#2. A Sudden Influx of Money
In January of 2012, I wrote an article about stupid habits you develop when growing up poor. One of the biggest surprises for many people was the habit of spending windfall checks as quickly as possible, because poor people were used to the money just trickling away to everyday life if they tried to save it.
But the problem is actually much deeper than that. There is a common mistake that people make when they imagine what their lives would be like if they, say, won the lottery. Everyone has had those conversations. "I'd buy myself and everyone in my family a house and a car. Then I'd sit back and never have to worry about bills again." The mistake is that they imagine their lives exactly the same as it is right now, except with more income. But that isn't the way it works at all. Just ask the long list of people who went bankrupt after winning the lottery.
Lesson 1: Stop using money to dry your tears.
When people get more money, they tend to immediately fix all of the broken parts of their current material life. You need a car that doesn't crap out on you every three months. You need to replace the 15-year-old stove that won't hold a pilot light anymore. The living room needs repainting and the carpet needs to be replaced. The furniture could use updating. You've always wanted to own a horse that can shoot fireballs out of its mouth. Remember the old phrase "More money, more problems"? It sounds like a joke, but it is absolutely true once your perspective changes: more bills, bigger payments. You don't even have to dip into luxury items to make that happen.
If you're not used to that kind of spending, it's very easy to overstep your financial boundaries and put yourself in a worse position than when you made less money. "I got a raise that gives me an extra $400 a month! Woohoo! Now I can finally afford to replace my car!" Then you find out that the car payment is $500, so now you're $100 in the hole. Even if you take off the cannon and booster rockets, you're still barely breaking even.
Then again, some things you just can't compromise on, money be damned.
The only way around that is awareness. Asking people who make more than you how they manage the money is a good idea, but not everyone is comfortable talking about their income and budget, even if you're close to them. Even then, they can give great advice, like "Don't just have a checking account. Start a savings account, too, because it accrues interest, and you can always bounce the money from one account to the other as needed." But that advice will never, ever trump your personal awareness of the potential problem and what your financial limits are.
Personally, this is the hardest thing I've ever had to learn to deal with. I was (and still am in many ways) completely unprepared for it. I won't use their names, but off the top of my head I know of two writers for this very site who were extremely talented but gave it up after diving into reader feedback. The few articles that they contributed pulled millions of views, and the content itself was interesting, entertaining, and educational. I really enjoyed their work. However, after a few articles each, they both realized that the critiques they received from readers caused them enough stress that continuing to write just wasn't worth it. That stress simply wasn't a trade they were willing to make in exchange for the money, the audience, and the free country that we give to our favorite writers.
In any job, you feel cheated when you get a bad review. It's because most people feel that they are doing an adequate to excellent job, and that their position is important. How often in your life have you heard someone say, "This place would shut down if I didn't come to work"? It's usually right before you pretend to rush to the bathroom, stifling your maniacal laughter the whole way.
Hoby Finn/Photodisc/Getty Images
"Oh, man, I'll never be able to wash away all of the stupid that you just sprayed into my face."
When those people find out that they're actually replaceable, or that they're doing below-average work, it's an unexpected shock to the system that just instantly drains all hope. Even if only temporarily. There are three reactions you can have to this sort of criticism, and all three dramatically affect your work:
1) You can let it get to you, and your motivation just gets wiped out. "Why even try when all of my work is met with aggression and negativity?" I was like this for a long time because I let feedback get to me. Watching someone tear down something I had worked so hard on was too much for me to handle, and I very nearly quit writing several times. It threw me into a depression that was bad enough that I neglected washing my personal jet for almost a week.
2) You can use it as a motivational tool. "If I'm working 'below average' by completing five projects a day, I'll work on doubling my output so I rise above their expectations." It's a hard frame of mind to get into -- some people simply can't get past the above-mentioned reaction, so this idea seems impossible and foreign to them. But if you can use negative critique as fuel, you have a powerful motivator.
"Hey, remember last month's performance review? I just wanted you to know that you can now suck it."
3) You can ignore it and continue what you're doing. You have to be very careful with this one because it totally depends on the source of the criticism. If it's coming from your bosses, you'd definitely better take it to heart and apply the advice immediately. They pay your salary, and their words aren't so much advice as they are a direct statement of "Do this or we'll drop you like a handful of spiders." But if it's coming from consumers of your art, you have to weigh your current success against a thousand other factors because your reaction will affect the core of your work. For instance, an unsuccessful musician could benefit from negative crowd feedback because they're directly telling him what he needs to do in order to make them come to his show. Like wear a bigger sequined codpiece or something. A successful one has to stop and say, "I'm already successful. Will their critique make me more successful, or will it chip away at what I've already built?"
It's not easy. Everyone thinks they're doing great at their job because they're putting out the effort and getting the results they're aiming for. Having someone step in and tell you that your personal goals are below the company's expectations is a hard pill to swallow. The only thing you can do (just like all of the other points in this article) is expect it to happen. You'll be surprised how much that anticipation will improve your performance. Or at least improve the speed of your air-punching.
"I'm going to punch the air now. If your face happens to get in the way, I cannot be held responsible. Here I go."
It's just too bad that we can't put all of this information into a Tupperware box with some beans and just pull it out when the world starts sucking.
John has his own website where you can find out more about him and his books, more articles, and social media type stuff.