Maybe you were a smart girl in school. You got a lot of gold stars, praise and “A”s. You took all of those habits and skills along with you into the real world but somehow life is “showing you flames”.
This is an article on what I wish I had known when I was 20 years old. I am meant to be writing strategy documents and high level articles on leadership and development. But swirling around in my mind like tornado debris are distracting thoughts of how daft I have been at critical times of my life. Being daft is expensive and painful.
If you’re a smart girl who has your “i”s dotted and “t”’s crossed and your life is running smoother than the bullet train then no need to keep reading. However, if you are a daft girl, like I was and still sometimes am, then, this is for you. So, are you a bit daft? Are you naïve; been brought up to be a “good” girl; people pleasing to your own detriment; say “yes” when you mean “no”; avoid conflict; engage in wishful thinking; have porous boundaries and still think Prince Charming will rescue you one day?
Despite being afflicted with “daftness” it has been a full and mostly satisfying 40 years: I have accumulated several university degrees; been working for 15 years excluding stints in the family business; been married; have three wonderful children; lived in 3 and travelled to 15 countries and made, lost and re-made money in various investments.
The price of wisdom is often through some very expensive and painful experiences. I want to pass on my 6 lessons learnt to you so that perhaps you can avoid the pitfalls of being daft that I so carelessly and cheerfully stepped right into.
1. Know Thyself
Sometimes we spend more time getting to know our new best friend or trolling that new crush than truly knowing ourselves. Take the time to self-reflect and truly understand yourself at each stage of life. What are your childhood wounds? Have you healed them? Are you a co-dependent and lacking assertiveness skills? Do you have narcissistic traits? Are you a relationship addict or perhaps a relationship avoider? Do you enjoy the corporate set-up or would you prefer to have your own business? Do you want to have children or not? If you’re into personality tests try out the Myers-Briggs, for example, and find out if you are an INTJ or one of the other 15 personality profiles.
In order to know yourself you need to be truly honest with yourself. This is harder to do if you have grown up in a family where belonging to the tribe is of utmost importance and you have learnt to stifle your true desires and tone down your voice. In this environment what you really want, especially if you’re female, is secondary to the expectations of your family and community. So we quiet the inner voice that speaks its truth to us in moments of stillness. Ignoring this voice can lead to a life of regrets.
Knowing yourself is a sturdy foundation from which to make the best possible choices at each fork in the road of life. Once you know yourself, truly accept and love yourself. Radical self-love and self-care is what makes it all sustainable.
2. Money Matters
Coming from an entrepreneurial family, money was a constant pursuit. With my father never having had the opportunity to finish primary school, owning his own businesses was his only way of earning a decent living. I got mixed messages about money: money is important but is the man’s job to earn it and for the woman to have kids and run the home.
One of the good things I was taught was how to be frugal and how to save. The cheaper shops in the less fashionable parts of town rather than upmarket malls were for many years where we shopped. I won an art competition when I was 10 by a national bank and my 10 dollars was deposited into an account for me by the bank. I regularly topped it up with my own pocket money. This habit has stood me in good stead.
Unless you are a trust fund baby or married for life to a very wealthy and generous man, earning and investing your own money is a non-negotiable in life. My academic background is in the Social Sciences and the Arts which meant that I had little knowledge of how money works. So, thirteen years ago I made a concerted effort to go from saving to investing beyond my 6% per annum fixed deposit account. I pushed myself out of my comfort zone and read books on money by Suze Orman, Mr “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” and Warren Buffett.
Money websites became my favourite places to hang out online. This is where I checked daily indicators and read up on financial news. I went to investing talks at the NYSE and took the plunge into share trading after the 2008 financial crisis when I could buy shares off their peak prices. Now I can speak personal finance and join in conversations on the four asset classes: cash, equities, bonds and real estate.
Do you know how much it costs to keep yourself alive? If not, keep a budget so that you know how much you are spending on each area of your life. In this way you will see if your expenditure reflects the areas of your life that are most important to you. If you’re spending too much on clothes but would prefer to travel more, you will be able to adjust your spending habits.
One area that most of us haven’t saved enough for is retirement. Look at this carefully. Whilst we are on the subject of the sunset years, please make sure you have a last will and testament. Even if you think you don’t have much to leave behind, depending on each country’s laws, if you die without a will the government is entitled to your assets. This is probably not what you have in mind. So make sure that your wealth is distributed to those you cherish and get your will done and keep it updated as your circumstances change.
Despite the huge strides women have made in earning their own money, on a structural rather than an individual level, men are still wealthier. This is why we have sugar daddies and “blessers” and women who stay in dysfunctional relationships which is all the more reason to find ways to earn your own cash.
Make money a useful tool rather than your Achilles heel.
3. Marriage Mania
Everything in my little girl life pointed to the Very Important Achievement (VIA) of getting married. The underlying message was, “yes, it is important to get a university degree but don’t be too clever and please get married by age 25, otherwise it will be too late.” What did “too clever” mean I wondered? I think it meant, being more qualified than your husband. Perhaps earning more money than him as most men would find this threatening his position as “provider-in-chief”. Also, being out-spoken and “not knowing your place” could happen if you got too much education. Who would want to be with a woman who strongly voiced opinions at odds with those of her husband and wouldn’t fit the mould of a “good wife” who accepted a marriage based on his agenda?
My life was funnelled in the direction of the VIA. I was not able to study at a university of my choice as I could only go from my father’s house to my husband’s house. There would be no detours along this straight-line route. The curfews, surveillance and interrogating even after being 20 years old with house keys and a car were absurd considering that some friends had gone abroad and others were living with boyfriends. So, some of us married for freedom in addition to love. Others marry for status, money, to have kids or render kids “legitimate” in terms of religion or law or some even tie the knot for mainly for the wedding and fantasy.
Whatever your motivations for getting married rather do it from a position of strength if you can. A position of strength means having your own money and an education or marketable skill that you can use to earn your own living. It also means being on the same page as your spouse about what being married means to each of you. In this way your expectations are aligned as far as possible. This means discussing money – who pays for what? What kind of marriage contract is fair and reasonable?; In-laws and sometimes step-children. How will you manage each other’s families?; Ex-boyfriends/girlfriends – is it ok to meet up with them after you’re married?; Children – are we going to have them or not? Some people genuinely don’t want to have kids whereas others can’t imagine life without having any; How will child-caring and rearing be managed and apportioned? Who will leave work when the school calls to let you know your child is ill and needs to be taken to the doctor?
These conversations take us into uncomfortable, rough and hotly contested territories. It means grappling with substantive issues that are not romantic at all and that can derail the relationship. Some couples manage to figure it out as they go along and everyone is mostly happy. It has been said that he/she who loves the least controls the relationship the most. Remember this when negotiating.
An 80 dollar per hour marriage counsellor with decades of experience said to me, “People seldom change.” Remember this, especially if you’re a Ms Fix-it who thinks they can change their spouse and then all live happily ever after. The marriage counsellor was of the view that the marriage comes first. Yes, it comes before the in-laws, before the kids and before friends. I’m still wrapping my head around this one as there is this saying from some men that, “I can get another wife but not other parents.” This is at odds with current advice about where to place the marriage in relation to the in-laws.
The world is rife with Intimate Partner Violence. It includes not only physical harm but verbal and financial harm too. You may be being abused but you don’t see it because you are in denial and you don’t see yourself as an abused woman. An abused woman is the other woman out there with bruises on her face, not you. You are too pretty, to woke and to intelligent to be one of “them”. However, if you become more prey than partner then it is time to move on if you can.
4. Friend Zone
With most of us far from our extended families our friends have become more important than ever. Be wary of who you allow into your inner circle.
I have a concentric circles theory of friends. Think of yourself as the central circle with other circles spreading out from you. Those in your inner circle will be 90% friends and those on the edges will perhaps be 50% friends or rather acquaintances.
Mind the gossips; those who pry for information about your life; those who want to monologue at you without you getting in a word edgeways; those who look down on you; those who insult you and lash out at you thinking it is ok to do so; those who dish out loads of unsolicited advice and those who don’t respect your boundaries in many other ways. Good boundaries are not necessarily cast in stone but are flexible depending on the situation. It is up to both parties to decide where the boundary is.
When a friendship is not working out and there is no remedy, graciously let go. This is hard for those of us who are sentimental because we believed in the childhood motto, “friends forever”. But sometimes this is not always how it can be.
5. Work It
When you get a job it is crucial to understand that the workplace is not entirely a meritocracy. This is one of the places where you will really learn that the world is not a fair place but is often an “Animal Farm”. It could also become evident that some of the Values emblazoned on the company’s wall in the reception area and stylistically printed on the Annual Report are absent in the ether of the open plan office. “Respect” may or may not be present in your workplace. Don’t be floored when you discover this.
Don’t invest so much of yourself in your job so that you end up feeling resentful when there is no or little reciprocation. At the end of each day, leave on time when you can. Don’t put too much of your heart into your workplace unless it is your own business perhaps. Work is not an extension of your family. You may find some truly malevolent people in your team or it could even be the boss. This is one of the things many of us do not expect. After all, the days of the playground bully must be over. We are all adults now so why can’t we just get along and get the work done? Don’t have the wind knocked out of you if you find that you have to report to and work with a toxic boss. Manage the situation as best as you can, don’t take it personally and reach out to trusted people who may be able to advise you on this tricky situation. When the chips are down, sometimes you may also discover that your colleagues are not your friends and nor are they meant to be.
Do put your heart into your work though (note the difference between work vs workplace). Your work is your living legacy and depending on your field it can be part of your portfolio, CV and LinkedIn profile.
If you choose motherhood please be aware that even though it is a noble calling and is one of the hardest and most complicated jobs that you can never resign from, the world and your husband and maybe even you yourself will not take you seriously if you are not doing at least one of these three things:
a) Working half-days or freelance or running your own business. This will provide you with some income and keep your CV alive in the event that you need and/or want to go back to work full-time one day. With this income, hopefully you will have some money to save and invest. If you’re working in the family business please make sure that you get a salary. Don’t be a martyr. Try to speak up and ask for payment even though you may find it hard to ask for money. With the gig economy become more popular you should be able to find ways of cracking this one.
b) Studying. Even through correspondence. No this does not mean signing up for that correspondence/online course, paying the fees, getting the course materials, doing a few assignments and exams and then letting it quietly slide. This is a very daft thing to do. You have to keep going even if it takes you many years. A cousin of mine studied through correspondence for 10 years whilst having and raising 3 kids, she eventually graduated. Her certificate hangs proudly on her front lounge wall and now that her kids are all grown up she teaches.
c) Volunteering. This is a way of keeping yourself engaged with people and the rest of the world. It is a relatively low barrier to entry way of developing skills that you can add to your CV and of forming a network that could stand you in good stead if you ever need to entre formal employment.
If possible, figure out what your purpose in life and what you want your legacy to be when your time is up. Align this purpose to your daily work if you can. If not, try to express it in your hobbies and volunteer work.
Whichever work route you choose, keep learning. In an ever-changing world you will need to stay on top of your chosen field. So sign up for those online courses, go to workshops and if you haven’t had a chance, get that degree, Masters or PhD. Then apply your knowledge, use it, make it part of you and create ripples of improvement around you.
6. Take Back Your Power
If you have been daft in some areas in your life and it is not working for you then it is time to take back your power. This phrase was said to me by a powerful person back in 2009. It took me a lot of thought, observation and analysis of myself, my life and relationships to figure out how to do this.
For me it meant identifying the toxic areas of my life and setting up new boundaries and maintaining them. It meant saying, “no thanks” when I felt pressured to say “yes”. It meant channelling my time, money and energy into areas that made more sense to me. It is also meant getting comfortable with conflict when all I wanted to do was to slide into the safety of people-pleasing, non-assertive, daft girl mode. And most painful for me was losing some friends who could only relate to me when I allowed them to ride rough-shod over what I valued. I said goodbye to gossipers, people prying for information about me, people who were rude to me and who treated me with disrespect. Before I took back my power, pleasing them and counting them as friends was more important to me than my own well-being.
Being daft can make you a major hazard to yourself. I hope you found this article as useful as I found writing it. I am trying to be less daft and smarter and so far I am better off for it.
© AQI 2017