The Paradox Between Mental Health and Building Wealth: Insights from My 20s
Recently, I stumbled upon Polo G’s latest single, "Barely Holdn On," preceding his upcoming album set to release in December. It made me pause and reflect on my life's journey and the tremendous weight I've carried, often neglecting to acknowledge when I needed a break to recharge.
As I approached my 30th birthday, I couldn’t help but reflect on my 20s and what I’ve learned over the last decade. It can seem intimidating to reflect and think about our lives and the responsibilities we each have to live up to our fullest potential. But we must also give ourselves grace for where we are and what we have accomplished thus far.
One of my biggest silent struggles in my 20s was managing my mental health alongside financial stability. Unknowingly to me, there was a significant connection between the two, and deficiencies in either relationship caused a direct impact on my overall life purpose and plans.
I was so focused on wealth but I quickly realized that I would never reach it without the right mindset. Within this article, I dive into my insights and wisdom learned about defining oneself, elevating mental well-being, and dedicating oneself to a purposeful existence. My aspiration is for these seven lessons to not only illustrate a path but to ignite hope for what lies ahead.
**Lesson 1: Seek Guidance and Embrace Learning**
In my early 20s, I was extremely curious about the world around me. The internet became an invaluable source of knowledge for me, especially as a college student struggling with limited funds. Though it was humbling to admit my financial constraints, I was committed to learning by any means necessary. This experience taught me the value of seeking help when necessary. I realized I could not succeed on my own. I created a support system around me including my peers, university staff, and coaches. Through my support system, I learned that there were other tools to help me succeed in my academics that I could access for free.
Unable to afford textbooks like my peers, I turned to the library and YouTube, (I often tell people I have a degree from YouTube University lol). Through this, I discovered a passion for research and the joy of sharing knowledge with others. I learned the humility of seeking help, an ethos I carried into adulthood. As I advanced through college and into the workforce, the motto remained: "You don't know it all, ask for help." It's a powerful lesson; maturity comes from recognizing that you don't have to prove everyone wrong. With time, you'll discover the willingness of people to support your journey once you take that first step. And before you know it, you'll be that support system for someone else.
"You are never too old to learn and you are never too young to teach. Always have a thirst for learning".
**Lesson 2: Distinguish Your Identity from Your Profession**
Before we dive in I want to distinguish the difference between your job and your work. Your job is what you are paid to do and your work is what you were born to do. Separating who you are from what you do is essential for a purpose-driven life. I often turn to motivational speakers for wisdom. One day, I stumbled upon a video by Myles Monroe titled "Keys to Becoming a Leader." Monroe discussed the struggle of finding one's identity and how it can affect a purpose-driven life. He emphasized the importance of separating who you are from what you do, allowing you to reevaluate your priorities and their alignment with your life goals. Often times we merge the two. We think our job and our work are one and the same. Though it may be true for some, the majority are spending their lives working at their job that does not fulfill what they were born to do.
By making this distinction, you gain a fresh perspective on your life's trajectory which will determine the energy you invest in different areas of your life. Often we get distracted from our vision and what our goals are because we are simply trying to survive and “make it”. Even worse, sometimes, we don't even know what our purpose is because we don't allow ourselves to dream. This ideology can be described as an identity crisis because our job takes away from knowing who we are, ultimately crippling our mental health. When we focus on who we are it subsequently opens a path for us to reach our full potential. If wealth is your goal, don't fall for the facade that your day job will get you there. Use your job as a tool to propel your life's purpose.
Do you leave your day job feeling fulfilled or is there a yearning inside of you to do something more?
**Lesson 3: Actively Engage with YOUR Life**
Life is an active pursuit, not a spectator sport. Understanding that actions define outcomes, I encourage you to be committed to a purpose regardless of your circumstances to get what you want out of life.
Les Brown said, "You don't get in life what you want, you get in life what you are." This means that the energy and effort you invest will determine your outcomes. This perspective invites self-analysis: Are you contributing meaningfully to society?
Over the last decade, I've often thought about whether I'm living up to my expectations and embracing life to its fullest. Life can sometimes thrust us into crisis mode, causing doubt and a tendency to step back. I think back to a time when I felt inferior compared to my peers who were advancing in their careers while I was working as a flagger to manage student debt. During this growth period in my life, I constantly had a feeling that I could do more and felt almost inferior falling into the trap of comparing my life journey to that of my peers who were well on their way in their careers. Through this self-discovery, I had to come to terms with my own choices and circumstances that led me to where I was. Though I did not place myself in this financial hardship, I knew I could not rely solely on a job as a flagger to grow my family, propose to my wife, buy properties, and all the other many ambitions that ran through my mind.
I had to remind myself:
You don’t get in life what you want, you get in life what you are.
Not allowing yourself to be a spectator in life means you are actively in the pursuit of something greater, beyond your current situation, you have committed to your purpose and vision. No longer do you allow opportunities to pass by. No longer do you deny yourself from experiencing the joy of life.
I realized that to change my circumstances, I needed to act. This mindset shift encouraged me to commit to my purpose and vision actively. What seemed like a distant goal filled with roadblocks, became open doors to opportunities to pursue my goals. As a result, my persistence and competitiveness didn't allow me to settle for being a flagger. Soon after I worked in the juvenile justice system which ultimately opened the door to a corporate America managerial position with benefits that allowed me to finish my bachelor's degree for free.
My biggest lesson learned through that experience was that actions define outcomes. Stay ready, so you don't have to get ready. When the opportunity presents itself, act decisively.
**Lesson 4: Prioritize Mental Health and Well-Being**
The correlation between mental health and building wealth cannot be overstated. Overcoming my mental health struggles and seeking therapy was a transformative step toward self-healing. While growing up, there were no courses to teach me how to manage my mental health, and my understanding was limited. Issues such as social injustice and police brutality compounded the stress and anxiety I experienced. These unfortunate tragedies were etched into my memory forever and drew a constant flow of frustration, anxiety, and uncertainty.
For years I would hear as a high school or college student “You’re too young to have stress, what could you possibly be struggling with?” Those statements made me second guess if what I was feeling was real and as a result, I never actually addressed the emotions I felt. In the black community, we often hear it’s taboo to discuss mental health for fear of being labeled as “crazy” or “not all the way there”. Often we allow friends or even family to manipulate our values and cross boundaries at the expense of our well-being.
Acknowledging and addressing emotional challenges is essential for growth and evolution. Though it can seem frightening and even frustrating to confront emotions, I've learned a great deal of emotional intelligence and more about myself than I could have ever imagined by taking a real look at my mental state and prioritizing my sanity. As life becomes more challenging, you must take time to realize your boundaries for what you can and can not tolerate in your space.
You may wonder: do my friends and family truly know me?
Am I valued in this relationship?
Emotional intelligence builds the framework for your emotions and actions. The other week I was listening to Jennifer Lewis discuss her battle with Bipolar disorder and the denial she existed in for years by not caring for her mental health. As a result, relationships were broken, depression set in and life seemed useless. She conveyed her journey and ultimate decision to go to therapy after she retrospectively asked herself; “do I want to live or die?”
Embracing life means learning new skills, and ideas, and developing a mindset to overcome roadblocks. We can no longer live in a denial that keeps you stagnant. The responsibility we assume as adults is bound to test our minds, values, principles, and even mental health. As you navigate these key foundational years, don't hesitate to seek out resources that can empower and support you on your path to prioritizing mental well-being.
Here are a list of resources to get you started:
Psychology Today Directory of African American Therapists:open_in_new : detailed therapist listings for states and major cities
Black/African American, Behavioral Health Equity, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration:open_in_new : information page from the agency that runs the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (800-273-8255) for confidential support for those in distress and National Helpline (800-662-4357) for treatment referral and support.
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance: This is the leading national organization focusing on mood disorders. Offers peer-based support and additional resources online and in person.
Practice mindfulness: Being present and fully engaged at the moment can help you appreciate the small, joyful things in life.
Exercise regularly: Physical activity releases endorphins, which are natural mood boosters that can promote laughter and joy.
Cultivate hobbies: Pursue activities that genuinely interest and excite you, as they can bring happiness and fulfillment.
**Lesson 5: Discover Your Source of Inspiration**
Life's journey is driven by what inspires us. In our 20s, discovering this source of inspiration is pivotal. Whether it's a person, a cause, a passion, or a purpose, understanding what fuels our drive is crucial. I often reflect on what motivates me and keeps me moving forward during challenging times.
For me, my source of inspiration lies in my desire to make a positive impact on the world. Every day, I aspire to contribute to something larger than myself, whether it's through my work, interactions, or creativity. This drive propels me to push boundaries, continuously learn, and strive for growth.
What is your why?
In your 20s, take the time to explore and identify what truly inspires you. It might be a mentor, a personal goal, a community you're passionate about, or a vision for a better world. Embrace and nurture this inspiration as it will be a guiding force throughout your journey, propelling you toward living a fulfilling and purposeful life. Remember, your inspiration is the spark that lights the path to your success and fulfillment.
In my article How Motivation and Prayer Helped Me Overcome Self Doubt, I share how I used motivational content and prayer to deepen my spirituality and self-confidence. This ultimately helped me overcome depression by reassuring me that I was put on earth with a mission. I have to live with what's in me! There are no guarantees in life. Although motivational lectures and videos are not for everyone, you must find your source of motivation before you go through challenges. That's how you guard your mind.
You need real energy in life. They say the most important time is the first 20 minutes of your day. So it became a habit for me in my early 20s as a young college student to watch motivational videos that inspired me and gave me hope. Prayer also became a way for me to connect with myself and my spirituality. For others, it may be reading, painting, photography, or watching nature. Whatever brings you that sense of positive reassurance, pursue it.
As you build your financial and emotional wealth, don't forget to reach out and back to someone else. Share your story that may inspire someone else. Be selfless in your efforts to pour back into others who are willing to listen. You will be amazed at how exposing youth and even adults to new ideas and environments can inspire them. I emphatically believe that information brings inspiration, and use that inspiration to take you to your destination.
**Lesson 6: Embrace Laughter and Share Joy**
Laughter is a powerful tool, reducing stress and fostering a positive attitude. Embracing humor not only helps us cope with life's challenges but also brings joy to those around us. If it’s one thing I love, it’s a good laugh. Growing up in Baltimore, I remember being so excited to get to the cafeteria during lunch because I knew we would have a “pack session” while eating our food. A “pack session” is a modern-day “roast” in Baltimore. It made you tough and creative and for me, it helped me realize my ability to bring joy and laughter to others. It was an untapped skill that I learned to use in the most stressful situations to bring laughter to myself and others around me. All innocent fun and games, of course.
According to a study performed by the Mayo Clinic, laughter has been proven to activate and relieve our stress response and soothe tension in our bodies. In other words, laughter is quite literally aiding our bodies in creating a healthy mental state; so laugh more. Find joy in the present. Focus on the here and now, don't think you need to have everything figured out in your 20s. Choose to embrace a joyful life, and when faced with challenges, offer even more of yourself, and observe how the universe supports you. Wealth will come when you prioritize your peace.
What fills your heart with joy?
When did you last share a deep laugh from your soul?
Here's a list of a few of my favorite comedies that keep me laughing:
A host of top stand up comedies
Roast Me Presented by All Def
**Lesson 7: Master Financial Management**
Understanding the dynamics of money and its impact on mental well-being is crucial. We previously discussed the importance of mental health in building wealth but the reverse is also true. Poor financial management can also negatively affect our mental health. A few days ago my wife and I were watching a Netflix documentary “ How to Get Rich” highlighting the power and relationship of 8 households in unique financial situations, all seeking expert advice to live their lives with more abundance while minimizing financial roadblocks. I couldn't help but reflect on my financial journey and how my family discussed (or didn't discuss) money growing up. Although my parents did their best to educate us, they did not have the necessary understanding or education to tell my sisters and me everything we needed to know about financial literacy.
Growing up I watched my parents worry over not having enough disposable income or huge savings. Although my parents did not go to college I watched them hustle tiresly at their job and they took great pride in their work. Unfortunately they did not have the necessary knowledge in the broad world of finances because the information and importance was never passed down to them. Due to what I saw in my community and household growing up, I developed an unhealthy relationship with money. There no were classes on assets vs liabilities to uncover information that could shave off years or maybe a generation from repeating the proverbial cycle. I saw it cause issues so instead of managing my money correctly , I would avoid discussing it all together.
The How to Get Rich documentary revealed truths about each couple and their money habits, it also dug deep to understand how they learned their money beliefs. I resonated with many of their emotions around money, some of which drove their spending habits to accumulate debt putting their lifestyles at risk. My anxiety around money and the shame I experienced almost talked me out of watching the documentary. It’s fascinating how f.e.a.r. ( False Evidence Appearing Real ) can be so debilitating and keep you from leveraging each opportunity that may free you from that fear. Don't allow fear of the unknown to keep you from taking the necessary steps toward financial freedom.
**What I Recommend:**
1. **Create and Stick to a Conscious Spending Plan:**
Develop a budget and adhere to it diligently, ensuring financial stability and achieving your goals.
2. **Educate Yourself on Money Management:**
Gain insights into how money works and harness this knowledge to enhance your financial well-being.
Understand the intricate relationship between mental well-being and achieving a 'rich' and fulfilling life.
4. **Build an Emergency Fund:**
Establish a safety net equivalent to at least three to six months of living expenses to ensure financial stability during unexpected events.
By using these lessons in your own life, you can start a journey of learning and becoming stronger and more focused. Every little step you take is a move toward a happier and more satisfying life. Keep your spirits high and don't forget to share these tips with a friend or someone special to you. Believe that the best part of your life is still waiting for you – your future is bright!