There is a famous saying by Philip Pullman, author of the Dark Materials trilogy: ‘After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.’ Stories teach us about the world and the people around us, but most importantly, they teach us about ourselves.
The stories that are most important, that we often don’t realise we are even listening to, are the stories we tell ourselves about our own lives. If you had to tell someone your life story, it could take many shapes, but how would you tell it?
This relates more closely than you realise to your own relationship with money. A classic example were two Serenity Financial Planning clients who were brother and sister.
We tend to model our own life experiences on those of our parents and so the actual facts of the story they were telling were in essence, the same. What was interesting was how their different interpretations of that story led to them having very different attitudes to their finances and their goals, which in turn led to them therefore making very different life choices.
The facts of the story are that a young couple got married. They decided to leave their well paid jobs in the city and move to a beautiful, remote part of the country to bring up their two young children. They were very happy and although not wealthy, financially secure until the father died aged 42. The mother, who had abandoned her career as a bookkeeper to raise the children, found herself now unable to get work due to the fact they lived very rurally and she had no computer skills. She therefore went to work as a cleaner. Money was scarce and the family lived in poverty until both children grew up, went to university and established successful careers in the city.
Of course, their own life stories were always going to be different to those of their parents, but the brother and sister took these events and reinterpreted the ‘lessons’ of their life story very differently.
The sister told herself that life was short and no-one could predict when time would run out. It was therefore important in her life story not to waste time. When she found herself unhappy in her well paid job in the city, she decided to give up her career and move with her own young family to recreate the early years of her idyllic upbringing in the countryside, finding happiness in her environment, family and working life, but sacrificing financial security and getting into debt to do so.
Her brother, when finding himself unhappy in his well paid job in the city, told himself that financial insecurity could mean falling into poverty if bad things happened to him or his wife, and his life story had taught him that this was all too possible. He clung on to his job, even though he wanted to move, but maintained his financial security, a lovely home and still enjoyed family life when he could escape from the office.
Who had the happy ending, if either, is a matter of personal interpretation. But both unravelled these stories and the effects they had when they became Serenity Financial Planning clients.
The most important step, however, was the next one: when our financial planner encouraged them to talk through how they would both like to see their life stories unfold in an ideal world.
What both siblings wanted was to live in the countryside with their families, close to each other if possible, but also to enjoy financial security.
How did the stories end? They are still unravelling, but both are steadily moving towards their goal with the help of their financial planner.
This January, as we reflect on what has been and what might yet happen, it’s worth taking a few minutes to jot down or tell someone what your own life story is, and consider how would you like to ‘rewrite’ your story from this point onwards. What’s your Happy Ever After? Has it changed in recent years? Then work with your Serenity Financial Planner to manage your resources to make your ideal life story become a reality.