When I was in seventh grade, a bunch of twelfth graders grabbed me one day. They tossed me in a trash can, popped a lid on it, then rolled the can (with me and some trash inside) out into the middle of the school’s parking lot. They then administered some kicks to the can and left me there.

I crawled out as they were laughing and high-fiving each other, grinned, shrugged it off, and went on about my business. It was the right attitude to take. A few other seventh graders provided an enormous reaction to the situation – telling the principal, throwing fits, challenging the much older kids to fights. Those reactionary kids were subjected to ever-escalating forms of bullying and hazing, while the ones who just shrugged it off were at worst ignored and at best given an occasional positive recognition from the much older kids.

Now that we’re all adults, we might think that such bullying has been left behind. This is playground fodder, after all – the nonsense and torments of high school is in the past for most of us, right?

The truth is that even as adults, we’re subjected to bullying in various, more subtle ways – and our reactions to that bullying often determines our futures.

Don’t believe me? Take these ideas into account.

Advertising is a form of bullying. The purpose of an ad is to make you somehow feel less adequate if you don’t have the product they’re pitching. In essence, it’s psychological bullying – the point is to make you feel inadequate while the people who have the product are superior to you.

“Keeping up with the Joneses” is a form of bullying. Again, when your peers have certain status objects, these objects can subtly make you feel jealous and make you feel less adequate than you once did. They have a nice new car and you do not – why not? Again, when you buy into the “keeping up with the Joneses” mindset, you’re agreeing to feel superior when you have things they do not and inferior when they have things you do not – mutual bullying.

A boss like Bill Lumbergh, forcing you to work on Saturday and Sunday, is a bully. He’s a bully because he has power over your freedom and he knows it. Such a boss knows that you’re financially reliant on the job you have and that your situation in life, if you were to be fired, would be disastrous. So he uses that power like a club to beat you into submission and to make you give more and more of your time and life energy to the organization.

Fortunately, we have weapons that we can use to fight against financial bullying.

The biggest tool is an appropriate sense of “enough.” You don’t need more things. You don’t need better things. If you’re reading this, in all likelihood, you already have abundance in life. Sure, it’s fine to have some desires, but those things are just that – desires. They don’t define who you are and they aren’t a requirement for living. You already have enough.

Another tool is self-confidence. You don’t need products to make yourself worthwhile – you already are worthwhile. You’re surrounded by people who care about you. You have countless opportunities to do many, many things every day to make the world a better place.

Yet another tool is financial independence. If you’ve been careful with your spending and put yourself in a position so that if you did lose a job it would not be the end of your world, then you’ve got a great deal of financial independence. You can’t be beaten down due to your “need” of a salary any longer, which gives you the freedom to take risks at work and explore new potential areas of employment without panicking or being afraid.

In the end, the solution to bullying is up to you. Do you choose to let the world tell you what to do? Or do you choose to walk your own path with your head held high?

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