In April 2019, we received an email from a women saying she was planning a conference designed to inspire more people to pursue financial independence. Unlike other financial conferences or gatherings we’d heard of, this one would be centered around talks, like the one’s you’d see at TED gatherings around the world. Also, the content would be geared to adults and college students who were searching for a new American Dream. She’d heard about us after we spoke at CampFI earlier that year and felt we would be a good addition to the event she was organizing.
And so, we agreed.
For 11 months, between that initial email and the actual event we kept in touch via video chat and facebook. In the spirit of transparency, there were ups and there were downs during this stretch of time. She’d be the first to tell you she wasn’t well connected, that she was new to the FIRE community, had never done anything like this before and was dealing with some personal battles along the way. We didn’t know any of this was happening in real-time but were not surprised to learn she had moments where she’d considered calling the whole thing off. She’d sunk a considerable amount of her own money to pull this event together so it was understandably tempting to cut her losses and avoid the potential for embarrassment.
I know what some of you are thinking.
This sounds awfully similar to an episode of HBOs Insecure (LOL) but I can assure you, this was a welcomed coincidence. However, I must say, both Issa and the woman I’m referring to [Diania] have a gift for humor.
Instead of cancelling, she held on and a few weeks before we were all scheduled to convene in Cincinnati, OH for the event, we had one final opportunity to connect. It was the last of our scheduled video chats to exchange feedback, bounce ideas off each other and answer any final questions either of us had. It was a moment of no return call.
Towards the end of our chat, I shared my thoughts on the entire experience thus far, thanked her for considering us to be a part of the event and applauded her perseverance. The talk I’d written and intended to share with the audience wasn’t specifically written for her but for people like her who were at a crossroads in their life. The core message was about embracing conflict instead of running from it. In particular, I encouraged the audience to embrace their internal conflicts; conflicts of the identity.
When I was younger, I wanted to be an engineer. The reason for this is because my mother told me as a young boy that engineers earned a good living and since I wasn’t showing signs of interest in a law or medical career…I ran with it. This all changed towards the end of high school when I learned how to cook in home economics class. That experience pushed me to go to culinary school which lead to me cooking professionally in local Atlanta restaurants and hotels. Til this day, there are people who only know me as a Chef because that is the only side of me they’d ever seen.
Because the restaurant world is such an obsessive and tight-knit bubble, I’m sure if I ever cross my former coworkers’ minds, they’re next thought is likely…whatever happened to him? They’d never believe I left the kitchen after ten years to transition to the front of the house. They wouldn’t understand that years later, I left restaurants altogether to begin working in the corporate office of a hotel franchisor. And I’d be willing to bet, never in a thousand years would they believe I’d become a real estate investor, blogger, soon to be published author and God knows what else is up my sleeve.
How do I know this? Well, because I was good at what I did and I’d begun to accept it as the core part of my identity. In my experience…when people are good at something, they tend to believe who they are and the work they do are one in the same. They become enmeshed in their work. Click To Tweet
Psychologists use the term “enmeshment” to describe a situation where the boundaries between people become blurred, and individual identities lose importance. Enmeshment prevents the development of a stable, independent sense of self.What Happens When Your Job Becomes Your Whole Identity, Harvard Business Review, Janna Koretz, Dec 2019
I don’t fault people for thinking this way. It’s common but not without consequence. I can also relate because I’ve fought countless battles throughout my life to gain or give myself permission to grow.
During my kitchen years, after expressing my lofty career ambitions to my then Executive Chef [Eric], he encouraged me to pick one cuisine because according to him, “nobody can be great at several things at once“. When I transitioned to the service side of the business, the owner of a widely known restaurant group [Rob] almost persuaded me not to earn an MBA because according to him “you don’t need it to do what I do“. Neither of these well-intended gentlemen understood that I didn’t want to be like them…I wanted to be better than them. This could’ve been because I wasn’t clear in my expression or it could’ve been they only saw me as the person I was in that moment.
I’ve faced these obstacles outside of work environments too.
As a first generation immigrant of Jamaican parents, I’ve had to pick and choose the aspects of the culture I wanted to carry forward and what parts I’d rather leave behind. Naturally, my selective adoption of cultural practices created an internal conflict because the more I let go of my born identity, the less I identified with people who’d nurtured it…my family.
And as a product of poverty, growing up in 1980s New York City, I’ve had to pick and choose which parts of my childhood experience I would grow from and which parts were holding me back. I’d been raised during the golden ere of hip hop and had come to accept that “you can take a kid out the ‘hood, but you can’t take the ‘hood out of a kid”. What I would listen to, what I ate and where I went was predetermined. Everything else was out of bounds.
Today, I’m grateful I rejected the counsel of my former bosses and have done the deeper emotional work that has enabled me to set down the parts of my past that began to feel like weights. I’ve also let go of the notion that I needed to ask anyone’s permission to take my life in another direction. I’ve learned that making the decision to grow is a difficult one and friction is merely the price we pay to achieve it. In other words, I needed to learn how to embrace conflict in order to become the person I wanted to be.
This was the context I wrapped my message around on March 7th at the EconoME conference. I chose this topic because over the years, I’ve grown increasingly convinced that many people aren’t pursuing opportunities or embracing ideas that could be beneficial to them because it would require them to confront the internal conflicts in their belief system. The principles of Financial Independence were no exception.
To change careers might require you to accept the fact that you’ve made a poor decision in the past. To confront the challenges you’re having with your partner may force you to accept that perhaps, you married the wrong person or simply weren’t ready for this level of commitment. Or…to become the person you want to be, you may need to disappoint the very people you've surrounded yourself with. For many, these burdens are too much to bear so they choose avoidance. Click To Tweet
The goal was to share my own experience in re-defining myself and overcoming inner-conflicts in the hopes it would inspire others who may be struggling to do the same. Honestly, I flubbed an entire section of my intended talk due to a massive brain fart but even this supports the core point I was trying to make. “When you embrace conflict, even if you don’t get the immediate and intended result, you come out the other side a better version of yourself”.
To see the full talk, click below.