Improving My Self-Worth Helped Me Double My Net Worth
When I realized my feelings about myself were impacting my financial decisions, I took 5 steps to find success.
You would think that as a former investment banking accountant, for over 14 years, my past money mistakes would have been minimal. But that was not the case. In my 20s and early 30s, I, like many women, made decisions regarding financial habits, such as spending and debt management, that were not always in my best interest. It took self-reflection to realize that many financial decisions were not always made objectively, but were based on whatever I was feeling at the time — and poor choices were in direct relationship to how I felt about myself.
Merriam-Webster defines self-worth as “a sense of one's own value as a human being.” I believe my financial insecurity, which resulted in low self-worth, took root during my childhood. I am the product of two hardworking Caribbean parents. Initially, my family was doing very well: My parents obtained great jobs in the hospital system and garment industry and purchased a two-story home on Long Island, New York.
We were living a solid working-class to middle-class life until my father became disabled and my parents separated. Suddenly, my mother became the head of the household, and our family finances took a hit. As a teenager, I took on jobs to lessen the burden on my mother, so she would not have to worry about purchasing items that I wanted or needed for school. Although I established a strong work ethic and had ambition that allowed me to excel during college and in my career, that feeling of being “less than” never escaped me.
Low self-worth as it relates to money manifested in many ways in my life. For instance, I would try to keep up with the Joneses, or whomever else. Instead of saving money or eliminating debt, I spent it on designer apparel. It was about “keeping up” and not looking “less than.” It was also a way to mask how I really felt about myself, which was a feeling of inadequacy.
I also would give away too much to other people at the expense of my needs. I thought I was just being generous, but when I dug deeper, it was my way of holding on to relationships that were not mutually beneficial to me.
In 2002, I had been working in investment banking for 11 years and decided to change careers to become a physician. Because this career venture required me to be unemployed during my time in medical school, I also decided to take a serious look at my finances. I had to make sure I had adequate savings to cover my housing and living expenses. Even though I had little debt at the time, I knew I had to decrease my spending to increase my savings. It was then that I identified the root causes and manifestations of my low self-worth as it related to money, and I took the following actions to improve my self-worth, which resulted in a 100 percent increase in my net worth over a three-year period. This extra money carried me through medical school and residency.
I got real to get ready. The first step I took to controlling my finances was to acknowledge that I had a problem. I took a good look at my financial picture and made a conscious decision to make changes, which included ceasing reckless and impulsive spending.
I educated myself. Although I had an extensive background in finance, I read self-help books and reacquainted myself with personal finance books, especially those related to mindset. One book that made an enormous impact on me was The Black Woman's Guide to Financial Independence: Smart Ways to Take Charge of Your Money, Build Wealth, and Achieve Financial Security by Cheryl D. Broussard.
I kept a diary. I started to track my expenses and the feelings associated with the expenditures, and I began to identify patterns in my spending.
I used affirmations and created a vision board. By completing these exercises, I was declaring who I wanted to be and how I would go about changing my old mindset of lack. I believed that changing my mindset would translate to changes in reality.
I took little steps and celebrated. I began to celebrate all wins! Since 2002, including my time in medical school and residency, I celebrated managing to keep my home (whose market value nearly quadrupled since that time) without any late mortgage payments. After graduating from residency in 2012, I celebrated securing a pediatric physician position that may allow my student loan debt to be forgiven. I reduced my credit card debt and increased my retirement savings threefold. I also started a business. I never perceived these wins as a small or huge achievement.
All of these steps contributed to growth and to my net worth. And I now believe in every part of my being that healthy self-worth and financial wellness are obtainable.