Let’s talk about money. Oh no, not that!
None of the women I coach ever feel particularly comfortable talking about money. Some of my clients tell me they don’t even talk to their partners about how much they earn. Money, it seems, is one of the most difficult conversations for people to have.
I remember the first time I went to therapy in my 20s and my therapist offered a sliding scale for people like me. I told her that I didn’t want the discount even though I knew I couldn’t afford the hourly rate. When she said she wanted to have a conversation about the fact that I couldn’t talk about money, I refused. I told her I would rather surface any of a multitude of painful childhood memories than talk about money.
My dear friend Brian Portnoy has taught me about “funded contentment”-- something he writes powerfully about in his book The Geometry of Wealth -- and defines it as the ability to underwrite a meaningful life. He suggests we should approach money by first figuring out what makes us happy, and to do that we have to connect with purpose.
I’ve been thinking about how difficult that is today for most people to figure out, let alone achieve. I’ve also been thinking about how often women (like me) have made choices that ultimately hurt us in an effort to achieve what we think is “funded contentment” but is actually an abdication of our power while playing the primary supporting role in funding someone else’s ambitions.
Financial literacy is a must for all women, and understanding financial health must be a primary goal. I’m not a finance coach, but many of the things I discuss with my coaching clients parallel the steps I’ve taken to change my relationship with money.
The first thing I do in coaching and my online courses is help people figure out what they really want. I ask, “if I’m waving a magic wand and everything is how you want it to be, what does that look like?”
It’s not an easy question to answer. Especially in a world where so many others, like parents, partners and leaders in our organizations, tell us what we should want. Advertisements are everywhere bombarding us with one message, you want what we’re selling. You need what we have to be happy.
I spent a lot of years supporting a lifestyle that wasn’t at all what I wanted. And I didn’t even know it. To get to the place I am today required a lot of soul searching. I started with my core values and moved on from there.
Try sitting quietly and visualizing your life. Remove all of the distractions and quiet all of the voices in your head that tell you what you should want.
Ask yourself, “How do I want to live?” “Where do I see myself?”
Begin to cultivate a relationship with your inner self. Only then can you start to think about what you actually need financially in order to make that vision a reality.
When I coach women on what they want in their careers, I often suggest that they do some field work. It’s important to find out what is happening outside of our narrow scope of the world.
If we are considering changing jobs, what do those jobs look like in other places? How do they work? If we want to practice doing something differently, who is doing it that way and how do they make it work?
The same advice holds true for achieving financial wellness. It’s hard to figure out what you need or want when you have not worked out how to manage debt and investments, what a monthly budget entails, how to grow wealth sensibly and what kinds of investments you will need to make in yourself.
For many women, yet again, other people may offer to take care of some of these aspects of life and this leaves us with little sense of what financial health really looks like. This was one of the most devastating and panic inducing aspects of my own marriage. When it came to an end, I had virtually no understanding of what I earned, what life cost, and how to manage my finances.
On some level, it’s embarrassing and painful to admit this. But it’s true and I had to learn a lot fast. Learning about money and finance wasn’t even close to something I wanted to do. But understanding it as a fundamental necessity, in the same way that understanding what I should do to be physically or emotionally healthy, changed my life.
If you’re not in control of your finances at the moment, find someone to help you. Get educated, find mentors, ask people you trust to support you. We don’t talk about money at our peril. Full stop.
I know I write a version of this in nearly every blog, but we have to change our relationship with fear. Feeling safe is an inside job.
Lately, I have been practicing focusing. It’s a practice made popular in the 1970s by Eugene Gendlin. His research showed that we need to have a felt sense of a shift in our bodies in order to change our minds. I regularly use this practice to manage my financial fears.
In the first step of focusing, clear a space for yourself and become an observer of your own self. I start by settling into a chair or the floor and doing some deep breathing.
Next, repeat the words that define the problem and notice what it feels like in your body when you say them. Here’s what I look like: I’m sitting on my living room floor with my eyes closed (and my Corgi next to me) giving myself permission to be with my fear and anxiety. Then I repeat the scary words, “I don’t have enough, and I don’t even know what enough is.”
According to Gendlin, the goal of the exercise is to get a felt-sense in your body of what that fear feels like.
When I started focusing, the fear felt like a flat heavy stone in the pit of my stomach. So I sat with that for a while. I stayed with it as long as I needed to get a real handle on the sensation. Understanding the quality of the sensation and the effect it has on the body (and therefore the mind) is the goal.
After going back and forth between the thought (I don’t have enough) and the felt-sense of it (the weight of the rock in my gut), I began to ask myself questions. What is the crux of this sensation in my body? What would it feel like in my body for it to shift? How can I release, shift or change this sensation?
Over time, the sensation did begin to lessen. And as it did I was able to let go of some of the limiting beliefs that have both held me back and led me to make some terrible choices to avoid the money issue. Gendlin discovered that we have to change the feelings in our bodies in order to change what our brains interpret as truth. As the old adage goes, don’t believe everything you think.
Focusing helped me to change my relationship with fear. As it shifted in my body, it shifted in my mind. And that was when I was able to get back to thinking about funded contentment. How much do I need to earn to afford a meaningful life?
I’ve realized, through hard work, that when I am working with a sense of purpose, I’m in a flow state, where I’m not even aware that I am working. Cliché though it may be, this is when I’ve had the most financial success of all.