I was a fat kid once.
The class I hated the most was PE. I always finished last, I was horrible at sports, and I was usually sore after that. Later on, I took tennis lessons, and what I remember most clearly about them is the cookies with milk I had right after I came home.
I loved reading, and I especially loved reading the new Mickey Mouse comic with something to eat. Take my old comic books, turn a random page and you’ll often find dried out chocolate spots or little greasy spots with the color of rust (those came from my favorite snack, bread soaked with oil, salt and red pepper).
The food I had while reading didn’t count as a meal. It was something I did sort of automatically, without really being aware. I couldn’t say if I had had one slice of bread or three with the latest Donald Duck story.
And here’s the bummer: I thought everyone else was like this. I didn’t really know it, I just assumed so – when we’re little, we assume every family out there is just like ours, with similar habits and routines.
So in my eyes, all kids ate chocolate while reading books, but not all of them were fat. Obviously, it was just the way I was. It was my genes or something.
As I approached puberty, I started paying more attention to how I looked compared to other girls in my class. There was this girl, “Bubbles”, who sat next to me and was really skinny.
“How do you stay so skinny?!” – I asked her once, with a lot of unhappiness in my voice. “I eat the same as you but I’m fat and you’re not.”
“I take karate lessons,” she said.
“So, I use a lot of energy there. Food calories go to replenish that. There are not enough calories left over to turn into fat.”
Then there was this one time when I made friends with another skinny girl. In between classes, we’d go for snacks together, and I noticed that if I had one pizza, she had half. If I had two waffles, she had one.
One day, she came to my house to celebrate my hamster giving birth to twelve little ones. We had cookies and milk on the table.
I was on my fourth chocolate-chip when I noticed she was still nibbling on her first.
“Have more!” I said. “There’s plenty of those in the fridge, don’t worry!”
“No, thanks” she said. “I don’t want to be fat.”
My God! All that time I thought she was skinny because she was born skinny, and now it turns out she watches her weight?!
I decided to pay attention to the routine and diet the skinny girls in my class had. I had always thought that them being skinny was something that was simply granted to them and came without effort. It wasn’t.
Years later, when I was graduating college, I had money problems. I was always short. But lucky for me, there was this friend I had who always bailed me out. He was so great about it that borrowing money from him became routine.
Sitting at a café one summer day, I asked him for some money again.
“No problem,” he said, “but I have to ask you something… and it’s not that I mind giving you money, it’s just that there is something I don’t understand.”
I told him to go ahead.
“Well, you spent last summer in America and came home with a bunch of money, right?”
“Yeah,” I said. “But that was like, a year ago. Or more. There’s nothing left.”
“Okay… but don’t you make more than I do? You have an office job and I stock shelves.”
“Ummm… I guess so?”
“And your boyfriend and you combined make more than me and my girlfriend combined.”
He reached for his wallet and handed me the cash. “Just wondering.”
I wish I could say that this was a real eye-opener for me and that I started paying attention to his money habits and it was like high-school and the skinny girls all over again. But it wasn’t. It took me several years, a failed attempt at business and a resulting pile of debt before I finally realized I had a problem with managing money.
Too many people out there think that they are “born this way” – for example, they are not good with money or they are not good with weight control or they are always late – and they think that’s just the way they are. They don’t even try to fight it because they think it’s their “wiring” and that it’s too strong for them to go against it.
But that’s not true and I am the living proof: I went from fat to skinny and from broke to well-off. (Read part of the story at Get Rich Slowly: Saving the American Way… and the Bulgarian Way)
People will often assume you are the way you are because you were born this way. If you dress well, they will think you were born with a taste for fashion. They will assume elegant clothing just jumps your way. They will assume the matching necklace simply jumped into your jewelry box. But they will never think that you read three fashion magazines each week to keep an eye on the trends. They will never think that you spent hours looking for that blue dress. They will never think you checked six online stores to find the right necklace for your dress. Oh, and that pretty hair you have – of course you were just born with it! No one will ever think you spend hours and hours each weekend moisturizing, dying and nourishing your hair so it would look as good as it does.
I know how you’d feel in this situation. After I changed my money habits (from spending to saving), the new people in my life would say, “Oh Raya, you are so lucky you are frugal, I’m such a spender and I know it’s bad, I wish I could be like you but I guess I’m just different” and blah-blah NOT TRUE. And how about this: “Oh Raya, you are so lucky that you’re skinny, I’m so fat and I know it’s bad, I wish I could be like you but I guess I’m just different…” NOT TRUE. I’d tell people that I actually worked for it, that I wasn’t always skinny or frugal, and that I’ve changed.
You know what they say to that?
“Oh Raya, you are so lucky you can change, you must have such great willpower, I wish I could be like you but I guess I’m just different…”
I can’t tell them what I think because it would be rude, but I can tell you: I am skinny because I don’t eat whatever I want whenever I want. I’m skinny because I take the stairs for eight floors while others use the elevator. I’m skinny because I try to walk instead of taking the bus. I’m skinny because I never overeat. I’m skinny because I don’t abuse bread, meat or sweets. I’m skinny because I intentionally look for ways to exercise.
As for money, it’s the same way. I always have money because I don’t buy whatever I want whenever I want. I have money because I order low-cost drinks at the café. I have money because I look for low-cost clothes, shoes and purses. I have money because I budget for bills first and for what I want last. I have money because I look for ways to earn extra.
And so, why the rich are rich and the fat are fat… it has nothing to do with their wiring.