I went to a financial seminar today, and had to face something challenging. It’s not that the concepts were complicated. They weren’t. The biggest challenge for me was to admit (despite the protests of my Ego) that I have avoided the truth about my financial responsibilities.
When it comes to bad investment decisions, I know I’m not the only one who has messed up. Lately, lots of “smart people” on Wall Street have totally outdone me on financial stupidity.
The question I’m facing here is, how did we get into this mess?
Before I go any further, let’s be clear that I’m not offering any investment advice, or yet another angle on “what’s wrong with America.” What I’m talking about here is actually a very human, personal problem. But I’ll get to that in a bit.
So I’m going to skip the Wall Street horror stories that we’ve all heard, and go straight to a painful personal example.
In 2007, a couple partners and I bought a condo unit in Calgary with the intention of fixing it up and selling it for more than we bought it for. Over the next six months, we invested a great deal of time and money making this place perfect. But when we went to sell it, the market informed us that it was worth less than the money we had invested.
Our first reaction was denial. We listed it for more than what the realtor suggested we could get. We got no offers. Then we decided to hold onto it, wishfully thinking that it would go back up in value.
It kept dropping. The mortgage payments, however, did not follow suit.
Now, if I had accepted the truth of the situation right away, without the blind optimism, I would have saved myself two years of grief and $30,000. Sure, the realtors I talked to were optimistic about the near future, and my partners both agreed to stay the course, but in the end, it was my own blind optimism (not anyone else’s) that did me in. And although I’m glad to say the condo has been sold, I’m still dealing with the loss.
Now, the problem is not that I made a mistake. Everyone makes mistakes. Today, I’m seeing this in a much broader context. And that is, that I sometimes continue making mistakes, long after seeing the results of those mistakes, because to admit the error means I now have to take responsibility and fix it. And that’s hard.
I did not want to admit that I would have to sell the property at a loss, because that scared me. Unfortunately, giving in to fear and denial meant that I faced an even bigger loss later on – one that was even scarier.
So, like I said, this isn’t really about an investment. It’s about what scares me. And it’s about waking up to the truth, and accepting personal accountability.
Not blame. Accountability.
Let’s shift gears with a completely different example of what I’m getting at.
Let’s consider a woman who has been emotionally, physically, mentally and sexually abused by her husband for the last 10 years. She stays in the marriage, because she’s convinced herself that it’s too hard to leave. Or that there isn’t really a problem. Or that it’s normal. Or that she has no control, because it’s obviously not her fault.
She has convinced herself of a lie so that she does not have to deal with the fear of getting out, of loving herself, of starting over, and (here’s the tough part) admitting to herself that the last ten years were a big mistake.
We aren’t hurting ourselves on purpose. We’re hurting ourselves because we don’t know any better. And I believe that we would know better if we didn’t let our fears blind us to the truth.
Us spiritual people like to live on faith. Faith is good. Optimism can be good. However, when optimism is blind to the truth of a situation, it can be an excuse we use – no wait – an excuse that I, yes I, use – to avoid facing what I’m afraid of.
Accountability means accepting that I have created the situation I am in, and that I have the power to change it. This takes true faith. Blind optimism let’s me sit and wait for Deus Ex Machina to fix everything for me, because I’m afraid I can’t handle it. Faith requires me to acknowledge my own power and responsibility, in addition to divine assistance.
Today, no matter how many mistakes I’ve made in the past, I pray that I will see the light of truth in all areas of my life. And more importantly, I have decided to accept the truth that I see. Because unless I am willing to accept the truth, and accept my own responsibility, my prayers can’t change anything.