Afraid of Poverty

The motivation to work hard to avoid going back to my roots.

What a crazy realization that I just had. The fear of failure, for me, is less about my ego. Don’t get me wrong, it is about my ego. It’s just less about my ego and more about being afraid of ever being poor…again.

Since I left home at 18 years old, I’ve worked incredibly hard. I came from a “broken” home. Don’t know my father. Mother has been married, and divorced, five times. I lived with husbands two, three, and four. Without really knowing number two, I’d vote for number three as the best of the group…if I had to pick one. Financially, we were in the best position with number three. I still had the big white free lunch card to use at school, but no more visits to Catholic Charities for shoes. He was a step up. Number four wasn’t horrible, but by that time, mom moved into a management job and was starting to be financially independent. I say “starting” because number five drained her of everything and then left. And then she was back to poverty level…and I was struggling to put myself through college.

What a sad story. What amazing motivation. A strange gift and curse all in one. Because, since I left home at 18, I’ve worked incredibly hard … and tried not to look back. I have set goals, reached them, and exceeded them beyond my wildest dreams. I’ve fought against being a statistic. I put myself through school. No scholarships, no family money. Grants, and then loans when aid was taken away — thanks number five.

In college, I pitched the owner of the bookstore that I worked at to allow me to backfill his wife’s job as manager & buyer. He took a chance on me. A decision that paved the way for my career as a retail executive & self-help addict. I got a taste of career success and financial independence. At 18 I studied Stephen Covey, Ken Blanchard and Anthony Robbins. I learned that my integrity and choices were all I could control. And I realized the financial impact of managing those the right way. There was no way I would slow down. No way I would ever go back.

I ‘pitched’ my way through promotions. Asking almost every manager that I worked for to give just a little more. More responsibility, new titles, and little pay. Wait, what? I know. Crazy. At some point, I started to go to this place where I was almost too grateful for the financial stability and started to feel guilty for having an abundance of wealth. I was making six figures at 31 years old. I made my first million before I was forty — a goal I set for myself at an Anthony Robbins seminar that my husband gifted to me for my 28th birthday. I started at the bookstore and ended up as an executive at a growing retailer — bringing home an amazing salary and huge bonuses each year — earning every penny. Sacrificing time with my kids, my husband, my friends…myself.

At 38 I ended up in the hospital with high blood pressure, a migraine, and back & chest pains. Classic symptoms of a heart attack. I thank God every day for the warning.

So I decided it was time for a break. I was overwhelming myself with work and guilt. Working too hard, but feeling guilty for the financial gains that came with it. I grappled with “why do I deserve so much when (fill in the blank) works just as hard?” (I.e. Subordinate, family member, etc). This time of my life was layered with many more emotions — mistrust, a desire for family acknowledgement & pride in my accomplishments….another whole story.

I took the time “off” — independently consulting for the last three years with a short stint as CIO for a small start-up. Lots of time to unwind all of the winding up that I’ve done for the past 20-something years. Time to get reacquainted with my husband and kiddos. Time to re-establish much needed routines and structure. And then, this past summer, what I saw as an opportunity to mentor someone, has turned into a promising business venture. Exciting! And possibly lucrative. So, I’m thinking about going back into the world of big business.

I loved — and love — what I do. I love being a Mom and a Wife. And I love being a business woman. I love leading. I love teaching. I love innovating. I love solving problems. I love learning new things every day. But apparently those aren’t the only reasons I work. Today I realized that there is one more thing — one more big thing — I’m afraid of going back. I’m afraid of my kids experiencing what I went through…getting a taste of ‘normal’, just to have it taken away with no warning.

Yes, the money is invested. Yes, school is paid for. Yes, we’re more than paying the bills. And I have a husband — of 12 years — who is a great provider in his own right. But, I’ve seen it all go away in what seemed like a hot minute. So I can’t take the chance of somehow losing it all.

And now I understand my many layers of motivation. And now I must figure out how to move forward — took use only my passions to motivate me, and not my fears.

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