I’m reading a book right now called Secrets of Six-Figure Women, which lays out the mindsets and behaviors of women who succeed in earning at a higher level than many of us allow ourselves to believe is possible. As I read, the intention to earn six figures is at the forefront of my mind as a potential goal because that’s the title and purpose of the book. But I’m finding now that the question of making more money is taking me deeper than earning potential.
Intention is the first “secret” of the women the author interviewed for this book: at some point they determined they were going to earn more, and they set clear intentions for their specific goals. When I thought about the intention to earn six figures, I thought yeah, that would be a cool milestone in my career. But earning a specific amount of money just for the sake of hitting a number isn’t inspiring to me. Why would I want to earn six figures? That’s the more interesting question. Because I could buy more stuff? Live more comfortably? Have a fancier kitchen?
I talked to my colleague Scott about the book, as he is also reading it and recommended it to me. I told him the most compelling reason for earning more is to earn my freedom from obligatory work sooner. I’d love to stop being tied to a job at an earlier age and be free to do what I want to do while I’m still young(ish), while my body and mind and health are in decent shape and I feel good enough to do the things I want to do. That’s my motivation for earning more: to save faster and be free sooner to do whatever I want to do.
And so he asked the key question: What is it you want to do?
I’ve been thinking about that question a lot as I read this book, and as I think about creating a lifestyle that allows us to retire at an earlier age. I want to travel. I want to eat good food. I want to connect with nature. I want to engage with and appreciate the beautiful parts of humanity. I want to create. I want to write. I want to inspire or help or move or somehow affect readers in an uplifting way with what I write. These are things I value.
We just returned from a vacation in the Caribbean where I had freedom for a week. Freedom to do all of the things I listed above. During that time, I woke in the mornings and experienced the coolness before the sun rose. I listened to roosters and birds and the splish of seawater on the limestone wall at our Airbnb. I gazed at clouds, cactus, mountains, and the dimpling of the sea’s surface into ripples and glassy waves. I snorkeled. I listened to the laughter and island music of locals going about their lives. I went on adventures with my family in the afternoons. I journaled.
In the long mornings that sometimes lasted until 1pm, when I was full of energy but nobody else really wanted to go anywhere or do anything, I wondered, what do I want to do? If this were my life, what would I do with it? I had wide expanses of time, which is what I often crave in my regular life. The thing I tell myself I want more time for is writing. I don’t just want to experience life, I want to write about it.
I wrote while on vacation, but only for myself, and not toward anything. And I realized that journaling as writing is not enough. Journaling doesn’t satisfy me. It’s merely brain-dumping. I don’t put care into editing or following a line of thought through to the end when I write only to myself. I don’t pursue an idea and write a complete piece on it. Writing to no audience is like junk food in that way. When I’m hungry to write, journaling is easy, but it doesn’t fill me up.
And so I was restless. I wanted to write. I didn’t know what to write about, so I wrote to myself. Journaling mode as writing perpetuates itself for me. I convince myself that journaling is writing practice, so I don’t push myself into a write-for-readers mindset. Yet sharing what I write is why I like to write. Sharing thoughts, sharing struggles, setting a scene to help readers immerse in a different setting from their physical reality, if only for a moment — this is what satisfies me. This is what makes me proud. Sharing and, if I’m lucky, writing something that resonates, is what fills me up and makes me feel like I’ve done something.
The second secret of six-figure women is letting go of the ledge — letting go of whatever we’re holding onto that’s keeping us from moving to something better. The author describes this as feeling stuck. If you’re feeling stuck, you’re probably clinging tight to something that’s holding you back. Again, as I read this chapter, I was thinking about it in terms of six-figure salaries, and I thought, “I don’t feel stuck in my job or career. I don’t know what I might be holding onto.” Making the leap to join Support Driven full-time a year ago was definitely a terrifying letting-go-of-the-ledge decision. It required that I let go of the security, satisfying work, and amazing colleagues of Automattic, all of which were very hard, and very scary, to release. But now? What do I need to release?
The Secrets of Six-Figure Women author, Barbara Stanny, suggests that you can identify what you’re holding onto by identifying the thing you are most afraid of letting go of.
As I was reading this letting go chapter in the parking lot outside our daughter’s swim team dry lands workout, a frightening thought occurred to me. Though I’ve been thinking in terms of earning potential as an intention as I read this book, I realized my intention is not income-related, except in the short term to get me to the point in my life where I can be free to write.
My desire is to write something satisfying. (It was terrifying for me to even write that in my notebook while my daughter worked out with her teammates. It took 5 minutes for me to scratch the sentence onto the page). I want to write meaningful polished work that resonates. I want to connect with people, inspire them, make them laugh, affect them — with words. That’s what I want.
I’ve not called it my intention because I’m afraid. I’m afraid I’ll fail. I’m afraid I won’t create anything substantive. It seems too serious, too committed to say “I intend to be a writer,” even though secretly that’s what I would want to do and be. I’m afraid of declaring that as my intention because I don’t know what I would write.
I’m afraid to declare it as an intention because it’s too scary to commit to saying “I want to be a writer” and actually mean it. Sure, I can journal. I can write the occasional blog post. But to be a fully fledged writer, with an actual project. I can’t. I don’t. I won’t. It’s not possible. It’s presumptuous. I don’t even know what I’d write about. I don’t have the imagination for fiction. I don’t have a big idea or topic for a book.
In addition to exploring the mindsets and behaviors of high earners, Stanny dedicates a chapter to the mindsets and behaviors of underearners: people who settle for less despite their desire, and their capability, for more. One of the mental behaviors of underearners, of people who don’t reach their potential, is that they are self-saboteurs. They get in their own way with negative self-talk.
I don’t know what I’d write about. I don’t know what I’d write.
Those self-sabotaging beliefs are ingrained deep, deep inside me. I have thought and said them countless times, and I still do. They are true. They are accurate. The frightening realization I had in the dry lands parking lot — my intention is to earn more so I can be free to write — is terrifying to me. I’m not sure I’m going to want to publish this blog post because it feels too committal. I feel ridiculous saying I want to be a writer when I don’t even know what I want to write. Yet when I ask myself where do I feel stuck? This is it. This is the ledge I can’t let go of: how can I want to write when I don’t know what I will write?
A trick that Stanny and others espouse for transitioning from a self-doubter to a self-truster, from an underearner to a high earner, from can’t do to a can do, is to replace negatives with affirmatives. I’ve heard this advice so many times, I feel silly even typing it out. But I know it to be true. What you feed is what will grow. When I listened to myself as I grappled with the thing I fear most — admitting to having higher aspirations for writing — I realized I am letting these fears stop me from even exploring. I’ve fed the I can’t and I’m not good and I don’t know what beasts until they’ve grown large enough to block my way.
The follow-up thought that I’ve never allowed myself to think until I wrote this today is there is something in me that wants to be written, I just don’t know what it is yet. I don’t feel comfortable saying my intention is to be a writer when I take my early retirement. It feels too audacious. What I am comfortable saying is that I’m open to the possibility. I don’t know what’s in me yet, but I’m here for it when I find it.