“Unfortunately, you no longer qualify for food stamps.”
The woman who delivered the message said that in her 20 years of working there, no one had ever thanked her for that news. I was rebuilding my life after a “loss trifecta”: job, marriage, one of my parents. Part of the reconstruction involved public assistance for four months. Learning that I was no longer eligible was reassurance that my income was headed in the right direction.
Shortly thereafter, I needed to find a new place to live for my family of four, in which I was the only adult. I had narrowed my search down to two choices: Acorn Housing Projects or the Uptown Apartments. While Acorn had more affordable rent and the unit had plenty of space, Uptown had higher end finishes and I liked the location better.
Saying yes to Acorn meant the management would conduct an annual review of my financial condition to make sure it hadn’t improved too much. Families can only remain in Acorn if they fall below certain income levels.
Saying yes to The Uptown meant I had to figure out how to uncover more of my earning potential. I was in the very early stages of starting a small home-based business and was not fully convinced that I could support my family on my own.
My grandparents were amazingly resourceful people. They married young and together migrated from South Carolina to Philadelphia in the 1950s, in search of better-paying jobs that were not as economically imbalanced as sharecropping. In the south, they worked land they didn’t own, handed over most of the proceeds to the owner, and felt a sense of permanence in the arrangement. In Philly, they found better-paying work and were able to purchase property, where they raised six kids and one grandchild.
Saying yes to Acorn felt like moving backwards in our family trajectory – becoming entangled in a system designed to limit possibilities for the participants. Saying yes to Uptown meant saying yes to my own potential and moving our trajectory even further ahead.
Ultimately, I said yes to Uptown. Though bumpy in the beginning, I said yes to fully launching Nayo Partners, and for 10 years I ran a business that helped a lot of other people create successful and thriving businesses.
This was a transformational period in my life. The challenges of running a small business and raising a family taught me valuable lessons, many of which continue to be staples in my life across many arenas. In the context of financial wellness, there are three lessons I value most.
- A beginner’s mind can help solve any problem. During this difficult period in my life, I had the benefit of living with three children. Experiencing situations for the first time, they always saw unique possibilities. I would often enlist their perspective when I had a challenge. That period has led to a consistent practice of approaching situations as if I am seeing them for the first time, rather than assuming I know the outcomes because of similar experiences. Truth be told, I still include the perspectives of young people when making decisions.
- Hope is a powerful catalyst. We often hear about the journey of successful people beginning with some small amount of money in their pockets. Yet they go on to accomplish things beyond their wildest dreams. Hope is the bridge between where we are now and where we are headed. It fueled my grandparents’ journey, it guided me to choose a place that would stretch my belief in my abilities, and it continues to be a part of my daily practice. Whenever there is a choice to be made, I opt for the decision that will offer the most hope.
- Money is only part of the equation. While I was focused on earning money to cover our life’s expenses, there were other unexpected resources that showed up to meet our needs. My children were able to receive a high-quality education at a magnet arts school without cost, I met new clients through mentors’ introductions, real estate friends gifted me beautiful furniture when their clients were downsizing, a family member gifted me a great car that was sitting in front of their home gathering dust, and the list goes on. While living within our means is definitely important, our means can be expanded in unexpected ways.
I am now in a position where I get to choose opportunities. After running a business for 10 years, I decided to join the team at Landed, where we help educators build financial security near the communities they serve. I share a home I love with my amazing husband and youngest daughter. Two of my children are in college, and the other has one more year of high school. I check in with them frequently and still solicit their feedback on work and life projects.
Professionally, I bring the wisdom of my transformational years to my role as a certified financial coach. In guidance sessions with Landed customers, I help people create financial goals that honor who they are, where they have been, and where they want to go.