Thursday, September 8, 2011

give yourself some grace

One of the most interesting phenomenons I've seen while working in my finance internship, is that people are sometimes so fearful of making the wrong move in the market, that it cripples them from taking any action at all.

I've seen this firsthand with my mom. She really doesn't know anything about personal finance or investments, and she doesn't pretend to. (As a side note, people that don't know anything about investments and pretend like they do are my least favorite types of clients to work with.) She recognizes that she doesn't understand anything about finance, and the thought of learning about it is so overwhelming, she'd rather not think about it at all. So she never educated herself, and she hasn't changed anything in her 401K for years and years, because she was too afraid she would make the wrong move. Instead, she left her investments as is because someone in finance, long ago, set up her 401K for her and told her what to invest in, and she agreed, knowing that he or she knew much more about finance than she did.

You know, gosh, we put so much pressure on ourselves in so many different situations to do the "right" thing and avoid feeling like a failure. Fear gets the best of us and we don't act on anything at all. And in this case, it cost my mom decades of growth in the stock market.

If there's anything I've learned in college with the various projects I'm involved in, if something doesn't work, abort ship and start over. There is no shame in failure. We are so uncomfortable with it, but failure is actually quite valuable. Even though my last blog post talked about my killer interview skills, I actually walked into my first finance related interview last year, and crashed and burned miserably. I mean, I couldn't answer any of the technical questions they asked me. It was awful! But as killer as the experience was (I still cringe thinking about it), it helped me get serious about learning the art of interviewing. Yeah, failing that interview felt so uncomfortable, but I was a 20 year old college student, barely even starting my finance classes at that point in time; what could I have really expected?

In my Psychology class, I learned that college students have the highest rates of depression. A lot of it is linked to the fact that we have lots of opportunities to fail. Whereas a mid-level career person might possibly fail at a project or a presentation once every month or few months, we get the possibility of failing a test or a class nearly every week. With an atmosphere so highly charged with other smart people accomplishing so much, the pressure can get very intense to succeed.

The only person who has the ability to control the amount of pressure on you is you. And, speaking as a Type A overachiever, this realization has brought me a long way. Yes, I still feel the pressure, but now I ask myself if I'm working toward a goal because I'm drawn to it or because I feel obligated to do it. While it doesn't change the desired end result, it definitely changes how I feel about getting there. Sometimes I need to remind myself that I need to give myself grace.