At 46, It’s Time to Ditch Negative Self-Talk
Rachel Kramer Bussel is starting off her new year by acknowledging strides she's made on various fronts.
I turned 46 recently, and my birthday gift to myself was to banish negative self-talk. If I’m being honest, that’s hyperbolic; there’s no way that I will fully banish decades of thinking along the lines of “You’re bad at business,” “You’re bad with money,” “You’ll never be more than a law school dropout,” and “You’ll never be in a successful relationship.” But I’m certainly going to try.
Recently, I was looking at my retirement savings, a habit I’ve taken to doing at least once daily, more often when I’m anxious about it. The investing tool I use told me that my investments were up by 50% over the last year. The number startled me because I’ve always considered the language of stocks and trading and “the market” akin to a foreign one, something understood solely by men who started wearing suits in high school and a select few other souls.
Negative self-talk wasn’t just background noise; they were ideas I believed so deeply that they didn’t seem mutable in any way.
Seeing that percentage so starkly staring back at me made me feel hopeful not just for my financial future after my ruinous twenties and thirties—during which I raided my 401(k) and declared bankruptcy—but also for my ability to learn and grow. That negative self-talk wasn’t just background noise; they were ideas I believed so deeply that they didn’t seem mutable in any way. While I know that 50% figure is likely to fluctuate, that I achieved it even once gives me faith in my financial decisions, something I’ve never experienced before.
Looking back from the now-firmly-entrenched position of middle age, I can say that maybe those statements were true at one time, but they no longer are. Not only that, but repeating those pessimistic phrases in my head hasn’t helped me. It’s harmed me, because it’s made me oblivious to the fact that I’ve actually resurrected my financial life and career from their previous nadirs.
It’s true that I’m a law school dropout, but it’s also true I entered law school a few months before I turned 21, when there were huge swathes of life experience awaiting me. I’ve spent the years since berating myself for not finishing, but from my perspective today, I see things differently. Maybe I had to go through that experience, complete with six figures of student loan debt, in order to find the career path that worked for me.
My career is a hodgepodge that can often feel like there’s no clear direction forward, but that doesn’t mean I’m not advancing. I’ve had to forge ahead and make my own way, and I’m surprised but pleased to see that my way is succeeding.
My specific career path is not one you can get a degree in, that I know of. But today my business earns six figures every year from a combination of book royalties, copywriting, editing, content creation, consulting, teaching and coaching other writers. It’s a hodgepodge that can often feel like there’s no clear direction forward, but that doesn’t mean I’m not advancing. I’ve had to forge ahead and make my own way, and I’m surprised but pleased to see that my way is succeeding.
My personal life—which I struggled with despite falling madly, urgently and passionately in love and lust throughout my twenties and thirties—has finally righted itself. I just celebrated my ten-year anniversary with my partner, who has stepped up for me in ways I didn’t even know I needed over the last decade. We have been through deaths and loss and moves and arguments; I’ve also laughed so hard I’ve peed on multiple occasions, and we’ve developed a language understandable only to the two of us.
I hope that in the year and years ahead, I get to a place where those negative thoughts are fleeting ones, not my default, and where instead of gravitating toward them, I remind myself of how much I’ve accomplished and how much I have to be grateful for.
It doesn’t feel like I made any one decision to get here, to a place where my heart and bank account and workload are full, where I’m fulfilled in almost every way, and am in the early stage of the process of adopting a child via an adoption agency, so finally getting closer to my dream of being a mom. That doesn’t mean I don’t have setbacks or missteps that often lead me right back to that negative self-talk. I’m not writing this to boast or act like I’m above the problems and issues that have plagued my adult life. I’m often reckless and impulsive in financial and work decisions, and don’t always learn important lessons in how to be a good girlfriend until we’ve had the same argument for the eighth (but feels like eightieth) time.
I hope that in the year and years ahead, I get to a place where those negative thoughts are fleeting ones, not my default, and where instead of gravitating toward them, I remind myself of how much I’ve accomplished and how much I have to be grateful for. That still leaves room to grow and mature, but without making me feel dreadful. That’s my birthday gift and New Year’s resolution for myself, one I hope I can follow through on.