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What Speaking Ukrainian Taught Me About Money

I’ve spoken Ukrainian my entire life.  After learning the language from my mother and grandmother as child, I spent every school year Saturday from kindergarten through my high school graduation attending Ukrainian school and scouting in New York’s own “Little Ukraine”.  Summers were booked with various Ukrainian camps, and my Ukrainian community and friendships quickly became (and remain) one of the most important aspects of my life.

So when I had the opportunity to go to Ukraine two years ago, after studying the language, culture, history, etc for the previous 25 years, you better believe I was excited.

What Speaking Ukrainian Taught Me About Money

I arrived in Kiev, the capital city of Ukraine in mid August 2012, almost 70 years after my grandparents fled the encroaching communists.  I was familiar enough with Ukrainian history and the “Russification” of Ukraine to understand that the heavy Russian influence had bled into the language, making it quite difficult for me to understand or communicate.  Luckily, my mother was with me, but even she had trouble.  We’d have to request that service providers like cab drivers and waiters speak in Ukrainian rather than the standard Russian, and even then, communication was a struggle.

Mama and Me in Ukraine’s Capital

After a few days in Kiev we headed westward to L’viv, the city of my family’s origin, and to this day, one of my all time favorites.  While I understood everything in the western regions, known for being more nationalistic and less Russified, I realized that the language I had been learning for the past 25 years was seriously outdated.

I know that might sound a bit bizarre, unless you’ve experienced it yourself it’s hard to explain.  I’d say it was like I had been speaking a pre World War II, western Ukrainian museum piece of language my entire life and then was suddenly dropped into the present day.

The crazy thing is, it wasn’t like this was the language passed down to me just by my own family, it was a language I had spoken with hundreds of members of the Ukrainian Diaspora for years, my entire life in fact.  It was as if we had created our own kind of colonial village- impervious to the changes and evolution of something as basic and fundamental as language.

L'viv, Ukraine
L’viv, Ukraine

So why am I telling you all this?  Other than the fact that it’s a unique experience, and the fact that Ukraine is a major news topic at the moment, my museum piece language got me thinking about money (because honestly, what doesn’t make me think about money?).

I find that people have a tendency to get locked into a way of thinking about their finances, the same way I locked into a vocabulary of Ukrainian that is, in some ways, partially defunct in present day Ukraine.

When you hold on tightly to your first exposure and your initial experience, rather than adapting to the reality of the present, you may find your strategies, be they communicating or transacting, are outdated and don’t serve you as effectively as they could.

Just as I learned a language from my family and surroundings, we learn expectations of our financial futures in the same way.  Our parents’ attitudes and beliefs about money become ingrained in our own money mentality and manifest themselves in our own actions- the way we shop, the way we save (or don’t save), the way we measure success, etc.  Now if you’re parents were money rockstars, then you’re in luck, but if money was ever a struggle, then adapting their money mentality will likely create a similar struggle for you.

That money mentality can lock you into a pattern of destructive financial habits.  If you find yourself constantly broke and struggling with cash, perhaps it’s time to take a second look at those habits and see if the mindset behind them is still serving you.  Or, if like me and my language, you could benefit from some newer and more functional vocabulary.

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