“Gratitude turns what we have into enough.”
From Six Figures to Welfare and Back Again
I’ve experienced two extremes in my financial life:
- Times of high earnings in the six figures. I’m deeply grateful for those seasons of abundance.
- Periods of struggling just to get by and relying on government assistance programs to survive. I’m also grateful for those formative experiences.
You may find it odd that I express gratitude for both the highs and lows on the financial spectrum. Here’s why: each experience offered profound lessons that shaped me.
During the hardest times, when I didn’t know where my next meal was coming from, I learned the value of resourcefulness, humility, and perseverance. I discovered the courage, grit, and faith required to keep going, even when it seemed hopeless.
I learned to be grateful for small blessings — the generosity of friends or strangers, little moments of joy or levity during stressful times, a safe place to lay my head at night. I saw firsthand the critical importance of the social safety net, and just how close we all are to needing help at times.
These lessons in my darkest financial hours grew my compassion and connection to humanity. I will never take basic needs and security for granted after knowing what it’s like to go without.
On the other end of the spectrum, when I was blessed to earn well into the six figures, I learned to be generous whenever possible. I found joy in being able to help loved ones in need, donate to causes close to my heart, and tip or give to strangers.
My expanded income enabled me to become debt-free for the first time. I traveled, explored passions, and funded important experiences. I learned to receive abundance with humility, appreciation and the desire to uplift others.
So you see, gratitude can be found anywhere along the financial continuum. But it requires awareness, letting go of ego, and a willingness to learn from both ease and struggle.
What Does “Ego” Mean in This Context?
Before diving further into my own story, let’s clarify what I mean by “ego” in the context of finances.
I’m talking about our sense of status, identity, and self-importance that can become tied to how much money we have — or don’t have. I’m talking about the tendency to believe on some level that higher earnings make us more successful, worthy, or valuable as human beings.
I’m talking about attaching part of our self-image and esteem to being “rich” or a “high earner.” Basing our sense of security or confidence on having luxuries and status symbols to flaunt socially.
On the flip side, ego also rears its head when finances drop. We may tie self-worth to being able to provide for family at a certain level. Or feel shame and failure if we can’t maintain a lifestyle and have to make cutbacks.
At its core, ego believes “I am what I earn,” and uses income as a measuring stick for self-value. It causes us to cling to certain identities and labels based on bank account balances, out of fear of losing social credibility or a sense of superiority if the numbers drop.
When ego is running the money show, we become deeply attached to maintaining or increasing wealth because we believe it equals success and validation of our worth. Income fluctuations or financial struggles are seen as threats to identity and stature.
Does this resonate for any of you? Well, I’ve certainly experienced the pull of the ego in my own financial life. Let me give you some examples.
When Six Figures Went to My Head
Early in my career, I landed a high paying job that put me solidly into the six figure income bracket. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit it now, but at the time, this really went to my ego!
Finally, I was a “success” in my mind. I had joined the ranks of the elite high earners. I felt important, respected, worthy of envy.
People looked at me differently when they heard about my income. I was proud to have those big numbers on my paystubs. I loved splurging on fancy dinners, clothes, trips, and being the “generous” friend who picked up the tab.
Deep down I attached part of my identity and sense of self-importance to being a “six figure earner.” I didn’t feel like just another average Joe anymore — I was a “big deal.”
Of course, the ego boost I got from making all this money was fleeting. As my salary reached what I considered to be “impressive” heights each year, I always soon wanted more.
I became paranoid about maintaining the affluent lifestyle I’d adopted. I was terrified of losing that income and the sense of success I’d tied to it. I was attached to being seen as a “high roller” businessman.
Making all this money also never completely erased my insecurities or made me feel worthy inside, despite what ego had promised. I was constantly comparing myself to colleagues and friends making even MORE. No matter how big my paycheques were, they never seemed to be enough to satisfy ego.
So while on the surface level getting paid well felt awesome, at a deeper level it also cultivated fear, emptiness, and an insatiable hunger for more. I was always focused on chasing the next dollar instead of enjoying the abundance I already had.
The Inevitable Fall
Of course, that high income I counted on was never guaranteed to last forever. And reality soon set in as the economy took a dive, I changed careers, and my salary was slashed by nearly 80% within a few years.
I’ll never forget opening up my first paystub in my new role, still gasping at the massive pay cut I had taken. My ego was raging! How was I supposed to live on this? How could I maintain my lifestyle? This wasn’t acceptable for someone like me! Of course, I hadn’t saved a penny when I was earning well.
Losing so much income forced me to confront some harsh realities I had been ignoring: I wasn’t actually entitled to or worthy of a massive paycheck. My value and self-worth wasn’t earned or defined by those dollars.
My ego hated hearing this, of course. It took me months to grieve the loss of status and a certain social cache that came with my former income.
I had to take an honest look in the mirror and ask myself: if I’m not a man earning six figures anymore, then who am I? What do I have left that isn’t tied to that former wealth and stroke of luck?
These were uncomfortable questions to sit with. I still cringe remembering some of ego’s greatest hits, like the time I sobbed to my partner: “But I’m a big deal! I shouldn’t be earning so little. This isn’t who I’m supposed to be!”
Talk about entitlement! Thankfully, with time, I realized just because I earned a lot of money once didn’t mean I was entitled to it forever — or that it reflected my value as a person.
I also recognized my education and expertise alone didn’t automatically warrant some huge income. It simply gave me opportunities I needed to consistently show up for and create value from. Value I clearly wasn’t offering anymore.
Losing the golden handcuffs of a huge paycheque was a tough but necessary ego blow. It forced me to rebuild and redefine myself from a more humble place of personal integrity, rather than inflated self-importance.
Eventually, I made peace with this new financial season of making much less. I realized I was still the same capable, talented, hard-working man. My value wasn’t diminished, even if my bank account balance was smaller. I had so much more to offer than just a big income.
In fact, having space away from the pressures and stress of maintaining that former fast-paced lifestyle was a blessing. I could get clear on building a career that truly energized me, rather than just chasing money. I reconnected with simpler joys. I took better care of my health and wellbeing.
Ironically, I found a sense of gratitude and richness during that low income period that had been missing in my “supposed” glory days as a high earner. I was finally building my foundation of self-worth from the inside out, rather than from shallow external signifiers like wealth.
Embracing the Non-Linearity of Life and Finances
Walking through this rollercoaster experience taught me an important truth: life is not linear. Finances and income are not linear.
We can’t expect that every year we will make more than the last. There is no rule that says once you reach a certain income bracket, you must stay there permanently.
Our society sells this myth of linear, perpetual growth and attainment. But in reality, life has many ebbs and flows. Our finances fluctuate greatly depending on factors like career moves, economic conditions, health, responsibilities that arise, and more.
Sometimes we ride a wave and earnings go up for a blessed period of time. Other seasons, the tide rolls out and we make less.
There are no guarantees about how money will flow — or when the next big wave of abundance will come. The key is learning to roll gracefully with the natural ebbs and flows — rather than resisting change or clinging tightly to old identities.
When we grasp this truth of nonlinearity and understand money fluctuates, it helps us let go of affixing our worth to any one temporary season. We don’t have to tie up our self-image in being a “six figure earner” or a “broke college grad” or a “retired millionaire.”
We aren’t defined permanently by any temporary label or state. When we unlink self-worth from earnings, we stay open to the full spectrum of experiences and self-discovery that this financial rollercoaster offers.
Let me share an example that illustrates this…
Letting Go of the $750k Identity
I had a close friend named John who landed an incredibly high paying sales job in his late 20s that earned him over $750,000 dollars annually. For a young guy just a few years out of college, it was life-changing money.
As you can imagine, a salary of that magnitude went straight to John’s ego. He felt like he had become a true “success” and had joined the financial elite. His identity became strongly anchored in being a “$750k a year man.”
John really lived it up enjoying that huge income. He bought a massive house, luxury cars, joined a country club, took exotic vacations — the whole lifestyle you’d expect. He LOVED telling people he made $750k a year. It gave him a huge sense of pride and status.
In his mind, John had become permanently a member of this high income echelon. It defined his sense of self-importance and superiority over others. He felt entitled to those creature comforts for life.
But then, reality struck — as it often does — and John’s world came crumbling down during the 2008 recession. The company he worked for shuttered, and just like that, his $750k salary vanished overnight.
At first, John lived off his investment accounts, but the savings only lasted so long. He ended up living off just $30,000 a year from some pension investments — a massive drop from $750k!
Needless to say, this knocked John’s ego off its pedestal. He was in denial about the dramatic change in circumstances and kept insisting he was still a “$750k a year man.” That was his identity, darn it! This was unacceptable!
When a headhunter reached out to John about a VP role at a company that paid a $325,000 base salary, he scoffed and turned it down. In his mind, taking a job that paid less than half of his prior big salary felt like a step backward. He just couldn’t see himself as someone who “only made $325k.” His ego wouldn’t let him take a blow to status and identity by accepting this position.
I tried convincing John that he needed a serious attitude adjustment. At that point, while he had made $750k once, he certainly was NOT currently a $750k earner. His yearly income had dropped down to $30k. That Director job would have been a blessing and back up to over 10 times his current earnings!
But his ego clung stubbornly to that inflated self-image as a high rolling $750k big shot. He kept holding out for another mythical $750k job, while continuing to deplete his savings just to maintain appearances and keep up his lavish lifestyle.
Sadly, with his ego unwilling to accept reality, John burned through his nest egg pretty quickly. Last I heard, he had downsized to a small apartment and was working as a cashier making ends meet — all because he couldn’t let go of his outdated identity and expectations of a lifestyle he felt entitled to.
I tell this story not to poke fun at John’s downfall — his situation was depressing and I feel compassion for him. But rather to illustrate the perils of letting ego define our sense of self-worth by income alone.
John’s painful journey serves as a cautionary tale for why we must let go of attachment to temporary states or peaks. The invitation during financial highs and lows is to accept each season for what it IS, not what ego says it SHOULD be based on the past.
Using Gratitude as an Anchor in Turbulent Times
As much as possible, I try to keep this beginner’s mindset and stay open and grateful for the lessons of each financial season, whether abundant or lean. Of course, that’s much easier said than done!
I won’t pretend I don’t still occasionally get seduced by the siren song of ego, longing for the “glory days” of wealth. Especially when money is tight and fear creeps in.
In those moments, I’ve found gratitude to be a lifeline — keeping me grounded in something beyond temporary spikes and drops.
Gratitude gently reminds me: “You’ve made it through hard times before, you can do it again. You’ve survived job losses and uncertainty. You’ll be ok.”
Gratitude points out the blessings already here that I still have so much to appreciate — friends, family, memories, skills, a roof over my head. On my darkest financial days, gratitude offers just enough light to keep me going.
I tap into gratitude by listing 5–10 things I’m thankful for unrelated to money — like having my health, nature’s beauty, good conversations, heartwarming memories. This simple practice puts financial woes in perspective.
I also nurture gratitude by avoiding the temptation to compare or judge myself when going through slower earning seasons. I may feel jealous seeing friends or colleagues seemingly living large and buying fancy homes and cars. But I have to remember: I never know anyone’s whole story.
Just because someone appears “rich” doesn’t mean they have an easy or fulfilling life. Behind closed doors they may be stressed, overworked, or unsatisfied. Social media facades are deceiving. We are all just doing our best with the hands we’ve been dealt.
Gratitude and self-compassion remind me not to make assumptions or take things personally when I’m the one stretching pennies. I have enough challenges without piling on self-blame for not “measuring up.”
During lean times, I also find gratitude by:
- Letting go of shame and asking for help when I need it — whether selling possessions to pay rent or applying for assistance. We all need community.
- Finding small joys in free or simple pleasures — hiking, making music, quality time with loved ones, exercise, things that can never be taken from me.
- Celebrating tiny windfalls and blessings, like an unexpected refund, gift from a friend, or even just a heartfelt compliment or moment of human connection.
Then as seasons change, and I’m able to earn more abundantly again, gratitude keeps me humble and in service. I focus on:
- Tithing a portion of my income to causes creating positive change.
- Donating goods, food, clothing or money to help those struggling.
- Generously tipping food and retail workers who rarely get paid what they deserve.
- Lending a listening ear and moral support to others feeling financially hopeless. Offering advice if asked.
- Living below my means so I can save to eventually help loved ones in need and have reserves for future downturns.
Gratitude allows me to embrace the full spectrum of experiences and share my gifts no matter what season I’m in. It helps me avoid taking blessings for granted when I have them.
Most importantly, gratitude nourishes constant connection to my true Source — a wellspring of abundance deeper than any material wealth can reflect. When ego tells me “you are what you earn,” gratitude gently counters, “No, you are a beautiful soul. You are enough.”
3 Ways to Apply This Mindset
If you take only one message away today, I hope it’s this: your net worth is not the same as your self-worth.
Who you are is not determined by your income or assets. You need not be defined by any temporary label or financial season — high roller, broke college grad, retired millionaire.
You are a multidimensional person with inherent value. You always have been; you always will be. But I know that’s far easier said than embraced in our society!
So let’s get practical. Here are 3 simple ways you can start applying this mindset of ego-less gratitude in your everyday financial life:
- Reflect on what money ultimately offers — security, comfort, opportunities. But it doesn’t determine your human value.
Start each day naming 5–10 non-monetary things you’re grateful for. This redirects from “lack.”
2. Avoid over-identifying with income fluctuations. Losses are often out of our control. Stay open to new opportunities.
3. Be generous in any way you can — with money, time, a listening ear. Compassion uplifts everyone.
Losses or scarcity are often out of our control. Don’t despair or think you’ll never have abundance again. Stay open to new opportunities.
“Wealth consists not in having great possessions, but in having few wants.”Epictetus
As we conclude our time together, I want to leave you with a message of hope.
This past year has tested many of us financially. When money is tight, it’s far too easy to fall into fear, uncertainty, and thinking the worst.
But you have survived 100% of your hard days so far. Have faith you will get through this too. Stay gentle with and grateful for yourself.
Remember, your value has never been defined by your income or net worth, no matter what society tries to tell you. You are so much more than numbers. You are an extraordinary soul with inherent dignity.
You have gifts to share and purpose to fulfill. Your life matters. You matter.
May you walk forward with an open heart, head held high. Everything you need is within. Be a light. Uplift others. Serve where you can.
This too shall pass. Brighter days are coming. The tide will turn. For now, breathe deep. Enjoy the blessings already here. They are more than enough.
You’ve got this. We’re all in this together. With gratitude as your compass, you cannot lose your way. Your worth was never earned or lost. You have always been, and will always be, ENOUGH.