Why You Can’t Get Ahead … Ever

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“Oh, they were born rich.”Make the most of it

“She’s naturally skinny.”

“You’re so lucky.”

Some people believe that people are born with limited talents and advantages.

They think everything we achieve can be traced back to the lottery of birth.

Accept your lot in life, they say. You’ll never become anything greater.

They say things like:

  • “You don’t have the connections.”
  • “You don’t have the money.”
  • “That’s not for people like us.”
  • “You’re getting above yourself.”
  • “Ugh, there’s nothing good on TV. I’m bored.”

Others, however, believe that while people may be born into differing situations, we have the ability to grow.

We can harvest our advantages. We can spring to the next level. We can be richer, healthier, happier, more traveled, and more free than the circumstances of our birth.

We create our own fortunes.

  • If we lack the skills, we build them.
  • If we lack the connections, we make them.
  • If we live in an area that lacks opportunity, we move. (Or we capitalize on the Internet.)

Sure, some people have it easier. That’s irrelevant. Don’t focus on how rich / healthy / advantaged other people are … focus on whether or not you’re hitting your own personal goals.

“But I Only Make $X!”

There are some who believe that their earnings are capped at $X. That’s just what they make. End of story.
Fixed Mindset vs Growth Mindset
You’ve met those people.

“How can I get ahead if I only earn $X?”

They believe they won’t earn another dime unless some external force that they can’t control (i.e. their boss) waves his magic wand, taps his ruby slippers together three times, and decrees that they should get a 3 percent raise.

This is a “fixed money” mindset. It’s a mentality you need to shatter.

People with “fixed money” mindsets fall into one of two categories:

  • They’re broke. “I don’t make enough to pay my bills!”
  • They’re cheap. “I have to clutch onto every penny, because once it’s gone, it’s gone!

How do I know this? I’m reformed. In my early twenties, I had a “fixed money” mindset. My salary was my salary, I thought, and that’s where the story ends.

As a result, I became ultra-cheap. I’d endure massive lengths to save a buck or two. Meanwhile, I placed zero value on my time.

Then I flipped my mindset.

I started valuing my time. I grew confident that I could earn more, developed an entrepreneurial mindset, and aggressively chased opportunities.

Within two years, I tripled my income. Holy mackerel.

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In short: I flipped from a mindset that thought: “Money is limited; grip it with all your might!” to a mindset that thought: “Money is infinite. There are hundreds of trillions of dollars in circulation all around the world, and I’d have waaayyyy more than I need with just a teeny-tiny fraction of that.”

“Money is also a reflection of the value that I create for others. Impact lives, and the money will flow.”

That’s when I changed from a “fixed” mindset to a “growth” mindset.

From a “limited” mindset to an “infinite” mindset.

From a “scarcity” mindset to an “abundance” mindset.

And you know what’s crazy, and sorta counter-intuitive? When your mindset is centered on abundance, you feel free to give back … in ways that you never imagined you could, back when you were gripping onto your pennies for dear life.

Which do you have?

P.S. If you like this post, check out the book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success, by Stanford professor Carol Dweck. It goes into depth about fixed vs. growth mindsets.

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Thanks to Flickr / Jenny Downing, Alex CD and Feed My Starving Children for the photos.

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32 Responses to “Why You Can’t Get Ahead … Ever”

  1. Done by Forty
    29. Dec, 2013 at 2:30 am #

    I have to admit that I am currently working within a fixed mindset. I’m okay with it in the short term. I still try to earn more (business to launch in 2014, as well as an investment property, hopefully). But I guard the dollars that I have because, at least currently, they are fixed.

    • Afford Anything
      29. Dec, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

      @Done by Forty — I love that you’re launching a business and buying an investment property. Those are exactly the moves you should be making to boost your earnings, maximize your potential, and get ahead.

  2. Debt Busting Chick
    29. Dec, 2013 at 5:16 am #

    Great post! I was the very person you were describing at the start of this post and having that mindset is toxic. It doesn’t allow you to reach your potential. I’m slowly but surely climbing out of that box because I’ve realised you won’t make huge strides in there. It’s hard at times especially when others around you have your old mindset but thank God for the Internet.

    • Afford Anything
      29. Dec, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

      @Debt Busting — The Internet is one of the best things that’s happened to mankind. I’m not exaggerating; I mean that with complete sincerity. The Internet will allow millions of people to reach their potential.

  3. Heather
    29. Dec, 2013 at 12:09 pm #

    Love it! Mindset really has more of an impact than we give it credit for. I think I currently hover between fixed and growth. I think it takes certain bit of courage to totally jump into the growth mindset after you’ve looked at things as “fixed” for so long…hopefully 2014 will be the year I totally transition!

    • Afford Anything
      29. Dec, 2013 at 12:46 pm #

      @Heather — It definitely takes courage to jump from “fixed” to “growth.” I’ve discovered that the transition is always a work-in-progress. But like most skills, it improves with practice. :-)

  4. Deia @ Nomad Wallet
    29. Dec, 2013 at 3:18 pm #

    I love the idea of scarcity vs abundance. Coming from an entrepreneurial family, I’ve seen first-hand how income can grow exponentially over time for smart people who take action. The hardest thing is getting started and sticking to the plan through the rough early stages. And I love that you started with a photo of Paris Hilton — definitely doesn’t help to compare your luck to hers! :D

  5. Travis @debtchronicles
    31. Dec, 2013 at 12:35 am #

    I never even thought of earning income outside my primary career until we enrolled in our debt management plan and started paying down our debt. It was slow going at first, but now the dividends are paying off, and opportunities with my freelance writing seem to coming at me from all directions. I’m a big believer in the self-fulfilling prophecy…if you think you can..you CAN!

  6. Stephen
    31. Dec, 2013 at 11:37 am #

    Funny, the more I look around, the more opportunity I see. My challenge is choosing which opportunity to take advantage of. Which one will I still enjoy 3 years from now.

    I like the idea of increasing your income and decreasing your expenses at the same time. It has done wonders for worry. I believe the less I spend, the happier I become and along with the happiness comes a sense of peace.

    • Afford Anything
      01. Jan, 2014 at 10:53 am #

      @Stephen — Lack of worry is one of the best benefits to increasing income / lowering expenses. I constantly hear people talk about how they’re worried that they can’t pay their bills, or how they hope that their paycheck comes in by Friday because they need the cash. I can’t relate to that feeling, because — years ago — I became determined to simultaneously increase my income while keeping my expenses at rock-bottom.

  7. Kathy
    02. Jan, 2014 at 10:24 am #

    Wow, I’ve heard several of those comments. My cousin’s husband responds to everything someone does financially with the phrase “well, they’ve got money.” My mom always claims that she never aspired to be rich and that CDs are best because even if you earn nothing, at least the principle will always be there. A co-worker once said she’d never be able to retire because they just didn’t have enough money, yet they are the ones with a pool and a time share vacation rental. Others ask me how I know what to invest in as I’m reading the Wall Street Journal and they are downloading ringtones to their phone. To see how others act in accordance with their priorities is interesting to say the lease!

    • Afford Anything
      08. Jan, 2014 at 1:56 pm #

      @Kathy — The phrase “Well, they’ve got money” is one of my biggest pet peeves. It’s so self-defeating. People use that phrase to absolve themselves of any responsibility to improve their own station in life: “Well, I wasn’t born rich, so I’ll pretend that I can’t help myself, and I’ll belittle the people who are helping themselves in order to make myself feel better about my own lack of motivation.”

      Wealth comes to the people who take action. :-) I’m glad that you recognize that truth. Ignore the people who make self-defeating remarks.

  8. Michelle
    04. Jan, 2014 at 12:59 am #

    I’m in the process of changing my mindset to an abundance mindset. It has been a process because it sadly feels like a revolutionary way to think about the possibilities and opportunities that have presented themselves to me. I have been actively cutting my expenses and focusing on being content with what I have. It has made an incredible difference in how I’m approaching working for myself in the near future.

  9. Chanté
    04. Jan, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

    @Michelle, I hear you, but it does get easier. I have so many examples I could point to, but it would be too many. It’s definitely a work in progress. One example is that I’ve been a firm believer (even when I was younger) that you have to let go of things (and people sometimes) in order to have other things and opportunities enter your life. Since I was a teen, I’ve always gone through my closets (at least) twice a year and I get rid of clothing, shoes, accessories and give to a women’s shelter wherever I’m living at the time. It’s always replenished, and I’ve NEVER missed anything I’ve donated. Also, if I buy something, I have to get rid of two things. Keeps down clutter!

    @Paula, I’m on my way to working with my Virtual Assistant. That was one of my goals for 2014, so I’m excited about the prospects. At first I thought, “I can’t really afford it like I’d like to right now.” But then I remember something I read (probably here) that “I can’t afford not to do it!”

    Happy New Year Everyone!

    *p.s. I just KNOW we’re going to be hearing about another rental purchase in 2014 from you Paula!

  10. Anne @ Unique Gifter
    07. Jan, 2014 at 9:45 am #

    Thank you for pointing out that simply living in the global North makes one better off than the vast majority of the world’s population. It’s easy to forget.

  11. maria@moneyprinciple
    07. Jan, 2014 at 4:48 pm #

    I have growth mindset and always have done, I believe. One saying I cannot abide is ‘cut your coat according to your cloth’. It always seems to me that this way people end up with very tight and uncomfortable coats. Extend the cloth, I say.

  12. Money Saving
    14. Jan, 2014 at 6:19 pm #

    I found myself getting trapped in the fixed mindset frequently back in 2013. I’ve now come around to seeing that there are literally thousands of ways to make money in this world of ours. You really just need to open your mind and train yourself to see the opportunities that most folks are blind to because they’re stuck in the 9-5 routine.

  13. Mark Ross
    13. Feb, 2014 at 8:53 am #

    You’re right about those. We can really do anything and exceed our own limitations as long as we believe that we can do it.

  14. Free to Pursue
    04. Mar, 2014 at 10:42 am #

    When your “money belly” feels full, you can concentrate on filling the pantry for the long term.

    Feeling your belly is always empty keeps you thinking short term. Make sure to keep your belly full first, it gives you the bandwidth to think differently about money.

    I love having an abundance focus. It simply works.

    • Afford Anything
      04. Mar, 2014 at 11:14 am #

      @Free to Pursue — I love that analogy! Yep, when your belly is full, you can then stock the pantry …

  15. @Notcompletelysure
    08. Apr, 2014 at 8:18 am #

    I wish I could have this mindset but right now it is hard to when financially things keep crashing. I’ve tried to give to others for it to only cost me, I have tried to plan for emergencies by saving only to have the money taken, and I have made plans to use the skills I have writing for more income to have my machine crash. That affects my freelance plans along with plans to teach online in the evenings. Guess what that means? No writing until I can get more money I don’t have. I either use credit which equals more debt, or wait. I get what you are saying, however it isn’t always that easy when you put you got forward to only have setback after setback. I’m talking thousands in loss even now halting my plans to put a down payment on a home for my child and myself. Add a single mother it is hard. Simply changing your mind doesn’t always help especially during times like these.

    • Afford Anything
      08. Apr, 2014 at 10:46 am #

      @NotCompletelySure — First, you made the right choice by halting your plans to save for a down payment. You need an emergency fund, first and foremost. Don’t try to “jump the gun” — you need to put first things first, and your emergency fund is absolutely your #1 priority.

      But don’t go into debt to buy a computer. You can get a cheap PC laptop for $300. If you earn $10 per hour after-taxes, that means you’ll need to work 30 additional hours. You can accomplish this in 1-2 weeks. After that, you’ll have a computer. Use it to work from home, and use that income to build an emergency fund.

      • NotCompletelySure
        08. Apr, 2014 at 12:01 pm #

        I must apologize; I was having a very hard moment and the only reason why I came to your site was because I was seeing answers to help me out. I won’t give up and you are right; I can still come out of this. Even if that means the house plans are on hold, that means they are on hold. It is just disappointing because I worked hard for that, we were already looking and my son was very excited to finally have a yard to play in. We will be fine though, a way will be made. Thanks for your insight and encouragement to so many others. What you are doing is awesome. I will definitely take heed to your advice.

    18. Jun, 2014 at 2:43 pm #

    I love what you say, but after a failed contractor business, I lost all I had, still paying bank loan & owe a relative a lot of money,,,what can I do ??

    • Afford Anything
      24. Jun, 2014 at 2:28 am #

      @Junkman — If you’re in debt, and you don’t have savings, then you temporarily need the security of a job. Find a job, get a second job, work as hard as you can, and save with a purpose. Pay off your debts and build a “cash reserve.” You can take financial risks — like starting another business — once you’re back on your feet, but right now you still need to construct the safety net underneath you.

  17. Ritz
    27. Jun, 2014 at 10:29 pm #

    This seems to be a load of you-know-what.

    I have had an ‘abundance’ mindset, but I have had awful things happen to me in every single area of my life the past 7 years. I currently have nothing, I am living off the generosity of relatives, and I am constantly discriminated against in trying to find a job becuase I am “overqualified”, or too old.

    I don’t believe this at all, because if it was true, I wouldn’t have as many disasters daily as I do.

    Nice read, however, for those who don’t have awful things happen to them daily.

    • Afford Anything
      29. Jun, 2014 at 1:45 pm #

      @Ritz — Name one actionable thing that you can do TODAY that would improve your situation. Focus on what’s inside your “circle of influence.”

  18. Anon
    04. Aug, 2014 at 10:32 pm #

    I stopped reading at ‘within two years, I tripled’. I don’t believe anybody can possibly earn more than double within a few years in this economy. It’s unreasonable, and I am sure that is an exaggeration. However, I do believe pushing yourself hard and training can achieve results.

    • Afford Anything
      04. Aug, 2014 at 11:38 pm #

      @Anon — Your limiting beliefs, and limited mindset, is your own worst obstacle.

      Read that sentence again: “Within two years, I tripled my income.” Not an investment; an INCOME. Plenty of people triple their incomes; ask anyone who used to earn $30,000 and then made a career change (or launched a business) that brings them $90,000+, or anyone who used to earn $20,000 per year and now earns $60,000+.

      Or is your mind so limited — and your belief system so pessimistic — that you don’t believe people can escalate from an income of $20,000 – $30,000 annually, to an income of $60,000 – $90,000? If you don’t believe that’s possible, you are depriving yourself from recognizing the achievements of millions of your neighbors. You’re also holding yourself back, big-time.

      You won’t succeed unless you rethink your assumptions. “Whether you think you can, or think you can’t — either way, you’re right.”

  19. Ashley Johnson
    29. Jan, 2015 at 12:21 pm #

    Oh please. If you don’t think rich people can afford to take significantly more risk than someone scraping by you’re deluding yourself. Losing 10 dollars is a big deal to someone not getting by. Losing 10 grand to a billionaire is chump change. It’s called materiality and it’s the reason rich people can get significantly more richer than people in the bottom rung. Not only can they take more risk, they have more wealth with which to gamble with. It’s not just wrong that anyone can make it in this country. It’s a flat out lie. In fact social mobility in America is worse than most third world countries. Those are the facts. The poor person tripling their money in two years is the exception, not the majority.

    • Afford Anything
      01. Feb, 2015 at 1:21 pm #

      Hi Ashley,

      1) I don’t care whether or not billionaires are getting richer; that’s irrelevant to my daily life. The ONLY question I’m concerned with — and the ONLY question you should be concerned with — is: “What type of life can my family and I experience?” Focusing on other people is a red herring. Focus on YOURSELF, and improving your own station in life. And once you’ve achieved a secure station in life, then focus on helping the less fortunate who are also trying hard to improve their situation.

      2) If you believe social mobility in America is worse than third-world countries, you’ve clearly never lived in a third-world country.

      I have. I was born into one of the poorest nations on earth. There’s a very good reason that my family and I immigrated to the U.S., learned English, legally changed my name, adopted the new customs and culture, and worked our asses off. Success is possible here, even when you start with no money and no connections. The success that MILLIONS of immigrants and other once-poor people is living proof.

      I probably won’t be a billionaire, but who cares? I own a house, I can retire comfortably, I can travel and take vacations. I could never have achieved that if I’d stayed in the third-world nation where I was born, where there are daily power outages, no clean drinking water, and a bloody civil war.

      Be grateful you don’t know what it really means to live in the third world.

      3) Your Naysaying attitude is part of the problem, not the solution. You are actively keeping people down.

      Imagine twin children, both born into the same poor circumstances. One child is constantly told: “You’ll never get ahead. Social mobility is a myth. Accept your fate. Work your crappy job. You’re stuck in your position in life forever.” The other child is told: “You can be anything you want, as long as you work hard and dream big.” Which child is more likely to succeed?

      You’re the Naysayer who is damaging and demoralizing the very class of people you purport to care about. If you REALLY care about the fate of the less fortunate, you would empower them, not demoralize them.

  20. Katie
    10. Mar, 2015 at 1:06 pm #

    I know that I can grow and change. The problem for me is that I have an abusive family. I should have been able to move out when I was 18 or 19 but now I’m almost 22 and every time my parents get the slightest thought that I might be moving out (cutting out a free source of money) they purposely do something to force me to give up my money to them. I’m too scared of my parents to fight back too. But since i’m an adult now and such I can’t do anything to turn in my alcoholic abusive parents. Because they’re mentally and emotionally abusive. So, unless my father drops dead, i’m screwed. I can’t even leave to move with my boyfriend.

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