Ep. #29: Survival

Does the idea of getting Rich & Thin appeal to you on some level, but it also feels out of reach or not quite important enough to pursue in light of your worries and problems? If so, listen to this episode because it explains why pursuing wealth is anything but frivolous. It’s essential to your survival and a very important thing to do.


Welcome to Rich & Thin™ Radio, the only podcast that helps you get more bank with less bulk. Today’s episode is for all the folks who are thinking, Rich & Thin? Good for you, lady. I’m just trying to survive out here. I’m Kelly Hollingsworth and if this is what you’ve been thinking, I’m glad you’re here because the act of creating wealth is in my mind the essence of survival, and today we’re going to talk about why that’s the case, because it helps a lot to get clear on why you’re doing something, what your primal motivating is, because that goes a long way to making it easier for your brain to help you make it happen.

So to start off, I’d like to share with you a few reasons that I’ve been thinking about survival this week.  First, I had occasion to speak with someone who was wondering about restraining orders. This isn’t something that I do, it’s not my area of legal practice at all, but as a lawyer once in a while people ask me, “Should I take out a restraining order on someone?” or they want to know how to do it.

And I never answer these questions as a lawyer. I always answer them as a coach, because here’s the deal: if you are actually concerned for your personal safety, if you think someone is gunning for you and you are afraid that they may do something to you, a lawyer sitting at a desk is not your first line of defense. In my mind, the first thing to do is to put some barriers between you and that person who’s after you, and I mean real barriers. Not illusory barriers such as a piece of paper signed by a judge, but actual barriers such as some serious distance between the two of you, and a location that that other person cannot determine. This kind of thing is key, because if you are truly afraid that someone is going to do you harm, the legal system, for the most part, is there not to help you in advance of the harm, but to affix blame and assign punishment after something bad has happened. Unless you’re going into protective custody, the legal system is not there to help you beforehand, and that’s when you really need it. The survival goal for every person should be to avoid the bad thing in the first place.

But I have to tell you, when I have these conversations, often people don’t want to leave, even when they truly believe their lives are on the line. Why not? Invariably, it comes down to money. The person who’s frightened says, “I wish I could leave, but I can’t afford it.”

I’m also thinking about survival this week because I’m recording this on the anniversary of September 11th. I was in midtown Manhattan that day, working out of the office of one of my clients, and I remember feeling like the only person in the office who wanted to plan for contingencies in case things got worse. So I went down to the street, I was working on the fiftieth floor at the time I think, and by the time I got to street level to buy some food and bottled water, I discovered that credit cards didn’t work. So I went back up to the office to ask everyone there, who has cash? I had a few hundred dollars, and I was going to collect all the cash that everyone else in the office had to buy as much shelf-stable food and water as we could get. And I remember more than one person in the office telling me, “I don’t have any cash at all. I won’t have any until payday.”

Now, of course, if credit cards weren’t working, it may have been the case that we couldn’t have pulled cash out of bank accounts, either, even if the cash was there. But the cash wasn’t there, and I do remember thinking, what if you guys needed some money for an emergency and you didn’t have any? What would you do then?

Now, as it turns out, there was no pressing need for food. All of the food and water that I bought at Duane Reed and lugged back to the office just sat in the conference room untouched. And then, days later, after it was apparent that we were all going to survive and everyone was going to be okay, everyone who was working there thought to take a look at what Kelly’s “bomb shelter” was stocked with. And it was bottled water, fig newtons, and peanut M&Ms. That was what they had at Duane Reade, so that’s what I bought and lugged back to the office. And everyone had a good laugh about that, and my client, the hedge fund manager with that midtown Manhattan office, served peanut M&Ms from my bomb shelter in a glass dish on the reception desk for about a year after that. And everyone continued to have a good laugh about my bomb shelter every time a new bag of peanut M&Ms was opened.

But what was interesting to me in that scenario was, what would have happened if things really did get worse? As I was heading out to stockpile food and water in case we needed it, my client, the CEO of that hedge fund, told me, “Kelly, you’re living in a movie. ” And I pointed out the window at the smoke and the fire where the World Trade Center used to be, and I said, “The twin towers just fell down. Do you think something bad can’t happen to us today?”

Now some of the people in the office did think that something bad could happen. They were scared and they were worried about food and water just like I was, but they didn’t have one dollar to put toward that effort. And I’m not talking about cash. They literally did not have any money in the bank, as I said earlier. So if they couldn’t borrow money to acquire what they needed to survive, they weren’t going to survive, and in this respect, they were not unusual. A recent survey by bankrate.com shows that 65% of Americans can’t come up with $500 to cover an emergency.

And we don’t like to think about this, but emergencies do happen. After hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico went without electricity for 11 months. I think some homes there still may not have power. There are communities in California right now where certain homeowners do not have running water to their homes. People with money in those kinds of situations get out of them. They get on a plane, or they get in their car, and they go somewhere else. Those who don’t have money find themselves stuck.

And this may seem far-fetched, but what isn’t far-fetched, what is very likely to occur to every single one of us at some point in our lives, is disability, industry disruption, or job loss that curtails our incomes for a period of time. Sometimes it’s a long time. My husband, for example, has been laid off for about three years not once but twice in his career. Savings saved him during those layoffs.

My work slowed down when I suffered a hiking injury in 2015, and it came to a grinding halt this past January 2018, when my physical therapist I was seeing for that hiking injury crunched my rib cage and brought on an entirely new set of injuries that completely curtailed my work and my earnings. And while I was recovering from those injuries, savings saved me.

This kind of thing happens all the time. It’s critical that we have a cash cushion, and that’s an important point by itself, but now I’d like to tell you why this is an especially important point to stress in a podcast for entrepreneurs. There are three reasons why it’s important.

The first reason is that I’m seeing an alarming trend among listeners as well as my clients who have come to me through the podcast, and it’s that many of you are coaching yourselves into complacency. You’re managing your minds to feel good about accepting and living in situations that present intolerable risks.

I talk a lot in the podcast and with my clients about how every circumstance is neutral and how we can manage our minds around every situation. Nothing is a problem until our brains decide it’s a problem. But another thing I want you to notice is that there are times when our brains should think about things as problems. What are these times?

If your child is arrested for, say, a murder he didn’t commit, that is a problem because the electric chair or life in prison is an outcome that you don’t want for your child. You can manage your mind around that circumstance, and you should, but another important thing to do is take action to avoid the outcome that you don’t want, by hiring  the best legal defense available.

If your spouse is diagnosed with a rare form of cancer, it’s a problem because you don’t want your spouse to die. And you can manage your mind around that circumstance, and you should, but another important thing to do is take action to avoid the outcome you don’t want, by buying the best medical care available.

So here I want to clarify exactly what I mean by the word “problem.” In the sense of stoic philosophy, every circumstance is neutral, and as I just said, nothing is a problem until your brain decides it’s a problem. So for the sake of this episode, let’s define a problem very carefully as the risk that an outcome you don’t want to occur that is likely to occur. It’s not the “risk” of a bad emotion and nothing else. If you can manage your mind and a problem completely disappears, it’s not a problem at all. A problem is when all the mind management in the world, by itself, isn’t going to take care of things. There is a tangible negative outcome on the horizon that you don’t want, and action is necessary to avoid it, or will help to avoid it.

What are the actions that are necessary to avoid problems? In polite society, no one likes to talk about this much, but when we’re talking about survival, many of the actions involve laying out cash. If it’s a legal problem that presents a risk to survival, you buy the best defense available. If it’s a medical problem that presents a risk to survival, you buy the best medical care available. You do other things, too, of course. You take the steps you can take on your own to mitigate danger. But it would be sheer folly to ignore the fact that if you have a problem that money would solve, and you have the money to solve the problem, you don’t have a problem. You just lay out the cash and avoid or mitigate the risk of the outcome that you don’t want, and you don’t have to manage your mind around tolerating the intolerable, because you’re safe.

And here’s something else that we really don’t like to talk about in polite society: money solves almost every problem. No matter what happens around my house or in my life or my business or with my loved ones, if something happens and someone says, “Well, THAT’s a problem,” I always say, “If we have the money to fix it, it’s not a problem.” It’s not even on the radar as a problem. We just fix it, and then we can use our brain power for more interesting things, such as serving more people and earning more money. That keeps us safer.

This brings me to my second point for why I’m talking about survival in a podcast for entrepreneurs.

There is a bright line difference between struggling and successful entrepreneurs, and the difference is what they view as the source of their survival. I’ll use my father-in-law as an example. When he returned from Vietnam as a young father and husband, he started a successful business. And I asked him one day, “Why do you think you were successful?” And his answer was, “Because if I didn’t make money, we didn’t eat.”

Contrast this with struggling entrepreneurs. When I’m working with someone who is spinning their wheels in start-up mode, or struggling to get their business off the ground or into profitability, we go through a basic four-step process. The first thing we do in any business is determine what the offer is. What are you going to offer? Then we develop the message that describes the offer in a way that resonates with people and excites them about what the offer is. Then we deliver the message, this is the process of marketing and selling to prospective customers. And then last part is simply the transaction, where the business delivers the goods or service in exchange for money.

Business is that simple. It’s just four steps, whether you’re operating a hedge fund or a lemonade stand. But where it goes awry for struggling entrepreneurs in typically in three areas. One, often they’re trying to deliver the message about their offer before they really know what the offer is and before they’ve determined what they’re going to say about it. This is a big problem that I’ve discussed in previous episodes, because it’s easy to set up the tech to deliver a message, to do a facebook ad or set up a website,  but it’s not so easy to develop a message. So that’s one thing that I work on with my clients.

But another thing that I often see in going through the basic four steps of business with struggling entrepreneurs is that often they’re not attaching the process of executing these four basic steps to their own survival. Instead, they’re either looking to something else they’re doing as the means of their survival, maybe it’s the job that underpays them because that job feels “safe,” or they’re abdicating the responsibility for their own survival and giving it up to some higher power, such as God or the universe.

And to those who are waiting for the universe or a higher power to provide, the best I can offer is this idea. It’s a joke I heard somewhere. A man prayed every night for God to please just let him win the lottery. And one night, after years of fervent prayer, God answered in a frustrated voice: “Buy a lottery ticket!”

To the other point, if you’re one of the many struggling entrepreneurs who is looking away from your business towards something else–a job or some other source of income or financial support–as your means of survival, you are going to have a really difficult time getting your business off the ground. And the reason you’re going to have a hard time with this is because of the way your brain works.

If you tell yourself that you are surviving by doing what you do, the thing that’s not your business, your lower brain, the part of your brain that is all about making sure you survive, is going to freak out if your higher brain decides it’s time to do something else such as focus on your business. It’s going to wonder why the heck you would move away from survival towards danger. And your lower brain is very powerful, so make no mistake, when survival is on the line, it will stop everything to make sure that you survive.

This is why I’m not crazy about diets and budgets. When we restrict, especially with food but with other resources, too, our pre-frontal cortex, our higher brain, which is responsible for planning and goal-setting and execution functions, is in the driver’s seat. It’s saying, “Look, lower brain. We know you want this food or whatever resource is being restricted, but we’re setting a goal here, so you’re just not going to have what you want anymore.”

Picture your lower brain in this scenario as a two-year-old hearing this from the taskmaster adult kill-joy that is your higher brain. Your lower brain may go along for a time, because it’s the child and for the moment, the higher brain appears to be in charge. But eventually, when the restriction becomes bothersome enough, or the risk to your survival seems serious enough, the lower brain is going to take over. It’s no longer a little game anymore. When things are getting serious, the lower brain is going to kick into high gear.

This is a little bit like a tantrum thrown by a two-year-old. Have you ever witnessed one of those? Some chubby little cherub suddenly becomes hungry and tired, and he’s melting down and kicking his feet and stiffening his back, and you’re waiting for his head to spin around, and suddenly, all logic and reason and planning and goal-setting flies out the window and the only thing on the agenda is taking care of that kid and calming him down.

This is exactly what happens to a lot of people in their brain during a diet or a fast. Initially, all seems fine, but eventually the lower brain fears for its survival and kicks up a fuss, and the tables are turned and your higher brain finds out who’s really in charge. This is when we find ourselves, cookie dough in hand, wondering where the diet went. And this is one additional problem with fasting that I should mention in addition to the other problems that I pointed out in Episode 17. But in any case, if you suffer from a dieting/binging cycle, or a budget/spending spree cycle, or any other kind of broke-and-bulky sabotage that our lower brains like to lead us into following a period of restriction, the way out of that is to get your lower brain and your higher brain on the same page. Your lower brain must be certain that your survival is going to be taken care of, and then your higher brain can begin making better choices to meet the goal without being interrupted by a tantrum or a total meltdown when your lower brain starts to fear for your survival again.

How do you do this? You do it the same way you would deal with a two-year-old. You take your two-year-old by the hand and you show him the new place you’re going to is not scary, it’s great.

If you want to end binge eating, you assure your lower brain that you are now going to feed your body at regular intervals so your lower brain knows that survival isn’t an issue anymore. You can also spend some time instructing your lower brain that donuts may be fun once in a while, but that over the long haul, they present serious risks to survival. And when you do things like this, your lower brain eventually learns the drill, just as a well-trained toddler eventually learns the drill, and when that happens, your lower brain stops screaming at you for you to binge on thousands of calories when your higher brain has checked out for the day.

And you can do the same thing to stop your lower brain from throwing a fit when you want to work on your business. If you’re currently not attaching your survival to your entrepreneurial efforts—if you’re thinking that something else you’re doing, such as the low-paying job, or the high-paying job that really doesn’t pay that well once you consider all the hours you’re putting in—if you’re considering that that is where your safety lies, your lower brain needs an education in exactly what is unsafe about that lower paying job so you can get your lower brain clear on where the safety actually is.

You know your lower brain isn’t on board with your business if, every time you decide to get serious and work on your business and level up your earnings, that works for a little bit but then a voice inside you starts slowing you down. At first it may say, “You know, this is fine. It’s not a lot of money, this job that we’re doing, but we don’t need much. We can get by on this.” And then it may say, “What exactly do you think you’re doing? I don’t think this is going to work. You’re wasting your time.” And eventually, it may scream at you, “Danger! You’re running towards a cliff. Stop now.”

Whatever it says, whatever the message is, if your lower brain thinks you are running away from safety and towards danger, it will speak louder and louder and louder until you’re so uncomfortable that you will eventually heed it and back off from your business.

But an important thing to notice here is that your inner two-year-old may be loud. It may be insistent. But it isn’t always right, because what do we know about two-year-olds? They will wander around with messy pants and sweet potatoes all over their shirts and think everything is fine.

When one of my clients has a misguided two-year-old running amok in the midst of our four-steps-to- business-success, the education that I help my clients provide to their lower brains is to get clear on exactly why things aren’t fine. In a restraining order situation, the role I play is to get the person who fears for their life clear on why a lawyer isn’t their first line of defense. In a financial situation, a business situation, the process is largely the same.

Many of you are facing the financial risk of intolerable outcomes, and you’re not addressing those risks because you’re ignoring them. You’re pretending these kinds of risks are normal. And certainly they are normal if you want to define normal as what everyone else does. But that doesn’t mean they’re tolerable, and it doesn’t make them okay. Some of you are about one job loss or one paycheck away from losing your homes. Some of you are under-earning and thinking it’s fine as you burn through your excess cash to cover your living expenses. Many of you have gone through all of your excess cash, and your monthly shortfall is going on credit cards every month.

This is not the time to coach yourself into thinking things are fine and that an abundant universe will somehow provide. It’s not the time to “manage your mind” into feeling better if that mind management and the feeling better is designed to allow you to ignore what’s happening and bury your head in the sand of a dwindling cash position and ever-increasing credit card debt. It’s the time to get real that your survival is at risk, and to take action. And the action I suggest you take is to get your higher brain and your lower brain on the same page and operating with a realistic view of where the dangers in your situation actually are, so you can start generating some real cash for yourself. That’s where the safety is, my friends, and it’s what I want for every one of us.

This brings me to my third point for today. I said there were three reasons I’m talking about survival in a podcast for entrepreneurs, and the third reason is that I want to tell you why, in my mind, the pursuit of Rich & Thin is not a frivolous endeavor. The phrase “Rich & Thin” has always appealed to me on a primal level, and I always knew there was something there far beyond, “Oh, wouldn’t that be nice” or looking good at a cocktail party or in a bathing suit while dripping with diamonds. It’s not about that, and I always knew that, but now I think I can finally articulate what the primal appeal really is.

As I’ve been working with clients who have come to me through this podcast, and speaking with listeners of the podcast in the free session I’ve offered, and looking back on my own journey from poverty to where I am today, one thing I’m realizing is that when I was starting out, my motivation was not freedom. It was survival. To the extent that I’ve enjoyed financial success, it’s because I was very aware that money equals survival in more situations than we care to admit. I grew up with a clear picture that lack of money equals risk, and money mitigates risk.

I also grew up with the same ideas about being thin. I often heard my father say, “No one loves a fat girl. You’d better watch it.” Our brains equate love with survival–we evolved that way because if you were a caveman’s kid and no one loved you, watch out. So I connected the concept of being thin with avoiding being shunned by the tribe and cast out into the wilderness.

Now, my dad didn’t say these things to me directly. I was really skinny as a kid, but he said them to my sisters, and I heard them over and over again, to the point that my unsupervised brain was programmed with this message. And then, when my dad left and we had no money, that’s when I found myself binging on food for the first time in my life. I think my kid-brain connected, “he’s gone” with “we’re financially at risk” with “better not get fat” with “better not eat.” And I stopped eating. I went through an undiagnosed period of what I think was anorexia, where I remember being at school and trying to get by on half a banana for breakfast and the other half at lunch. And soon after that period, I started binge-eating when I got home from school. I think my lower brain went into overdrive to make sure that I ate something.

The message from my father was the first place that I heard the admonishment not to weigh too much, but it isn’t isolated, and it’s usually not explicit, but I believe there’s a big financial component built into that. Sometimes it is explicit. As an adult, my mother once said to me, “Save your money, sweetie, because once your looks start to go, it will be so much harder,” as if I was a supermodel or something, which I definitely wasn’t. Recently I googled the phrase “Rich & Thin,” and I found a hit where a mother admonished her daughter, “The smaller the dress size, the bigger the apartment.”

We all know, even if we don’t say it out loud, that what you weigh is related to how much you earn and what your financial position is. So I want to be very clear that I am not blaming my parents here. They were trying to help me, because this message about equating “must not get fat” with social acceptance and fiscal survival is the predominant message in our culture right now, especially for women. Women who weigh more earn less. Studies show that over and over again. But lately, this issue also applies to men. Their eating is getting more and more disordered as they also are absorbing the narrative that what you weigh determines how accepted you are and how much you earn.

So now, taking all this in, what I’m realizing after 29 episodes, is that to me, Rich & Thin means that you’re able to survive. That’s why I sought it out in the first place. I’m also realizing that a funny thing happens on the road to survival. As you put yourself on higher ground, in terms of your fiscal and physical safety, what do you find? Freedom. You find freedom from life’s hassles and doing the things you don’t want to do. So freedom is the end result of the effort, but I’m not sure it’s the motivator for most of us. Our lower brains want to survive—freedom is a consideration for later, if it comes at all.

So I think that survival is the primary primal desire that entrepreneurs must appeal to achieve success. They must direct their brains—both their lower brain and their higher brain–toward true safety and away from the illusory safety of low cash flow that can be found in a job.

So the last thing I have for you today is a question. What does the phrase “Rich & Thin” mean to you? For me it’s about survival first, and then the freedom that follows, but I’m not sure that’s what it conjures up for others. One podcast marketing expert who contacted me about promoting this show asked, “What is this about? Is it like, skinny girl vodka or something?” Some people hear the name and laugh and clap their hands because they love it, but many people shrug at the name Rich & Thin™ Radio and say, “That will never be me.” They walk away. The often-unspoken part is, that nonsense isn’t for me. I’m just trying to survive, so whatever this show thinks it has to offer isn’t applicable to me.

But this a serious show about creating serious wealth, and the reason to create it, in large part, is because it keeps you safe from any negative outcome that money can prevent. This is survival any way you slice it. So I’m curious what you think. Does the name of the show match the content for you? Or is it jarring or not terribly indicative of what the show is about? It sounds kind of funny to say, but I started this show on opioids, and the name seemed like a great idea at the time, but I would really like some feedback from you as a listener. If you have some thoughts that you’d care to share about the phrase “Rich & Thin,” particularly as it relates to the title of this show, or just in general, I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at kelly@richandthin.com. And with that I’d like to say thank you for joining me today. I know this was a little bit longer of an episode than I usually do, so I appreciate your time and I look forward to connecting with you next time.

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