Do the words ‘financial goals’ instantly bring dread to the pit of your stomach? Don’t worry, you’re not alone. A recent study in the UK found millennials are twice as likely to stress over money than their parents and consider it their number one biggest source of stress. Meanwhile in the US, a survey found millennials place financial security as important as mental and physical health but only a third are financially satisfied. And, when asked what brought them the most happiness and life satisfaction, financial security alongside family and friend relationships came out on top. So what happens when financial instability clashes with a yearning to live up to our loved ones expectations? Often a whole lot of anxiety and shame.
Hands up if this situation sounds familiar… you return to your hometown for a friend’s wedding and as you begin polite small talk, every person surrounding you is married and buying their first home. You ask all the right questions, you smile and appear happy for them, but what they don’t notice is you’re swigging back all of the wine in an attempt to dull the distinct feeling of disconnect and shame as you realise you have no assets to show for. While your friends are buying houses you’re still worried about how you’re going to pay rent this month.
Not only is the financial gap real, but with it comes to relationships, the gap between where you’re at and where your friends are at (or where your family expects you to be at) is a difficult concept to swallow. With such different financial realities, it can be hard to not feel like a ‘let down’—because as traditional views would have it, unless you’re achieving certain milestones (think highly paid job/promotion, house, kids, cars) we haven’t ‘made it’ in life. So what happens when your story, goals and future plans look a lot different? Firstly, know you’re not alone. In the UK the cost of living and housing is so unaffordable that millennials have created a dedicated WhatsApp group with the hashtag #itsnotjustyou to share their cost of living woes and support each other in feeling less alone in the current climate.
Also, by understanding what you’re feeling, normalising it, and having techniques and tools in place to deal with it also help. We spoke with The Indigo Project’s Head Psychologist Mary Hoang, to gain some insight on how to navigate anxiety that comes with the burden of a different financial future.
How common is it for millennials to feel stressed about their financial future?
“Financial concerns are a huge concern for our clients. We are often sold a picture that we can ‘have it all’ and should be financially stable, have savings, great relationships and have the job of our dreams—that is a lot to juggle! So it’s an extremely stressful feeling when you feel ‘behind your peers’ and can lead to heightened levels of stress and anxiety, as well as insecurities and fears you mightn’t have known existed before.”
What do you think contributes to our stress around finances?
“More than ever, young individuals are interested in doing ‘meaningful’ work. By that, I mean work that is in line with their values and purpose—which often can come with a financial impact short or long term as well as feeling torn between what matters to them and what others will think of them. In school we weren’t taught how to identify our values and as a result this often leads us to making choices we thought were best for us, but may not actually be a true representation of what we value (which as a result causes feelings of conflict and stress).”
Why do our family and friends views of our finances affect us so much?
“From an evolutionary perspective, we are social creatures and want to fit in. Going against the grain, following our own path or changing our minds is a place where we can experience vulnerability and uncertainty, and as we have such a deep desire to feel connected to others, we are often challenged by doing things that we feel may be judged by others. This often leads us to ‘people pleasing’ behaviours and the challenge of setting boundaries and communicating our needs.”
What advice would you give to those feeling a sense of ‘lack’ or ‘not good enough’?
“It is important to understand what success means to you. If you haven’t defined it, then it’s easy to use money as a benchmark for success but actually other measures of success can be a lot more valuable such as—impact on a community, personal development, creativity, living your purpose, liking your work, enjoying who you are working with or what you are creating.” “While it can often be easy to find the negatives in any situation, I encourage you to look at the reasons why you are doing what you are doing and how that connects with your values—gratitude helps.’
“Changing your relationship with money is also important, and looking at where you’ve gotten those ideas to help unravel any anxiety that’s there. At the end of the day, money isn’t everything, beyond the necessities it doesn’t bring us happiness. We often have to re-educate ourselves to understand what actually brings us joy and fulfilment and that’s where we see individuals become more accepting about their situation.”
What can we make to feel more empowered about our future goals?
“Grab a journal and ask yourself the following…” 1. What situations in life have made you feel happy, proud of yourself, satisfied or fulfilled? Write down 10 different scenarios.
2. Using the situations as a basis, identify your top 10 values. For example, if you recall being happy while travelling, did you value; adventure, learning, independence etc.
3. Identify your top six priorities—i.e. travel, making money, personal growth, relationships, health, study, creativity, family, relaxation.
4. Reflect on if you are currently in line or not in line with your values and priorities—what needs to change? What’s holding you back?
5. Using your values and priorities, create a vision around your perfect day or week looks like. Ask yourself—who am I surrounded by? Where do I live? What do I do for work? How do I feel? Then create an action plan to move forward with and aim to every day take a step that gets you closer to your vision.
What if the ‘white picket fence’ is not a current (or feasible) financial goal? How can we navigate social situations comfortably?
“While it can be easy to fall into the trap of ‘the grass is always greener’ by having more have more money, I also see a lot of people who are very financially secure but extremely unhappy about their lives. In fact, I see many people who are envious of people who don’t have ‘white picket fence’ type goals!”
“As a whole, I find those who are most empowered by their finances and future are those who truly accept and understand why they have chosen their respective pathways. Everyone has different values and priorities, which allows us to see the diversity in people and jobs. Life would be so boring if everyone did the same thing!”
“So maintain focus on creating a life that suits you, not others. By realising as an individual you gets to do life ‘your way’ it will be an extremely important pathway to grow self-worth and confidence.”
“When it comes to social situations, acknowledge there’s no need to ‘be better’ than others or put pressure on yourself to say ‘the right thing.’ Instead, focus on being authentic even if that means showing a bit of vulnerability, for example: “I’m doing XXX at the moment, and it’s a bit challenging, but I’m learning how to keep myself on the path I’ve chosen and I’m enjoying learning about myself in the meantime. This is a great way to stay honest, authentic and real.” For more on how to feel empowered, take back control of your life and bring those future and financial goals to fruition, check out The Indigo Project’s workshops Get Your Shit Together and the How To Create The Life You Want.