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If You're Struggling Financially, Weak Social Skills May Be the Culprit

January 18th, 2012 by Steve Pavlina

Often when people are struggling financially, they try to make improvements that never quite work out. One reason is that they're working on symptoms while overlooking the real core issues. If I may be direct, much of the time the main reason people struggle in this part of life is because they have very weak social skills. They may think that limiting beliefs about money, or perhaps a lack of self-discipline, are holding them back, but even people with very abundant lives have limiting financial beliefs and self-discipline challenges.

The real problem isn't your financial skills or your beliefs about money. More often than not, the problem is that you're trying to make money in ways that could be described as socially inept.

People who are socially inept don't understand that money is a social tool. Money is communication. Instead they treat money as an object, as something to collect and acquire. But by using money in this way, they don't realize they're actually trying to use people. And trying to use people is a socially inept way of communicating. People generally don't like to be used as tools, so money doesn't easily flow to socially inept people who attempt to relate to others in this manner. If you're trying to get more money, you're behaving in a socially creepy manner, and so you're going to meet a lot of resistance and will most like meet with failure and frustration.

If you're having some difficulty improving your level of financial abundance, let me share a perspective with you that I think will help. This will be a very down to earth perspective — no need to invoke the Law of Attraction or use terms like "vibrational match" here.

What Is Money?

We know that money is a medium for exchanging value. But what does that mean?

Let's set aside all conspiracy theories for the moment and focus on the practical reality of what money does for us in our daily lives. Money is used for trade. When we use money, we're trading one kind of value for another kind of value.

Using money amounts to trading goods and services, like trading apples for salt, or shoes for a massage.

Now who participates in these trades?

People. Human beings.

Money may seem more abstract than hard goods and services, so it's understandable that people get confused about how to earn it, but imagine what your financial life would be like if there was no money. What would it mean to talk about financial abundance in the absence of money?

Without money in your life, you'd basically have two options for creating abundance. The first option would be to produce everything you desire for yourself. You'd have to grow your own food. You'd have to self-educate. You'd have to design and build your own shelter, harvest all the resources for it, and invent and build your own tools from scratch. You couldn't use anything like a computer or the Internet unless you invented and developed all your own technology, including building your own communication networks. If you wanted to participate in modern society to any meaningful degree, we can safely rule out the go-it-alone approach.

Your second option for creating abundance would be to engage in trades with other people. There are two aspects to this. First, you need to have something to trade. Second, you need to conduct trades, which are social interactions.

So if you go the trading route (which is the only practical choice for most people), there are two fundamental skill sets that will determine your ability to create and enjoy financial abundance:

  1. Your skill at creating value such that others are willing to trade for it.
  2. Your skill at executing trades with others.

Both of these are social skills. Let's explore this more deeply...

Creating Value

It's common to think about creating value for others in terms of your mental and physical abilities, including your technical and artistic skills. Can you write software, create music, fix plumbing problems, or mop floors?

But how do you learn these skills in the first place? From your parents. From schools and teachers. From books. From the Internet. And probably from many other sources. Ultimately, however, you learned your skills from people. You wouldn't even have the most basic skills of reading, writing, and speaking if not for other people.

Yes, you can also learn through direct experimentation, but I'm sure you'll agree that most of what you've learned so far ultimately came from human beings. People created those resources and chose to share them with you. If not for the help of others, you'd pretty much be an idiot, at least by the standards of our modern society.

Now think about what an upgrade in your social skills could do for you here. If you were even more skilled socially, you'd be able to gain access to more and better educational and training resources.

Despite the massive amount of content on the Internet, a lot of knowledge is still fairly private, including some of the most current info that hasn't yet trickled down to the Internet. The only way to learn certain information is through people. Additionally, some skills are just much easier to learn directly from people than through free resources.

What determines your ability to gain access to the best proprietary info? You can buy it, but in the absence of money, your access will largely be determined by the strength of your social network, which in turn is largely determined by your social skills.

So the better your social networking skills, the more opportunities you have for skill building.

Additionally, how do you learn the relative social value of different skills? How do you learn which skills have high trading value (like performing heart surgery) vs. low trading value (like mopping floors)? You learn this from other people too. Do you have a social network that encourages you to learn and develop skills with high trading value? Or do you have a social network that lets you settle for skills with low trading value? If you have the latter type of social network, why haven't you consciously created the former?

If you aren't able to create much value for others (i.e. high trading value), that will surely depress your income. If this is a problem you're currently experiencing, it means your social network isn't doing a very good job of training you to deliver strong value. And if your social network isn't training you properly, then we have to take a serious look at your social skills, don't we? After all, you're the one who's maintaining your social network. If you wanted to change it badly enough and had the skills to do so, you could certainly do that. Lots of people do.

Some people are just lucky. They're born into amazing social networks that prepare them for lives of abundance. Others have to work at it. Either way, your social network is your responsibility. If it isn't serving you, why not change it?

One again, if your finances are lagging and you'd rather not experience that reality, it means your social network isn't doing its job, which means your social skills are lagging, which means you're not doing your job socially. Financial failure and social failure are the same thing.

Trading With Others

Now let's look at the second aspect of creating abundance. Once you have some value to offer, you can engage in intelligent trades with other people to fulfill the desires that you can't or won't fulfill on your own.

What makes for a successful trade? In the long run, this is also determined by your social network and your social skills. Opportunities for trade will come from other people, largely through your social network. If your social networking isn't bringing you abundance-producing, win-win trades on a regular basis, then again, your social network isn't doing its job. And if your social networking isn't doing it's job, why not? That would imply that you aren't doing a good job of creating and maintaining an empowering network, which in turn points to social skills that are lagging.

My intent isn't to beat you down here. My intent is to help you target the right strategy for growth if you've been struggling to create financial abundance. Some people don't see much improvement even after years of working to improve their finances, and that's largely because they never address the underlying social problems that give rise to scarcity. I think you'll experience a lot more growth if you reinterpret your financial problems as social problems. At the very least, it will give you a new avenue to explore.

How Strong Social Skills Can Create Financial Abundance

So how does abundance result from strong social skills?

Let's revisit our two aspects of trading:

  1. Your skill at creating value such that others are willing to trade for it.
  2. Your skill at executing trades with others.

Imagine a person who has amazing social skills. What would that look like, and how would it affect the two trade-related skills above?

First, this person would have more educational and skill-building resources than most people. Great social skills can be used to build and maintain an empowering network of intelligent and resourceful friends and contacts. If this person ever wanted help learning anything, there would always be someone to turn to, someone to suggest and offer quality resources.

As great as Google is, there are some questions that are best answered by human beings. Moreover, a human network can provide abundant emotional support, encouragement, and accountability. Google doesn't care if you procrastinate. Good friends, however, do care.

This socially skilled person would also have a better sense of other people's needs. Better social skills means better empathy and listening skills. So s/he would have an easier time figuring out what to do to create strong value for others, value that people would gladly trade for. The socially inept person, by contrast, would be more likely to create something that nobody wanted, which can be very discouraging.

Next, this highly social person could cultivate a social network that delivers a continuous flow of choice opportunities for quality trades. If this person wanted a job, it could be found through his/her social network. If this person wanted to start a business or offer a new product or service, his/her social network would provide plenty of assistance to make that a reality, including abundant referrals of new clients and customers. Suffice it to say that this person would have a serious advantage.

Our socially inept counterpart, however, would suffer major disadvantages across the board. S/he wouldn't be in the best position for attracting educational and skill-building opportunities, and s/he would also miss out on the choicest trading opportunities. Long-term financial scarcity would be the most likely outcome.

My Social and Financial Expansion

When I look back over the past 20+ years of my life, I see a major correlation between my social skills and my experience of financial abundance. During those times when I was the most solo-minded in my thinking, my finances lagged. But when I put some serious effort into social skill-building and expansion, my financial life improved markedly shortly thereafter.

For example, when I decided to become active in the Association of Shareware Professionals in 1999, I went from earning about $300 per month from my computer game sales to more than 10x that within a matter of months. I can directly attribute the improvement in my finances to the education and opportunities that came to me through my expanding social network.

Until I made that commitment to reach out socially in my industry, hardly anyone knew that I existed. I was never invited to speak at conferences. I had no chance of winning awards and getting free publicity for my products. I never had friends emailing me advice and suggestions and sharing resources.

Both in my own life and in the lives of others, I've seen ample evidence to convince me that financial abundance is largely a result of strong social skills and the intelligent application of those skills. Specifically, this includes the following:

  1. Your ability to proactively befriend intelligent, resourceful people and add them to your social network.
  2. Your ability to inspire people to refer helpful opportunities to you (resources, leads, clients, etc).
  3. Your ability to serve as a positive source of inspiration and opportunities for others (maintaining win-win connections).
  4. Your ability to prune and release dead-weight relationships (avoiding win-lose and lose-lose connections).

To be very direct once again, people who suffer financially generally make the following social mistakes:

  1. They often behave as loners and spend a lot of time alone or with the same few people (social isolationists).
  2. The frequently suffer from approach anxiety and low self-esteem, which discourages them from initiating new connections and creating social expansion (social timidity).
  3. They clutter their social lives with losers who have little to offer in terms of support, resources, and skill-building (low standards).
  4. When they do meet intelligent and resourceful people, they act passively and fail to establish new friendships (lack of intitiative).
  5. They remain loyal to a pity posse that consistently blocks good referrals with fear, jealousy, or sarcasm (clinginess).

I know this sound harsh, but pause for a moment to see if any of this resonates with you.

The Good News

The good news is that if you're currently suffering from financial lack, and if you can see and admit that it just might have something to do with your lagging social skills, there's hope for you yet. :)

It will take time to upgrade your social skills and to overcome related fears and limiting beliefs, but this is a rewarding journey to undertake. If I can go from a shy child who used to play alone in the sandbox to a man who thinks of 3-day public workshops as a form of play... and from debt/bankruptcy to seeing money show up whenever I need it... then why not you?

I can't offer you an overnight fix here (and beware of anyone who promises such silliness), but I do think it will help you to focus on a social upgrade as the key to financial abundance. You can start by browsing my blog's archives and reading some articles on social skills, but this time read those articles with a fresh perspective. How could a social skills upgrade impact your experience of financial abundance?

And if you'd like more help along these lines, please consider attending our February Conscious Relationships Workshop. Although financial abundance isn't the main focus, it's very likely that you'll learn new ideas, tools, skills, and perspectives at this workshop that will help you improve your finances.

As a final thought... the key for me in creating this change was to admit to myself that being a social isolationist wasn't working. So maybe... just maybe... I should try doing the opposite for a while. I was already going bankrupt at the time I made this decision, so I figured I had nothing to lose by changing things up. It seemed worse to perpetuate the patterns I had while sinking into debt, so "do the opposite" seemed like a valid strategy. It took a while to feel comfortable with a more active and varied social life than I was used to, but it worked — faster than I expected. In fact, on the Myers-Briggs test, I actually flipped from an INTJ to an ENTJ during that time, meaning that I switched from an introvert to an extrovert, at least according that that particular personality test.

In the meantime, after sending this newsletter I'm going to fully enjoy some socially abundant time in Hawaii this week with 130 friends. As I sit on my balcony overlooking the ocean, it's a sunny 79 degrees with a light cool breeze blowing through the palm trees. Lately I've been noticing how much I'm enjoying my life — and how different things are today vs. how they were many years ago when everything seemed like a struggle. A key turning point was when I decided to step outside my socially comfortable cocoon of familiarity and to become a more active participant in the world. I started small, first by becoming more involved in an industry trade group, then in a larger subset of my industry, then by writing articles for lots of people, and so on. But it all began with the admission that my comfort zone was becoming a cage, and that I had to abandon it in order to keep growing.

In the long run, growth is a lot more rewarding and fulfilling than comfort.