In both our personal and professional lives, lessons come from unexpected places, and applying them can be an enlightening process.
My extended family was going on safari in Tanzania for my parents’ 50th anniversary. We were excited to see elephants, lions, giraffes, zebras, and hopefully a leopard. Birds, however, were not on my list.
I didn’t care one little bit about the birds. Going in, they held no appeal for me at all.
On the trip, which was wonderful, we got really close to most of the big animals — everything we had hoped, even one lonely, endangered black rhino. But the most varied, fascinating and surprising to me was the birds.
- The amazing lilac-breasted roller that looked like it flew through a color run
- The gorgeous sacred ibis who hung out with the hippos
- The aptly-named superb starling
- The flamboyant flamingos who ringed the lake and held their heads nearly upside down to eat
- The red-billed oxpecker which rode on the back of the giraffe in a symbiotic relationship
- The incredible nests of the weavers, so intricately constructed
- The pairs of ostrich everywhere, the bright pink necks of the males broadcasting that it was mating season
- And our favorite, the secretary bird, named for the long, black-tipped feathers on the back of its head which look like pencils sticking out of a bun. (Or the name may stem from the typing-like noise they make when they stomp snakes to death.)
To think I had no interest in this! Left to my own devices, and without the knowledge of our excellent guides, I wouldn’t have paid any attention.
As you can see, I got really into it. And we only scratched the surface. Our head guide had a wildlife book, which was more than half birds. Then he had his bird book, which was several times thicker, and very well-thumbed.
As I learned about the birds of East Africa, they became infinitely more interesting. It occurred to me that there’s a parallel with the world of investing and finances, particularly for women. Here is the analogy.
Many women feel inexpert or disinterested in investing because they don’t feel they know enough. Many worry they’ll make a mistake or a bad decision because they don’t know as much as they should. Women’s confidence in their own financial literacy is lower than men’s, even though in several studies show their actual level of knowledge is equal or even higher!
Did I get discouraged because I started to realize how much I didn’t know about the birds of Tanzania? I could have, but instead I was enthralled, almost childlike. Being open to new learning, not limiting my focus made the whole experience eye-opening and something I looked forward to. In a word, fun.
Did I ignore the birds because I felt inadequate in my level of skill? I did not, because I did not feel at fault — how would I know about East African birds? In the case of money and investing however, many of us believe we should know more than we do, should be more skilled with the mechanics and concepts. But we should not feel ashamed because our educational system does not teach us these things.
The topic became less intimidating as I learned. And I could use my small amount of knowledge in satisfying ways. I could ask more knowledgeable questions which, in turn, led to new discoveries. Whereas with money topics, because we are afraid to reveal that we don’t know, we’re often scared to ask questions, scared to look too far to our left or right. And that does not serve us.
What does this mean for you and your financial world? Dig in! Pay attention, ask questions. The answers will empower you. Trust me, it gets more interesting the more you learn.
Here are some guidelines:
- Know that you don’t need to master the subject before you can make informed and wise decisions. Learn a bit, ask the rest, and never be scared to ask a question!
- Remember my favorite motto: “You don’t have to have all the answers. You have to know the questions to ask — and you have to have the guts to ask them.”
- Work with someone who meets you where you are, treats you with respect, and gives you the tools to feel confident in your decisions.
This is about YOUR future, you need to take care of it. Remember, birds fly!
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