How To Light A Fire Under Your Butt

Photo: Leonard von Bibra

I know what it feels like to not want to get up in the morning. To feel empty and heavy at the same time. To have so much to be grateful for, but not feel it.

I’d like to share a piece of my story with you. I hope it gives you some ideas for how to re-ignite your inner spark. When you were little, you burned bright inside and let it show. Somehow along the way, with all of the crappy advice you received from people who loved and hated you, you lost hope in your own value. You extinguished your own fire.

Now it’s time to get it back.

“Passion is the genesis of genius.” — Tony Robbins

When I was young, I was a fiery ball of passion. Maybe too much.

My childhood was a drag, not because it was actually that rough. I grew up in a family that just couldn’t stop feeling sorry for itself.

I slept in a house with no roof over our heads because we didn’t have enough money for a rental while fixing our house. When rain fell at night, sleep became impossible. The rain would wet my sheets and bed.

In the mornings, I would slip my feet into slippers that lay at the bottom of 3 inches of freezing water on the ground and wade to the breakfast table, avoiding floating splinters along the way. My mother still has that breakfast table in her house with the water marks on its legs.

My parents sold the house as soon as it was finished, and off we went to another construction site where we would live for the next 9 months, all while they ran a dry-cleaning business and a supplies company 7 days a week. We moved almost every year, unless real estate market conditions went south and we were stuck with a house for longer than expected.

I remember when my mom got sick from drinking only Cokes for two weeks. The crate of Cokes had somehow added up to cost less than water. Her stomach hurt for several days, and she never liked Coke again.

We constantly lived on the financial edge. But that wasn’t our real problem.

They felt they were cheated of a happy life. They had only learned how to make money by doing stuff they didn’t enjoy. In other words, work. The kind of work that has nothing to do with who you are and what you’re good at. The kind of work where you get paid for something anyone else could do if they were willing to put up with enough shit. Their souls died in the process. They were so miserable. And you know what they say about misery. It needs company. My sister and I were the company. They found other company too.

We were immigrants, and my parents barely spoke English, so we didn’t have too many lucrative options. But there was still something off about how sure they were that no other opportunities existed for them, even as they built a solid financial foundation for themselves. They never returned to joy.

I had no idea that someone could make money a different way.

Even after I was accepted into a college that took me far away from the resentment, stress, and anger that engulfed our daily rituals and interactions with others, I didn’t get it. At school, I was sold a different package of how “to make it” in the world. There were fancy-sounding job titles, almost none of which my parents would recognize. Investment banking, management consulting, philanthropy.

My heart yearned for something else. My passions kept pulling me toward human rights law, art, music, philosophy. I saw it as a real problem.

Don’t be stupid, my parents said, make money. They believed that being happy and making money could never be driven by one life. They were two totally separate things.

I accepted my first job on Wall Street after getting a master’s degree. When my second job was as an analyst at one of the most powerful hedge funds in the world at the time, I made the decision to extinguish my flames. My heart hurt so much, I cried myself to sleep every night for nine months until I was numb. It felt like love died.


Suggestions For Lighting Your Nonexistent Spark

When the light goes out, it feels like there’s nothing there. First hurdle to overcome? To see that this isn’t true.

1. Start teeny-weeny

When people say, start small, they usually mean things like, “Call a friend and invite them to have a coffee with you.” Sound exhausting?

I say, start even smaller. Let’s make it a goal to put your pants on. You did it.

Decide that you’re going to stretch your body out for five minutes. Do it, and be proud.

You’re battling something we’ve all experienced. You’ve lost confidence in your ability to do what you want to do. Don’t stress, it happens all the time. So pick an activity that depends on no one else for you to do it, takes minimal time, and do it a T. Put those pants on like you’ve never put them on before! Repeat until you feel like upping the stakes.

A general rule: I’ve found that “Fake it until you make it,” is bad policy. The problem is, you’re always there, noticing that you’re faking it. Faking it wipes out genuine self-confidence. Your spark will blow out at the first sign of trouble.

Instead, just do your best and don’t quit. Forget perfection.

Likely result: You’ll notice that your inner flame is still there, just repressed to the tiniest flicker.

2. Stop saying yes

Most of us say ‘yes’ to jobs we don’t want, to buy stuff we don’t need, in order to live a life we’re not thrilled with. See the problem?

We can only care deeply about a limited number of things in life. I know this flies in the face of what we’re told by well-meaning but screwed up optimists. We sabotage ourselves by buying into the mantra that we can “have it all,” all at the same time. I’ve never met such a human.

Decide what priorities #1, #2, and #3 look like for you. Make sure that what you say ‘yes’ to in your everyday life serves this list and deserves your valuable time, attention, and money.

What you do say ‘yes’ to should represent your highest values.

Likely result: You’ll feel a lot lighter and more focused on your priorities. Good for spark-building.

3. View your skills in bunches

Take a look at what I mean.

Gary Vaynerchuk: good at tasting wines, good at video, good at business. Great at creating Wine Library TV.

Steve Jobs: good at design, good at technology. Great at making the Mac.

P. Diddy: good at music, good with people, good tastes. Great at creating brands.

Most people view their skills vertically. They list out their talents and then ask, which one do I pick for work? Try this instead. Look horizontally across seemingly unrelated talents and see them as a bunch. Look at your unique combo of your skills and passions to determine potential markets, not the other way around.

Most of us target markets and try to make ourselves fit into a job or a career, so we slice and dice ourselves. We try to make our square peg fit into a round hole, all in the name of financial success. Spark-killing.

Do recon on what makes you uniquely well-suited to succeed in ways that others can’t in a particular field, and concoct a plan.

Likely result: You’ll start to see the benefits of being you. As well as the financial possibilities that come with being you. Rock on.

4. Stop praying for a financial miracle, and make a budget

I have a beef with “positive thinking,” and here’s why.

A lot of what we consider “positive thinking” these days assumes that you’ll be saved from the outside somewhere. Someone or something else will relieve your pain. A lottery ticket, your daddy, a romantic partner, a different job. Let’s stop the madness.

Being able to do something important despite clear obstacles is one of the most productive traits a human being can cultivate. But you have to stop looking for other people and events to save you first. Make a budget. Even if it’s ugly. Even if it’s boring. Even if it makes you sad because the reality of your current financial situation blows.

If you want to build a strong financial life around your passions, change your attitude to, “Save yourself.” Financial freedom begins just after you take responsibility for yourself when crap happens (and it always does).

Likely result: You’ll do more and dream less, which fans the inner flames.

5. Drop the haters

Haters are a funny crowd. They like company. Chances are that if you secretly hate yourself a lot, you tolerate a high number of haters in your life. You may not be aware of how much energy you’re expending to stay still.

You’re a modern-day Sisyphus.

Just say “No” to all of the haters. I don’t care if your mother is a hater. I don’t care if your best friend makes a noise when you tell her that you’re cleaning up your financial act. They need to be shown their boundaries. Say no like you mean it, then hold that line.

From here on out, no one gets to take a shot at your self-confidence.

Clean out your environment, and get yourself a more supportive community. Protect the fire under your butt.

Likely result: You’ll realize that many of the negative voices in your head were echoes of stuff your friends and family said to you. Relight that inner spark and find yourself a community that wants to encourage the new you.

Good luck!


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I’ll be hosting my first live Q&A event in two weeks, where you get to ask me your most perplexing questions regarding money and living a life of purpose. Sign up for notifications and my free weekly newsletter (packed with thoughts I don’t share anywhere else) at janehwangbo.com. Spread the word and bring your friends.