Yesterday, I wrote about Failure Lab, an event coming to the Detroit Opera House on November 21. I discovered the event through a tweet by Focus: Hope, which I retweeted. Focus:Hope asked if I would be attending and I replied that I would love to, but don’t think I can afford it right now.
This morning a success coach tweeted me. “…please don’t be offended but I cringe at ds ‘can’t afford’. Try it is not in my budget right nowBetter message 4U!”
So I have been thinking about the subtle difference between these two statements.
Imagine a scenario in which you go into a store and ask how much it is for a candy bar. The clerk says “$1.” You rifle through your pockets and come up with only 50c. Doesn’t it seem woefully euphemistic to say “It’s not in my budget right now” rather than, “Sorry, I haven’t got that much.”?
The coach did not say why “it’s not in my budget” is better 4 me. It was a tweet, after all. So let me try to parse it.
My first reaction was that it implied that it would be shameful to admit you did not have enough money. Instead, you imply that you have enough, you are just not making that a priority in your budget.
I won’t go into all of the reasons again why I think concealing poverty is unhelpful and leads to a cycle of shame. (I wrote a whole book on the subject, after all.) There is another aspect to this that I find more interesting.
Indeed, the success coach is right, studies have shown that a key to happiness is a sense of having control of your life and your environment. Perhaps you can achieve that, at least temporarily, through thinking of yourself as being able to do things but not prioritizing them. “I could if I wanted to, but I chose not to.”
You can carry this further by saying, “I could be making more money, but I have prioritized living in the area where I grew up” or “spending more time with my children” or whatever it is. So everything is still your choice that you do not have a lot of money. You feel you have agency. You feel more content. So if you make it a habit of framing things in a way that gives you agency (even if it is something of an illusion) you feel better about yourself. This was, in fact, a point I made in my book. Don’t think of yourself as a loser, think of yourself as an artist of life who has prioritized the non-financial.
If you think of my message to the organizers as being only about myself then it makes sense that it would be better for my self-esteem to word the message as the success coach suggests. My tweet, however, was not primarily about conveying information about me, it was about a relationship between myself and the people who came up with this creative project. Communicating with other people is not only about self-esteem, it is also about other-esteem.
If I want to express how much I love the idea of what Failure Lab is doing, is it better to say that I would love to go if I had enough money or to imply that I do have enough but that their show is not enough of a priority for me to budget for it?