As a young boy, I had all the qualities of a good friend.
Loyalty, check. Sincerity, check. Trustworthiness, check. Compassion, check. Empathy, check.
And yet, I had a weird idiosyncrasy, that one small thing that often got the better of me. I was a liar.
You think Pinocchio’s nose was long? Mine could probably have anchored a few buildings together. I lied as frequently and fluidly as a used-car salesman. It was a constant for me, and I became so good at telling made-up stories that I actually began to believe them.
Allow me to explain.
My buddy Graham was one of my best friends in fifth and sixth grade.
Graham was unique in that he was not only affluent but highly generous, extremely modest, and supremely humble.
Being friends with Graham at school was a treat in and of itself. However, it did not even come close to the infinite awesomeness that being at his house brought. Forget the two dogs that were always perfectly groomed, the manicured grass, the sparkling cleanliness of the house, or the two extra bedrooms that lay dormant and unused.
Let’s just focus on the important stuff: the video game systems.
And Graham had something that all of the other kids could only talk about: the new handheld gaming system called the Game Boy.
In my eyes, this elevated him to legendary status.
Graham and I were fundamentally unequal. My parents couldn’t provide Nintendo and Sega systems (let alone a Game Boy) for me like Graham’s parents could, so how was I supposed to fit in with him?
But I found a way to make us equal—I just had to lie. Picture Graham and I playing video games at his house…
Graham: “You’re getting so good at this game!”
Jamil’s lie: “I know! I’ve been practicing at home! Remember, I told you I got this same game a month ago?”
Jamil’s truth: I did not own the gaming system, let alone the game.
Graham: “Is your dad going to come to our game this weekend?”
Jamil’s lie: “I think so! I’ll have to ask him again to make sure.”
Jamil’s truth: My dad was in prison and had been there for years. There was no way he was coming to our game.
Graham: “What are you doing for summer vacation?”
Jamil’s lie: “We’ll probably head up to our cabin and spend the majority of our time there.”
Jamil’s truth: There was no cabin.
Lies, lies, lies, all lies. It was risky and embarrassing, yet necessary (I thought) for me to blend into that aspirational environment.
The feelings were further complicated by the fact that Graham did not match up to the definition of “the “haves” that I had learned about in church. I knew they were supposed to be arrogant, greedy, and corrupt, but… Graham was generous, kind, and modest.
I began to question the values of the money story that had been planted at my core. I had learned that wealth and virtue were incompatible, and yet, Graham somehow displayed both. What was true?
All I knew for certain was that my family simply did not have enough—we could not afford the things my best friend had.
But was that even the truth?
Why Can’t Any of Us Afford It?
The saddest part about these lies is that they followed me into adulthood. The same propensity to “fit in” dogged my steps into my twenties and early thirties.
When I started my health coaching business, I had a realization that was as oddly comforting as it was unsettling. Sixty, seventy, eighty percent of the potential clients I spoke with would repeat the same refrain: “I can’t afford it.”
On the one hand, I felt good, or at least justified—I wasn’t alone! I wasn’t the only person who felt like I couldn’t afford what I wanted and needed! But on the other hand, I was thinking, “Why the hell can’t we afford the things that are so necessary and so affordable?”
Facebook finally helped me to have a real breakthrough.
George “couldn’t afford” health coaching services, but the pictures on his Facebook profile told me he had just taken his family of four to Disneyland in Anaheim.
Sally “couldn’t afford” it either but posted on Facebook about the cross-country trip she was taking with her husband to follow a cover band of the Beatles through eight different states and cities.
Observing this behavior over and over again got me thinking about my own situation.
I started taking inventory of the things in my life that were causing me to say, “I can’t afford it”.
What was I prioritizing in the moment?
How could I better prioritize the things I wanted long-term?
How could I make the right kinds of choices and sacrifices?
These questions started me on the path towards a major mindset shift about money and finances.
Do you find yourself saying “I can’t afford it” more than you’d like?
It may be time to ask yourself what you’re prioritizing. And what it is you really want.
Not today, not tomorrow, but for the long-term.