You may be on your way to financial freedom or still trying to dig yourself out of a pit of debt – whichever your situation, you already have the tools you need to make progress. Author of “Good Enough Now,” Jessica Pettitt talks about her own journey through breaking out of debt more than once and how she found a toolkit that allowed her to make a difference in her life without a sudden infusion of money or a change in life circumstances.
Whether you’re looking to make a shift in your financial life, at your job or in society, tomorrow isn’t going to bring the answers. Your tools for change are in you today. So let’s get Charged Up! about discovering how to create a great life with what we already have.
Jenny Hoff: Jess, thanks so much for joining me today.
Jessica Pettitt: Absolutely. Thanks for having me.
Hoff: So I want to talk about the overarching concept of Good Enough Now which is really understanding where you are at this moment and how you can do something with what you already have. A lot of my podcast concentrate on getting to the next level wealth-wise and financially but there is a case to also assessing where we are, what we have now, and what we can do at this very moment. But first, tell me a little bit about your background and how you got into the space of personal and professional development.
Pettitt: Absolutely. What is interesting about the concept of Good Enough Now, specifically in regards to finances or capitalism, et cetera, is that when I first came up with the concept or the title, people kept saying like, “No, that’s not good enough,” which is ironic, right? The idea was that specifically coming from my background of doing diversity education work for the last 20 years, is that I kept hearing over and over and over again in other folks that they didn’t have enough education or they didn’t have the right language or they didn’t have the right credentials to be able to intervene or have a difficult conversation or deal with people who are different from themselves and so they just were an abject fear or frozen or just the spinning rainbow ball of death … What I realized was that if we begin to try, similarly to finances, there’s a compounding sense that could happen when you begin to try. That’s how I wrote the book. And then in writing the book, I realized that my own sense of self and identity was very much tied up in my own credit card debts and how I was dealing with finances. So I literally had to take my own medicine and I got out of debt. So here we are.
Hoff: Wow. That’s interesting. Can you tell me a little bit about that journey as far as how you got out of debt and how you applied the lessons that we’re going to talk about now to that?
Pettitt: Sure. I’m giggling because they seem so obvious in retrospect. But several years ago when I was significantly younger, my parents passed away. As part of my parents’ passing, I got a huge chunk of money. That huge chunk of money, I immediately paid off my loans and my credit cards at the time, and so I had no debt for about 10 minutes because my spending habits hadn’t changed. My savings habits, let’s be honest, hadn’t formed and nothing really was different. So I found myself maybe 20 years after that, 15 years after that, with just as much debt just not in student loans but now in actual revolving credit. I just didn’t know what to do and so I kept of thinking about paying off my debt in a sense of I need a giant sum of money to write giant checks and then I’ll be out of debt. It was an interesting metaphor when I’ve been doing this work with people who are really struggling to build more inclusive environments or better teams. I would tell them, “No, no, no. It’s little, little, little bits consistently and strategic. It doesn’t all just come on one fell swoop.” That’s how they sit together and why I thought this was such a timely interview, because it really is about paying attention to what I’m capable of doing and doing little by little by little by little by little while also creating better habits.
Hoff: Absolutely. I think a lot of people get stuck exactly in that cycle of saying, “Well, one day when this happens, I’ll do this” or “When one day I make an increase in my pay, I will be able to pay this off” but that one day doesn’t come unless you’re working at it right now every day and really building up that skillset and building up and paying it off whether it’s 20 bucks at a time or more just so that you are making progress and making headway. You have a model that you use in your book called the Head-Heart-Action Model. Can you briefly go into that and how we can apply it to whatever issue we’re trying to tackle financially in our lives or even personally? And then we’ll break them down even more.
Pettitt: Sure. So the overarching model of the book really starts with self-reflection, reclaiming responsibility for yourself, and by being enough, what that actually means, and then moving that into action. In order to do that process, the good enough and the now piece, I needed a model for everyone to be able to self-assess, the people that frustrate them the most or the situations where they feel the most spiteful and a self-reflection piece of who am I and how do I show up? Because I’m responsible for who and how I am. So coming up with head-heart-action is not rocket science. I would even say it’s probably not brand-new. But head doesn’t mean intellectual. It means detail-oriented, really specific, bits and pieces. So I tend to have a heady response when we start talking about, let’s just say, credit cards. My heady response is, what is the APR? Can I get my APR lowered over and over and over again? Is there a membership rate? The fine print on your statement. That’s a heady response.
A hearty response isn’t necessarily nurturing or maternal or paternal in some manner but it’s one tiny thing that happens and a heart response blows it up to something really, really large. For example, I think, we’re using the lens of spending habits. I had a friend. We were in New York and we were visiting a friend of hers that she hadn’t seen in 20 years. She was really anxious and really nervous about the visit. And somehow or another within an hour, she spent $3,000 on clothes. Right?
Hoff: Oh, my goodness.
Pettitt: That’s a heart response to something that’s going on in her life. I think that that’s an important thing to understand when we’re talking about finances or if we’re talking about working with individuals. And then, action doesn’t mean exercise but it often means people leaps before they have the facts or before they have a full understanding of what’s going on. I know as an entrepreneur, I’ve made a number of action-oriented financial choices or I didn’t know the details. And so I spent a lot of money to, for example, write a chapter in a book. Why am I spending money to write my intellectual property into somebody else’s book? Well, I got excited. It seemed like a good opportunity and I just did it before I read anything. That is how you also respond and could make some really bad choices.
Hoff: So it’s really about understanding these three different types of responses to situations and using them all in a sense but in a more pragmatic way.
Pettitt: Right. So if it’s a self-assessment tool, then you have to know how you typically respond. You’re responsible for that. I actually made shameless plug of free app that has a silly little 13 question kind of Cosmopolitan quiz. It’s an app for iTunes or for Android. It’s just my name, Jessica Pettitt. But you can answer the questions and like, “If you see a taco truck, do you immediately start talking about how food trucks are improving your community? Heart response. Do you wonder when it’s open or what the schedule is and where it’s going to be parked tomorrow? Head response. Do you slam on the brakes, turn right and go eat a taco? Action response.” But if you can know that about yourself, then you can understand what you’re bringing into conversations or decisions. And more importantly, if you can understand yourself, you can then apply this to other people or other topics, and then adjust accordingly so that you can communicate better.
Hoff: Know thyself has definitely been around for a while in that sense and yet some of us have a real problem trying to assess that. So in your book, you give a lot of recommendations on how to assess yourself. I’ve heard some management consultant say even writing down your own story in third person and who you are, where you’re come from, what you believe in, your passions, et cetera. What are some of your top ways for people to sit down and truly assess who they are, not clouded by their own biases about themselves or their own misconceptions even about themselves? How do they get a much clearer picture about who we are?
Pettitt: I think step 1 is back up one step. That is, why is it so easy for us to judge and assess everyone else? So if we use the lens of spending habits, I’m so judgmental of how my brother chooses to use his limited income but I don’t even know what my monthly average income is. We’re so much easier putting that laser beam out that the first real step is turn that puppy around and really do your own self-assessment, really understand who and how you are because that impacts other people and it impacts your own decisions. So starting there is the key first piece.
Then you can track your own excuses, your own shortcomings, where you feel like you’re not good enough, and you can flip that around and use that as a power to get through things. I use that piece that’s called the third rail. So we typically respond from two of the head-heart-action places, leaving the third as this dangling participle. This dangling bit is what ends up fueling all of your excuses, possibly your overspending, but it’s also, when push comes to shove, what powers you through a really important piece or moment in your life. I call it the third rail because just like the New York City subway system, the third rail is the thing you can’t touch because it will electrocute you but it also powers the entire system. Most communication, self-awareness, and diversity books focus on how you are but they don’t focus on that third piece. I think that third piece is literally specifically the lack of awareness of that third piece is how I found myself back into as much debt as I had before, just sitting around and waiting but I’m out of family members to pass away. I’m going to have to take responsibility for this and do something.
Hoff: Absolutely. What do you think is the best way to get to that third piece, to understand who we are? Because I think a lot of times we perceive ourselves in one way that perhaps is very different from who we actually are, and we refuse to acknowledge certain weaknesses or strengths that we may have, or make excuses or blame it on other things. How do you really assess yourself so that you can get to the heart of the matter, so you can actually now do something with that?
Pettitt: I joke that this is the most expensive question. The reason why is because it doesn’t cost any money at all. You just have to stop and realize your best friend already knows this information. So I always say, if you picture the last time your best friend, let’s say, they were dating somebody and you didn’t approve of them, were you right? Of course you were right because your best friend is an idiot and they just keep dating the same idiot. Well, the unfortunate truth is that you are also an idiot and your best friend likes you anyway. So if you can provide a sense of timing and space with your best friend to have a real conversation, they already know all this information. So you can tell them, “I’m doing all this self-reflection and I’m trying to figure out who I am.” And until they believe you, they’re just going to take you out for ice cream. And then when they actually do believe you, they will tell you. They will save you years in therapy. It’s just whether or not you’re willing to listen to them and you can do it back to them, too. The joke here is that this is why we have more than one best friend and why weddings are so terrifying. It’s because all of our best friends are under the same tent and alcohol is being served. It’s a lot of information, a lot of truth dancing around on the dance floor.
Hoff: That’s actually a great tip. And it is true in a sense, when you think there are people who know you the best and they’re afraid to tell you because they know how you’ll react if you hear something that you may not want to hear. But if you truly want to get a grasp on what your issues are, what your strengths are, and start formulating a plan, go talk to your best friend and it will save you a lot of money and therapy to figure out who you are. Why is understanding what you have now and where you are just as crucial as looking forward and making big financial plans for the future?
Pettitt: That’s such a key piece. This is what’s so critical is that we overwhelm our self with the possibility of what could happen; when in reality, we are sitting here right now. When we want to have better, more successful conversations or conversations that matters, the languages I use, let’s say at work or with our partners or with our children or just in the grocery store with a random stranger. We get overwhelmed of all the possibilities that could be wrong and so then we just don’t talk to nobody. Right? That is exactly the opposite of what you’re trying to do. I think the same thing happens when we talk about financial planning. It’s very hard for people to think ahead.
When my parents died, my parents were not prepared for their own death. At age 19, I’m paying a mortgage, dealing with their estate, and trying to go to college at the same time. I think that we pretend plan for the future. Pulling from [inaudible 00:14:08] Brown, I think that that’s the sense of control that we think that if we can plan and control everything that’s happening in the future, then there’s no room for trauma. But trauma will still show up as will joy. It’s a surprise but it’s so much easier much like judging other people. It’s so much easier and such more of a habit to focus way out there and get overwhelmed than to pay attention to today, right now. I’m hungry. I want a snack. I’m going to buy a pair of shoes. I’m going to eat something I shouldn’t be eating. Or I could have a glass of water or go on a dog-walk. None of these is new information. We all know of those choices, going on a dog-walk is probably the best thing for me but did you see those cute shoes.
It’s our behavioral habits and our response habits that we have to take responsibility for, and we have to do that right now. If we can do that in the present moment, we can reclaim responsibility for the past but we can’t change what has happened in the past. We can attempt to be responsible for the future that’s coming but we can’t necessarily control everything that’s going to happen. We can only right here, right now, do the best we can with what we’ve got some of the time. That is being good enough.
Hoff: What would you say to somebody who finds themselves perhaps in a situation? Let’s talk about credit card debt again because you were in that situation yourself. But finding yourself in a situation that feels a little overwhelming and they’re trying to figure out, OK, what can I do? Maybe I’ll just, I don’t know, wait for a check to come in or I’ll just rip up this bill until they harass me enough that I’ll have to figure out a plan. What can you do using the good enough now model and concept to tackle this issue immediately with the resources that we have and start moving toward progress and taking action?
Pettitt: I think that that really speaks to the numbing, paralyzed, frozen feeling we often have when at the root we know exactly what we should be doing. We know what we ought to be doing. There’s a Martin Luther King quote that, “It’s always the right time to do the right thing,” but sometimes we make that so much more complicated because of what the ramifications are, doing the right thing, so then we don’t do anything. And not doing anything, I would like to point out, is also a response. Choosing to do nothing is also a choice and an action. You have made an action-based choice to do nothing, choice made.
So I think that what is imperative to understand is that we cannot do everything. We cannot fix everything. One of my favorite social justice quotes by Francis Kendal is, “Every system is exquisitely designed to produce the result it gets.” But if we’re talking about financial well-being and financial responsibility, whether we’re talking about conscious capitalism or savings accounts or planning it for a retirement or even just a little slush fund so that I can buy a pair of shoes and not feel guilty or blow my budget. What is important, I think, to understand is that we live in a current system that is designed to crate these kind of results. So what are we going to do inside of this system to be able to better ourselves, our family, our future and our goals? But we like to shift the focus on changing the whole system and throwing everything away but you can’t do that. So what can you do inside of the current system of your own spending habits, your own life and your own goal-setting, your own sense of priorities to really become more and more congruent with what is actually important to you and what you actually value? That, in my opinion, is actually an active revolution because it’s inside of an existing system that often makes us feel helpless. Instead, we flip it and become really powerful and empowered by our own sense of goals and our own sense of worth.
Hoff: I think that’s a great point and you can really apply this to everything, whether you’re looking at society as a whole, whether you’re looking at your own family structure, whatever it is. Let’s say you’re a frustrated parent and you are feeling not satisfied with your career, whatever. Instead of just tossing it all out and saying, “I’m starting over and I’m going to just create a whole new system for myself,” it’s really looking at your situation that you’re in and finding how you can make that difference right there within those constraints instead of, like you said, waiting to overhaul the system which either never happens or takes a long time to happen.
Pettitt: Or you feel like you can’t because you’re just one person.
Pettitt: I think one of the things that I really enjoyed turning in to my 40s/mid-40s is that I’ve now been in my career long enough that people that have been impacted positively by my work are now writing me letters or reaching out to me and saying, “You don’t even remember me but you saved my life one day and you don’t even know that because we were just talking at an appointment in your office.” I don’t mean to be dramatic but very few people get the opportunity to find out the positive impact they have made. We live in a society that focuses on all the negative impact. We focus on who we lose or what we failed at or what missed opportunities we had. If you hang in the game long enough and you’re open to it, you will eventually get feedback about the difference that you actually have made. But the key is can you take care of yourself and be responsible enough for yourself, your behaviors, your actions, and your responses for who and how you are? Can you hold that long enough to actually get to that positive payoff? Again, when we were talking before the interview, but to me, that’s the exact parallel of really creating inclusive conversations and inclusive spaces that’s exactly the same language of getting on top of your own financial life, your own well-being, and your own responsibilities of who you want to take care of and how you want to live your life in the future. It’s exactly the same conversation.
Hoff: Absolutely. It’s in a sense being inclusive for yourself. It’s accepting who you are too and accepting yourself without constant judgment and constant negative feedback. I want to bring this into happiness and contentment because I think that that’s something that is so underplayed by a lot of us as we’re moving up the ladder and struggling to make it to the next point and building our wealth and preparing for this financial freedom of our future or whatever it is that we want to do. We often neglect our personal happiness and contentment with who we are right now. Like you said, maybe the impact we’ve already made in people’s lives and in our own lives as well as the little progress we are making every day, whether it’s showing up to work or paying off that bill or putting enough money away and savings even one month out of a year. Can you talk a little bit about how this relates to our personal happiness and contentment and how we have to really bring this in in order to be able to move forward?
Pettitt: Absolutely. What immediately comes to mind is one of my favorite conversations I had with my father. That is that some people happen to life and some people’s life happen to them. If life is occurring to you and around you and on you, it really feels like a burden, like a heavy \u2014 I don’t know. For some reason, I’m picturing like mud splattering and just heavy and wet and soggy and sticky. If life is happening to you, you are not in the driver’s seat. You are not in control and I believe you also are not taking responsibility for this life. As you start taking responsibility in teeny tiny little increments of like, “I’m going to be responsible for this conversation I’m going to have with this total stranger whose grocery cart is right next to mine and is also looking at cantaloupes. Right now. I am conscious. I am right here and I’m going to tell them that looks like a good cantaloupe.” That is actually living your life. That’s taking responsibility for the impact that you can have in the very, very moment. What’s so fascinating is the mud is so much more work than the cleanliness of being content and happy and available to offer your contentment and happiness to others, and be responsible for when it doesn’t land on others well. Regardless of your intentions, you’re responsible for that impact. But if you can be present even if it’s a hard conversation, even if it’s taking responsibility for something you didn’t mean to do, even if it’s something awful and horrible and act of violence that really hurt somebody, even if it was unintentional, your presence, that will directly build on the happiness and contentment of your current life.
Hoff: Absolutely. Presence. Because I think a lot of times, we find ourselves in situations where we obviously did not intend to make bad decisions over and over again. We did not intend to do things that could hurt our families or the people around us that have to now help us deal with these issues but it’s still accepting responsibility for it even if that was not our intention so that you can move forward. Do you think that’s a very important part to getting to the action part of the heart-mind-action paradigm?
Pettitt: The ultimate most enlightened person, whatever that means, like what we’re supposed to be achieving has full command of all three elements. So there isn’t one that’s better than the other and all three elements are in each of us at all times. It’s just whether we’re conscious of our response patterns or we’re conscious on our receiving patterns when we’re interacting with someone else.
Hoff: You have a strong background in inclusion which we’ve talked about a little bit through this conversation and becoming more empathetic and aware of those around us who are different. How does this process relate to that, not only becoming more aware of who we are and our lives personally but also becoming more mentally connected with others so that we can build a greater support group as we try to navigate all of these issues that a lot of us are going through?
Pettitt: Well, don’t tell anybody. But this really is a subliminal diversity training. If I call this a diversity training, people tune out, bring all the baggage that comes along with them and all the crappy diversity trainings that they’ve attended, where people have been forced to share really painful experiences so that other people can learn from them. By having a subliminal conversation, what we’re actually doing is looking at one-on-one interactions and what we’re responsible for. Then the secret, the Trojan horse effect is that if I start claiming responsibility for who and how I am some of the time, that’s better than never doing that. And if I do do it some other time, I might inspire someone else to do it some of the time. If we start actually being conscious and content some of the time, it is significantly more likely that we will create a space where somebody else unbeknownst to us actually feels welcome. They actually feel seen. They actually feel like they have something to contribute. They actually will feel like they are part of your team. That’s fantastic. What a great, latent outcome of these conversation based on present tense, based on responsibility, and based on doing the best you can with what you have. Ultimately, what ends up happening, others join you.
Hoff: Absolutely. I think you can even look at a micro level at your own family. When you start becoming more self-aware, becoming more conscious and opening up that space, you might find that your children or your spouse or a cousin or a parent also then is able to do that and there’s suddenly this much richer communication, where you can all support each other and help each other versus nobody wanted to take blame for issues that are happening.
Pettitt: I think blame is a key word. When it comes to finances, I think that there is an underskirting of blame, of not getting paid enough, not being taught well enough how to budget, not having enough to start off with, really, we are ultimately responsible for the choices we make, whether it’s where we spend, where we don’t spend, where we save, where we don’t save, what we give away, what charitable donations we make, and what we horde and keep to ourselves from a deficit model. If we’re working on a deficit model, we can’t be completely present because deficit models are based on fear.
Hoff: Absolutely. So what are three things someone can do right now to get themselves to a place of assessing where they are, figuring out what to do with what they have and then looking forward to the next step?
Pettitt: It’s such a key question and it varies per person but the practice that I recommend people doing is, when I say this, the first step is pay attention to how you respond to what I’m about to say. So when I say, the first thing to do is to show gratitude. Somebody just rolled their eyes and they were like, “Why am I showing gratitude? No one ever shows me gratitude.” Right. OK. That’s deficit model kind of thinking. When I say show gratitude and you’re like, “I’ve already done that. I’ve written my two handwritten notes that I do every single day and I’ve already mailed them out.” Well, great. You’ve systemized doing something for gratitude but do you feel grateful? Do you help other people feel grateful? What does it feel like to receive one of those handwritten notes? Sit in that. That’s what gratitude is about. I think what’s really key is that you can notice how you respond to something that might be out of your ordinary or out of practice or something you’ve already made into a habit. You still have the possibility of sitting in that habit and reflecting on what does this mean, what does it mean for the other person receiving this? Am I taking responsibility for that? If the answer is yes, give yourself a high-five and then pick a new one. I like to start with gratitude because I like to think I’m a very grateful person. And when I get really, really stuck or frustrated, I find that if I can do some kind of active gratitude toward someone else, I tend to get unstuck.
Hoff: That’s great advice. Finally, what gets you charged up about looking at our lives holistically so that we can see how our attitudes, our brains, and our hearts can all work together to help us be more grounded and even happy with where we are now?
Pettitt: I think the main reason why I do this is that nothing else was really working. I wish I had something some really sexy answer for you but I’ve been doing this kind of work for 20 years and I was not seeing change in my audiences as I speak or did consulting work. But more importantly, I wasn’t seeing any change ii my life and I think that being responsible and being present is more than just wearing a T-shirt. It’s really about how you live your life and sort of like yoga, evidently, you can’t just go once a year. It’s one of those practice things you’re supposed to do over and over and over again to really reap the benefits of it. So I’m going to take some of my own medicine and try.
Hoff: Absolutely. Great advice. Thank you so much. I’m glad we made this conversation happen. I think that this is really stuff to think about in any aspect of your life and self-actualization and breaking down a lot of the conceptions that we’ve had about things and opening our minds to new possibilities in a lot of ways can change our lives and the lives around us. So thank you so much. This was a great conversation, Jess.
Pettitt: Thank you very much and thanks again for reaching out. And for all your other work, I’ve listened to a lot of your interviews and it’s a really important message that everyone needs to hear. So thank you for your work.
Hoff: Thanks, Jess. Take care.
Pettitt: You’re welcome. Bye.
See related: Charged Up! podcast: How to handle love and money