Give Yourself a Break With Your Money History

When I was interviewing for my first job out of college, one of the vice presidents who interviewed me was Joy Turner. A woman on the move in her 30s, Joy seemed highly respected by her peers at the bank. She had a calm demeanor, and while reviewing my resume’, she noted my GPA was 3.2. Immediately assuming she disapproved, I blurted out, “Yes, I could have done better.” Her expression softened as she supportively responded, “Well, 3.2 is not bad, and considering you went to Davidson, don’t you think it’s actually pretty good? We don’t always want people with perfect 4.0’s.” I exhaled, relieved. I got the job, and later she became one of my favorite mentors.

No matter how good the financial statements look, many people I have met come in and say, “Yes, but, I could have done better.” When I ask, “Why do you think so?” the three most common reasons I hear are something like:

“I panicked and sold everything in 2008.”
“I trusted that financial person before I did my homework on them.”
“I haven’t paid enough attention to this stuff.”

I understand where they are coming from. It’s common to think we can always do better. I am just as bad at looking at my mistakes, my humanness, and blaming myself for not being “better,” as the next person.

But over time I have learned to reframe the question. Rather than play the “What if I hadn’t made that mistake” game, I can take inventory of many things I have done right that have led me to the life I have today. Why waste time inventing a future that never happened, where I had a 4.0, got a different job, or didn’t buy Enron in 1999? All you can do is resolve to be better and make better choices, now that you know the difference. Why not be glad that now you know the difference?

I am guessing Joy Turner thought someone who had learned that lesson, and was ok with it, would make better decisions in the long run. Try treating yourself the same way, and see if you don’t make better decisions, too.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

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