By Erin Papworth
We all have grit and resilience within us. It’s innate to our species and qualities that have allowed us to survive this long through various epochs of violence, suffering and distress. They are applied in everyday living, like childbirth, navigating relationships and mental health. They are essential traits to cultivate when navigating your money and your wealth.
In the U.S., the concepts of “grit” and “resilience” are touted as an important part of success. It’s a focus of leadership training and TED Talks. As the authors of the Connor Davidson Resilience Scale have noted, the ‘true essence of resilience is the ability to bounce back [from hardship] and successfully adapt to change”.
Resilience doesn’t always look the same
We are blessed in our culture that we have the time and energy to self-reflect on these qualities. We have time to figure out how to nurture them in ourselves and the next generation. In sub-Saharan Africa, where I lived for 13 years, the ability to show resilience and tenacity in the face of hardship for many is not conceptual, or optional.
Our society has reduced acute levels of suffering so you may not even know you have grit and resilience. But you do. You may not be tasked with protecting your children from war or finding any way possible to feed your family because of food scarcity, but others are. You would rise to the occasion if you had to, just like them.
We are capable of more than we think
When I reflect on a story that describes my experiences, the first that comes to mind is about a childbirth I assisted one dark night in a remote region in the northwest corner of Central African Republic. I had no business being in the room as I was the logistician and responsible for supplies and staff for Doctors Without Borders (MSF in French), not healthcare delivery. But there were only two medical members of MSF based in that village, and my male African colleagues needed extra hands.
It’s surreal to look back on now, a decade plus later. After my own childbirth experience in a pristine western hospital equipped with oxygen and epidurals, I try and imagine the events from the mothers eyes.
There was a purity in that night; a woman giving birth under the cloak of darkness.
No drugs, no electricity, two headlamps, a kerosene lamp and forceps ushering in a beautiful new human life. The nurses made sure she and her baby survived. While I stood by her head, a lost, useless wreck, holding her hand and blotting her forehead, wondering if I could be doing more.
She came to us because she was displaced from her village due to the rebel activity in the region. I didn’t know where the father was or if he was still alive. I didn’t know how she had come to that tiny town surrounded by Chadian troops to the west and French legionnaires to the south. I couldn’t understand her language. I felt helpless, moving the light in whatever way the nurses directed and handing them equipment. I didn’t know how to get the baby out safely or make sure she didn’t bleed out.
While I stood there holding her hand, nervous and worried, doubting myself and my presence there, the new mother saw more. She felt what I didn’t. She saw the larger narrative that only a wise woman could see.
I was there, I was present.
All I really did was hold space for her in that instinctive way a woman does for another. I was willing the feminine spirit in her to assist her body to do what it was designed to do. She barely cried out, she suffered and groaned in composed, resilient dignity. She gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl.
I learned the next day she named her Erin, after the foreign woman who stood by her as she brought her daughter into the world. I saw her and the baby one more time and then they were gone. Now, there is another woman out there with my name, 15 years old, hopefully in a safer place then where she was born. It would be normal in her context if she was soon to be married, possibly having children of her own.
So why does this moment of feminine magic resonate with me as I talk about resilience and grit for women navigating the financial system?
Because just like we can give birth to new life, I am certain that we have the power within us to navigate a financial system that was not designed for us. We also have the capacity to hold space for each other as we learn collectively. We will break stereotypes and talk about it so we can figure it out.
I speak often with women who are scared about their finances, unsure of how to engage and fearful of the perceived risk of managing money. Paralysis, anxiety, stress are all sentiments we talk about. It makes complete sense, I had the same major fears in my 20s too. It makes sense because the financial system was not designed by us or for us all those centuries ago. Since 1970 laws changed our ability to make our own money, we have been foreigners navigating new lands. And it takes grit and resilience to navigate careers, colleagues, home ownership, dual-income households, intimate partner money talks, income loss, income growth and the ups and downs of financial life.
Nevertheless, we all have the deep seeded human traits of resilience and grit. When we are in moments of fear, anxiety and stress, it’s those qualities that can move us through and help us thrive if we can tap into them and cultivate them.
It’s time now to apply these human qualities to navigating the financial system in order to sustain and grow your wealth. Because financial health is an integral part of holistic health and one that gives us the ability to live free from fear and anxiety, bad relationships and horrible bosses and be confident.
So how do we cultivate grit, resilience and a growth mindset around our finances (And in general)? Read below and repeat after me: I am worthy.
I deserve access to wealth and financial equality. I am essential to a healthy economy. I deserve to be paid. Now time to follow a few steps.
Step 1: Confidence is queen.
When I coach on personal finances, I often see a lack of confidence in my clients because we’re always comparing ourselves to a version of success we can’t achieve. In our culture, that means white men who have been touted -and the only ones with systemic access – as the pinnacle of financial success. Wolf of Wall Street anyone? Time. To. Stop. That.
In fact, Asian women statistically have higher self-esteem because their benchmark of success is other women. When you see another woman succeed it makes you believe your success is achievable. That’s why women supporting women, women championing other women, women celebrating other women’s wins, only benefits us all (#shinetheory).
It’s our time, ladies. We are making more money these days than ever before. We are becoming more educated than our male counterparts. In terms of overall investment loss, we tend to be better investors because we take less risk and stay in when the going gets tough. (#saynotogamestop) We are traditionally more collaborative than competitive. We want our spending to reflect our ideals (like with Angel Investor Chelsea Burns in this podcast.)
Step 2: Live within your means
In coaching sessions, I’ve had people start our conversations by telling me they don’t know anything about money. Then they proceed to list how they hit all of the big money management boxes:
- They don’t spend more than they make (they save).
- They are very conscious spenders (they look for deals and try to shop local).
- They pay off their credit cards in full each month to avoid accrued interest payments.
- They avoid debt (and are trying to pay off their school loans as fast as possible).
- They are scared but dabbling in investing and contribute to their 401k or a ROTH IRA.
As a financial coach – that’s what I call rocking it. And if you’re not quite there yet, it’s pretty simple to set up a budget with the Nav.it app. It will help you identify your lifestyle goals along with some setting realistic financial goals. You can start at any time or at any age, I promise. These principles work and you’re not missing out on anything if you start now.
Level 3: Investing–making your money work for you.
It’s one thing to save, it’s another to grow your wealth. Increased cost of living and deprecation mean we need to find ways for our money to grow, not just sit around and wait for us to need it.
In order to invest our money wisely, we need confidence to take the risks that are right for our situation. (Think long term v. short term investments.) We also need to understand how our investments will work for us. That comes with some reading, potentially a few discussions with your boss babe friends (bonus if they’re financial advisors) and maybe even using one of these apps.
All this to say: there is no one way to manage or grow your money. You just have to start somewhere.
We can compete equally in the financial world and we can do it on our own terms. We can manage our own money and grow our own wealth.
Access to money and wealth is not only essential to move our society forward, but when we have full participation in the labor market and wealth management, our society becomes more innovative, more creative and more equitable. COVID has knocked us down but we are resilient, gritty women who will get back up again and keep fighting for a better world.
Here’s to the future, it needs us!
Modern History of Women and Money
Words of Wisdom from Women to Their Younger Selves