Stop Judging Yourself Based on Everyone Else’s Goals

This is a guest post from my dear friend Shannon McNay.

Raise your hand if you think Cait’s shopping ban is epic, inspiring, and oh-so amazing. If her now two-year goal of clearing out the debris and simplifying her life has inspired you to declutter, to spend less, and to evaluate what you’re really spending your money on (and why).

Now raise your hand if Cait’s shopping ban intimidates the hell out of you.

Since you can’t see me right now, I’ll just let you know that my hand is up in the air for all of this. What Cait has done over the past year and what she plans to do in the year to come is nothing short of amazing. To shirk a consumerist lifestyle is no easy task! But I realized something interesting the last time I saw Cait in person:

I’d been putting Cait up on a pedestal. I felt comfortable admiring her goals from a distance, but never once thought they were something I could do.

I live in New York (basically the consumerism capital of the U.S.) and Cait has visited me a few times in the past year. While I loved having her with me, the first visit was a bit scary. How could I show my dear friend everything I love about New York without appearing insensitive to her shopping ban? New York is different for everyone, but my New York amounts to insane amounts of time spent in coffee shops and book stores – two things Cait loves but decided not to spend money on during her ban.

On the flip side of that, I also feared judgement. Would Cait look at my apartment and all of my books and think my spending is out of control? Would she secretly think I need the shopping ban even more than she does?? Would my “cred” as a personal finance blogger go away in her eyes when she sees how much money I’m willing to spend on coffee???

It wasn’t until after Cait’s first visit that I realized I was being judged – but not by Cait.

I was judging myself.

Here’s the thing about goals. We all have ‘em! But all of our goals are different. Somehow we forget about that when we see someone making a drastic change in their lives. Instead of remembering that we all have our own aspirations, we think, “What will he/she think of me now?”

Nothing. He or she will think nothing – because the goals are theirs, not ours! Why is it so hard to remember that our loved ones aren’t walking around silently judging us just because they made a positive change in their lives? Why do we internalize something that has nothing to do with us?

Because we all want to improve. And watching other people take steps towards positive change has a way of making us think that we should too. But it is possible to learn instead of judge.

It’s all about perspective.

For my perspective, Cait’s shopping ban has inspired me to view spending differently. True to my personal finance roots, I’ve always been a budgeter. But the reason is because I want to save money for the future. I don’t want to overspend and think, years later, “Why wasn’t I more careful with my money now that I really need it?” However, it’s not so easy to stick to goals when the reasoning is abstract as “the future.” Cait, on the other hand, has a more concrete reason for budgeting: she doesn’t want to create a life that relies on purchases to feel happiness. Now that’s a lot more thought-provoking and motivational than saving for “the future,” whatever and whenever that may be.

What about you? Have you been inspired by Cait’s mission, but fear a shopping ban of that scale would be too difficult to take on? Remember to apply it to your goals and your life. Allow Cait’s goals to give you perspective, but don’t feel that you have to accomplish exactly what she does. Why not make just one small change? Why not allow her goals to help you create your own goals?

The beauty of this is that one small change tends to lead to another. I’m starting with my book buying habit, something hard for me to do because book purchases are easy for me to rationalize: Books will expand my brain! I’ll keep them forever!

While all of this is true, that doesn’t mean I couldn’t use the library more. That will not only help me spend less, it will make my husband happier. (I’m pretty sure he harbors fears of being buried alive by my book collection in our tiny Manhattan apartment.) And I still get to do what I love: read. For free. Why have I not been doing this the whole time??

I’m feeling pretty confident that, once I’m able to curb my book buying, I’ll be able to curb spending in other areas too. Once I experience satisfaction from delayed gratification rather than looking for small thrills in the quick purchase, I’ll be able to follow that momentum for even bigger and better change. I’m looking forward to that! But first, I have a big bad book buying habit to battle.

At the end of the day, we can all gain when someone we know, love, or admire decides to change their life in a big way. Give them the support they need and, if you want to, allow their goals to inspire your own. But if you do, just remember that we’re all human; we’re all fallible. If you want to make change, you can. If you fall, get back on the horse and try again. And if you need to adjust your goals, do so.

The most important thing is that you never stop trying!

Shannon McNay is a writer, content strategist, and personal finance nerd. You can find her personal finance musings at ReadyForZero and her general life musings at Create Measure Iterate.