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Money is a charged topic and one we don’t like to talk about in our culture. It’s our dark little secrets, more intimate than even sex. Yep, it’s that taboo. I believe the reason for this is because money holds so much power and each and every person has her own convoluted, complex (and sometimes dysfunctional) relationship to it.
Because of this emotional charge and the practical necessities of having money I see people go to extremes as a way of protecting themselves. There is the:
Money isn’t the most important thing camp.
Money is the driving force for everything camp.
Unfortunately whichever camp you live in, you are likely an unhappy camper. That is because while money isn’t everything and it certainly isn’t the most important thing, it does touch every aspect of our lives. You need it to live and how much you need depends on your desired lifestyle. Just don’t mistake lifestyle for having a life.
While having more money can be empowering, it is not empowering in and of itself. I can’t tell you the number of people who earn multiple six figures or more that feel more trapped and controlled by money than anyone who is scraping by and bootstrapping their way through each month.
Money drove my decisions before I even consciously knew what was happening. Beyond all the money messages received as a child growing up in the world, the biggest turning point I remember was when I first went to college. I had ideas about what I would love to study but was undecided on a major. When I posed these questions to my school counselors and parents the verdict was unanimous. “You’ll never make any money doing those things and you really like nice things and nice things require money.” The gauntlet was down and the decision was made as I walked headlong into majoring in Accounting. A very practical, useful, and potentially lucrative profession, except…
The problem was – I was good at it, but didn’t like it. If anything, searching endlessly for small details (I once spent an entire weekend searching for $.02 that wouldn’t balance on my damn balance sheets!) made me slightly psychotic. Yet I marched on following a path I thought I “should” take.
This trend continued into the jobs I chose, the unhappiness I felt in almost 20 years in Corporate, and the desperation I felt in the tug/pull between making money and being happy. Even when I made the big leap of faith into self-employment six years ago, money (and the lack of it) created untold amounts of angst in me.
It is from this journey that my declaration was born.
No Amount of Money Can Buy What Truly Matters
I always knew on some level that you couldn’t buy the most important and valuable things in life. Yet it wasn’t until my mother got sick and then died 3 years ago that this lesson got deeply ingrained in my being. No amount of money, planning, or pleading could change that situation. It was the most excruciating experience of my life emotionally. I can still remember the cries of my father wondering what all the financial planning, saving, and waiting was for; nothing else felt like it mattered now in the face of this loss.
I learned that money can facilitate and help mitigate the pain or difficulty of a situation but it can never make it go away. Conversely money can enhance a joy by making something easier, more elegant, or more elaborate, but it can’t create the joy or happiness itself.
So even when times are tough I point my focus towards what I can do and what is deeper, richer, and more lasting than any amount of money could ever be.
Money is an Exchange of Energy (Use it Wisely)
Neither extreme frugality nor being a spendthrift is the answer. It’s not about the money, ultimately. It is about the energy (time, energy, effort, etc.) expended in exchange for money that matters. I can remember years ago reading the classic book Your Money or Your Life (Robin & Dominguez) and being introduced to the concept of trading your life energy for money. It was a huge awakening for me in that I realized I did not want to trade my life simply for money doing a soul-sucking job that had a million rules, restrictions, and limitations. I wasn’t willing to live only for the weekends and 1-2 weeks of vacation per year.
When you own your own business you may set your own fees and choose your own schedule but you still need to ask yourself the question: Is what I’m choosing to do a wise use of my life’s energy? This includes how you choose to spend and invest your money as well.
For me personally, if I choose to do something it either needs to 1) Make me money, 2) Save me money, or 3) Give me great joy, meaning, or pleasure. Otherwise it is an easy thing to say no to.
Money is a Renewable Resource; Time is Not
When I was in my early 20’s and at my first job, someone said to me that it didn’t matter if I didn’t like my job, if I could simply hold on for another 30-35 years, then the pension and benefits would be worth it. I thought my head would explode! I was supposed to be this unhappy and trade the entire prime of my life in the illusory hopes that I might have a nice retirement? What kind of security is THAT?
I see business owners I work with make this mistake all the time. They push, overwork, and stay tethered to the task of growing their business so much so that they don’t take time for their lives. The self-care, fun, time-off, hobbies, and relaxation get thrown to the side in exchange for the myth that “making it happen” and being more productive is the end-goal. It’s not.
I always factor in time, value, energy, and fun into the equation of making money. If I’m miserable, no amount of money could make me happy. Yes I need money and yes I want to continue to grow my business to earn more money. However, it’s more important to me to do so mindfully than it is to simply plug away at some arbitrary goal while watching time whoosh by. If I lose sight of that, I return to my first declaration above because like anyone who has experienced loss, I know that no amount of money could buy another hour with someone you love doing something you love.
What have you declared about the way you earn, spend, and relate to money? I would love to hear your stories in the comments below.