hope. And that was all I needed to give me the courage to take the next steps and ultimately take a hard look at how I’d arrived at that point in my life – the Kelley I am today would not even recognize the Kelley I was back then, although the lessons I learned still resonate deeply within me.
So, I’d like to invite you to try that 10-year exercise, especially if you feel like you’re at a critical fork in your life’s road. Take a minute and journal about (or just imagine!) what your life will be like 10 years from now if you continue with the plans and circumstances of your life today. Do you like what you see? Is it realistic for who you are today and who you wish to become? If not, then there’s your first shift. Your shifts don’t have to be life-altering like leaving a relationship or a job. It can be as simple as realizing you are okay where you are right now for now, but 10 years from now you know you’ll be bored if you don’t make some changes.
As Bill Gates once said, we always overestimate the change that will occur in the next two years and underestimate the change that will occur in the next ten.
A lot can happen in 10 years.
And it’s kind of impossible to get too specific about our plans and goals beyond the next two to three years, but what you’re looking for here is the idea of your life and whether it’s the life you’d like to live into. If not, then what’s one thing you can explore today that can help to shift you to a different path? For me at that time, it was asking for a divorce. Other times I’ve tried that exercise, it was something simpler and more common like gently taking myself back to the gym after several years away because I knew I wanted to be stronger in 10 years than I am today. Or slowly increasing my contributions to my 401k so that by the end of the year, I was putting in the maximum amount allowed by law rather than just enough to get my company’s match. That change helped me to walk my talk as a financial planner and also helped enable me to quit working without an immediate plan to replace my income when I needed to take a break. It also kind of forced me to tackle some of my spending habits that I knew weren’t serving my overall financial health.
So what’s yours? What shift can you make today in order to make 10 years from now you more in line with who you want to live to be?
Want to hear more about this? Listen to the podcast episode where I dig deeper into this!