‘Deciding not to have kids was hard, but essential for designing a life I love’
Ex-accountant Melissa Browne found the secret to ‘designing a life she could love’ was to turn her back on many of the life plans that she had set in stone from age 16 – including having children. Here’s how those hard decisions ultimately set her free… financially and emotionally.
Do you remember the plan you had for yourself at age 16? Or maybe 18 or 20? I’m a planner so for me, it was very clear – I was going to study law, get married, buy a house and have my first child at 28. Simple.
To be honest, growing up in the western suburbs of Sydney, I didn’t realise there were alternatives because I didn’t see them around me. Plus, I’m the firstborn in my family and a people pleaser so my life plan was to keep my parents (particularly, my dad) happy more than anything I wanted for myself.
Something else you should know about me – I’m an implementer so, by my early twenties I’d ticked three things off that list. I was married, I’d bought a house, I was studying law. And I was miserable.
The first thing to go was…
… Studying law. I hated it. But I’m a people pleaser remember, so I moved across to accounting to keep my dad happy. Now, if you’d told me at age 16 I would be an accountant, I would have laughed and then cried and then cried some more. Yet here I was studying and working at something I didn’t enjoy but just happened to be good at.
The second thing to go was…
…My marriage. We don’t need to go into the whys and wherefores only to know that I knew, when sitting in the marriage counsellors’ office, knowing that this was over, that my incredibly conservative, strict, religious parents may never speak to me again. Being a people pleaser, this was a terrifying thought.
As a result of a throw-away line by my ex-husband that I wouldn’t amount to anything without him, I donated the entire proceeds of the divorce settlement to Opportunity International. Of course the next day I wanted to grab it all back because I had, quite literally, nothing in my bank account – including no money for a rental bond, no money for staff wages for my small accounting business, and no money for me.
Starting again, at age 33…
At age 33 all the life plans I’d had for myself were completely blown up. And I’d never been happier. Oh, and the decade-long eating disorder I’d carried with me quite literally disappeared overnight. My suspicion is because for the very first time, I’d decided to take control back over my life and make decisions that were right for me.
Now, I wish I could say I waved a magic wand and within 12 months everything was perfect. Sadly, that only happens in Disney movies. However, over the next decade I implemented a new mantra that replaced my life plan from aged 18, and that was to ‘design the life you love’.
The choice to not have children…
Personally, this has meant choosing to be child-free. A decision that alienated me from my mother for a long time because she didn’t understand how I ‘could turn my mother heart off’. I’m still not sure what that means. It’s also meant starting multiple businesses, writing multiple books and choosing to live part of my week in the beautiful blue mountains and part of the week in an apartment in the city.
But designing the life you love has also been a mantra that I’ve had to remind myself of continuously because it’s so easy to catch yourself doing something and not understanding why. For me, the last thing to go was accounting. Perhaps it’s because I’d built an identity around it. Or maybe it’s because a large share of my income came from the accounting firm I’d built. Or perhaps it’s because I didn’t really believe I could do anything else successfully.
In a way, my body chose for me…
Last year my body made the decision for me. I suffered a compressed nerve in my neck which meant I couldn’t work for three months. During that time, I met with a coach and a good friend who challenged the pace I was going at and what was driving me. I realised, that despite everything I’d done, looked at and overcome, I still had a Money Story that was based on not being enough.
Part of this related to where I grew up, part of this was the result of being the victim of a violent sexual assault in my teenage years, part of this was built around my deep-rooted desire to keep everyone happy and part of this I believe is an intrinsic belief so many women have where the concept of not being enough is sold to us by marketers every single day. So, it becomes part of us and effects everything from our relationships to our finances to our businesses and more.
The questions I ask my clients now, are… ‘What money story is driving you consciously or unconsciously?’ Do you need to rewrite it? And what would it mean you would have to stop doing, and to start doing, as a result?
Melissa Browne is an ex-accountant, ex-financial-advisor and ex-working till she drops – she now works with women particularly, helping them build wealth and grow their business. You can find more about her online, or check out her latest book, Budgets Don’t Work (But This Does). You can find her on Instagram at @moremoneyforshoes.