Our Stories About Money

Rich people are greedy.
Money is evil.
The Rich get richer and the poor get poorer.
It’s selfish to want a lot of money.
We either get to be rich or be happy, not both.
People will like us more if we have money.
Life is not about being happy. It is more important to make a good salary than to love work.
People can’t make money doing what they love.
Our job is our identity.

The Power is In Our Story of Money

Do any of the above stories sound familiar?  That’s because many of them have become so popular that they have defined our relationships with money.  And most of our relationship with money is built off of the stories that we’ve come to believe about money. To quote Peter “Mr. Money Mustache” Adeney:

““Money is not really the thing you’re after–after all, would you lock yourself in a dark, silent box forever in exchange for  becoming a billionaire?” 

The “thing” that we’re after is whatever our stories about money imply that money will bring us:

The physical value of money is virtually nothing. Except to a kindergartener who wants to practice their skills in making paper airplanes; a dollar bill is but a piece of paper.  

So why is money so powerful? It has driven people to accomplish incredibly amazing and incredibly heinous acts throughout history.

Imagined Realities

In a talk about “Imagined Realities,” Yuval Noah Harari shares how most mammals live in a world of Objective Realities (the things that we can touch), a world with trees and plants and other animals and physical things.  However, humans also live in a world with fictional or imagined realities. In this world, humans believe stories like “Pink is a feminine color,” “Fiat is a company, and a ‘company’ is…”, or “Happiness equals having money.”  

These stories are all around us. They are, essentially, ideologies. Even humans thousands of years ago, with their respective cultures and families, were living among stories.  Now, with tv, media, social media, and a world of less time spent interacting with nature, we’ve sling-shotted past the tipping point. It’s in these realities that we see individuals willing to kill each other, sell drugs, or commit terrible crimes in the belief that they will someday be happier or more powerful because of the money they will get from doing so.

The High Price of Materialism

This video also carries some insightful key points:

  • Commercialism and consumerism are almost everywhere as $150 billion per year is spent on embedding consumer messages into our everyday lives.
  • The more people value materialistic aspirations, the lower their happiness and life satisfaction is.
  • As materialistic values increase in one’s life, pro-social and environmental values decrease.
  • People focus more on material things when they feel insecure. Materialism is frequently used as a coping mechanism.
  • Promoting intrinsic values helps people become more immune to the effects of marketing geared towards materialistic values.

Where Do Our Stories of Money Comes From?

While it would be nice to believe that we are completely in control of our story of money, it is often shaped just as much by commercials as by our mind.  Before most of us ever had the joy of getting taxes taken out of our paycheck, we’ve carefully absorbed ten to twenty years of beliefs around the power of the ‘almighty dollar.’

Culture / Society

“Grow up to be a doctor or lawyer. Success is more important than happiness in a job.”
“The clothes make the man.”
“Money equals power.”
“It’s greedy to want to have that many toys. There are kids in other parts of the world who don’t have any toys.”
“There are kids in Africa starving to death. Be grateful for whatever you get to eat.”
“Life isn’t about being happy.”
“No one is going to want to marry you unless you have money.”
“The goal of childhood is to do well in school to get into the best college.”
“Poor people are lazy.”
“Money equals power.”

Maybe growing up, TV told us that ‘rich people’s lives are more interesting’ or that ‘people like rich people more.’  Or at school, we were taught to work hard so that we can someday become a doctor or lawyer. A common eight-year-old’s response might have been that being a teacher, an ice cream truck driver, or a fireman sounds more fun.  A common retort might have been: “Be practical.” “Those jobs don’t pay enough.” “No, no, no. Money is what makes people happy.” Do any of these stories sound familiar? Even the best-intentioned adults pass down stories to us around money.  It is not until we grow up though that we get to test the validity of these stories within our own lives.

An example of another story taught in the United States is The American Dream. This story encourages achievement, success, and pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps.  The American Dream also implies happiness and provides a lens of both hope and opportunity through which an American can view their life.  

How does this story align with current measures of happiness though? The World Happiness Report shares that happiness in America has been declining over the last ten years.  

”This decline in happiness and mental health seems paradoxical. By most accounts, Americans should be happier now than ever. The violent crime rate is low, as is the unemployment rate. Income per capita has steadily grown over the last few decades. This is the Easterlin Paradox: As the standard of living improves, so should happiness – but it has not.”   

Compared to world standards, the American Dream is providing us greater opportunity, yet less happiness.  Each story has both its merits and limitations, and a story that is empowering to one person might be harmful to another. 

Knowing our values is paramount to knowing what types of stories we want to believe in.  Stories can bring us optimism, a sense of peace, belonging, blissful ignorance, or a buffet of other choices.  For example, teaching our children to believe in certain traditions like Santa Clause is helpful if our desire is to fit in culturally and less desirable if accuracy is our goal.

Another common story is that money is a “me” thing rather than a “we” thing.  The world used to be set up around communities, with everyone contributing to them.  Now, some grow up believing that money is about how much we can make by ourselves.  This number becomes a measuring stick with which we can compare ourselves to our peers.  Is it us, society, or our need to prove ourselves that’s changed?  What would it look like for money to become more of a “we” thing, and less of a “me” thing, in not just our family, but our society as well?  

There are many simple ways of using money to tap into the sense of joy we get from connecting with others.  A few small ways involve taking a friend out to eat, going out more with loved ones, giving to a cause that we believe in, giving our child an extra $5 to spend on their sibling, or inviting others to join us in our favorite activity.  Joy can be bought in a number of little ways; a major takeaway is that life is even sweeter when shared with others. Through the use of little activities or decisions like these, we can use money to further meaning in our lives through expressing our Love, Sense of Discovery, or Service.  

Religion / Spiritual / Moral Beliefs

“The love of money is the root of all evil.”
“If you don’t give money to this religion, you aren’t a good person.”
“Don’t be a pastor, there’s no money in religion.”
“It’s our responsibility to protect Mother Earth.”

Money, a higher purpose, and spirituality are touted as pinnacles of one’s importance in society.  The spiritual beliefs have shaped our deepest views towards money. Whether we grew up believing that ‘wanting money is greedy’ or that ‘making as much money as possible to give to others,’ is meaningful, drastically shapes the way we spend the rest of our lives.  These beliefs act as the framework for our financial picture. Believing that there are certain ways we “should’ or “should not” spend our money impacts our deepest beliefs around what the role of money is. Four ways that we can spend money to enhance our sense of meaning tie in the Four Cornerstones: Service, Love, Discovery, and Expression.

Service — Being of service to humans you care about is meaningful.  Using money to support causes, beliefs, and other people enables money to tap into this cornerstone.
Expression— Using money to find time to be more of you in the world feels authentic, meaningful, and joyful.
Discovery — Learning more about yourself and developing skills are meaningful ways to spend money on yourself.
Love — Spending money on quality time with people you care about, creating experiences and memories, deepens our sense of connection, happiness, and joy.

Family Unit

“We don’t have money for that.”
“Do well in sports to get a scholarship. We can’t afford to pay for college.”
“No one in our family has ever gone to college.”
“It’s stupid to help others. Every man for themselves.”
“It’s our responsibility to take care of the elderly in our family.”
“Being a man means being a good provider.”

Rich Dad Poor Dad contrasts the stories that people learn in different families.

The biggest lessons about money, we usually learn at home.  While upward social mobility is an aspiration, it begins with first having a standard to compare ourselves to.  And that standard is the one we grew up with. Our family unit is the place where we set our standards around money. It is here that we form expectations around the amount, quality of work, sacrifice, hours, benefits, passion, etc.  

Luckily, even if we learned stories about money that are no longer serving, we continually have the opportunity to choose more empowering stories.  We can adopt new stories, inviting us to work jobs that give us a stronger sense of contribution, rather than a bigger paycheck.

Community

“Marry rich.”
“It’s the man’s job to make most of the money.”
“Get out of here. Go make money. Nothing good ever happens in this town.”
“Don’t become a traitor and leave us when you become rich.”

Our communities play a large role in our beliefs of how the world “should” be.  The environments we grow up in, whether of abundance, poverty, inequality, or extreme hardships, often become the filter through which we view life.  A famous quote is, “The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”  

The stories contained within that page largely shape the boundaries of our financial beliefs.  Now, with cheaper access to travel and the internet, these stories may be having less of an impact. However, their impact is still substantial.  Changing one’s community is one of the fastest ways to change one’s relationship with money. We aren’t the first and won’t be the last to say that, ‘we become a mix of the five people we spend the most time with.’

Try This: Our Money Memories

Join us as we engage in a quick 5 minute activity that shows us some of our most meaningful memories tied to money.

  1. What are your 3 most significant memories of money from childhood? Examples can include gifts, arguments, conversations, or times where you were most aware of money.
    1. __________________________________________________________
    2. __________________________________________________________
    3. __________________________________________________________
  2. Use three words to describe how you felt about your family’s financial situation as a kid?
    1. __________________________________________________________
    2. __________________________________________________________
    3. __________________________________________________________
  3. What was your first memory or realization around money?
    1. __________________________________________________________
  4. On a scale from one to ten, how comfortable did you feel asking your parents or guardians for money (or things you needed) growing up?
    1. __________________________________________________________
  5. How was money talked about in your family as a child?  What thoughts or feelings come to mind when remembering these experiences?
    1. __________________________________________________________

Weeding Our Story of Money

 Our story of money is a garden, where a number of things are growing: some weeds planted by others, some weeds planted or allowed by ourselves, and a variety of different beautiful flowers and fruits.  So how do we start managing and weeding this garden?  

Great question.  Wait But Why has some useful advice for how to understand our relationship with work and money and where to go from here.  This advice can also help us determine where to invest our time or how to figure out a new career path. We’ve selected a few pieces that we found most beneficial when looking through this garden of our monetary stories and trying to answer the questions, ‘What the heck is this growing?’ and “Is it worth keeping?’ 

As we go through these steps, different stories will stand out along the way.  It’s helpful to remember that weeding our garden will involve keeping some of our stories, adapting others, and completely pulling others out by the root.  In doing so we’ll also free up a little space to plant some new stories, too.

Step 1: Acceptance – As children, our paths were set: our job was simply to go to school.  At some point, we get kicked out into the world and are expected to go from having no choice about ‘our job’ to having almost infinite choices.
This is no easy task for anyone.
The average person will now also have over 7 careers in their lifetime, and only around a quarter of people will stay in the field they got their degree in.  Figuring out what to do next is a journey, and one that we might be on for the rest of our lives.

Step 2: Get to Know Ourselves – We need to understand what we’re doing, why we’re doing it, and where our beliefs come from!  Are any of our beliefs antiquated or even still in line with our values? For instance, let’s pretend we were told to be a doctor by our parents because it would equal more money and more happiness.  Now that we’ve realized that we don’t like medicine, just flunked Anatomy for the third time, and aren’t excited by years of student debt; what now? Is it time to look for a career that brings us fulfillment?  If so we’ve got you covered. Check out the Bliss Map.

Step 3: Seek to Understand the Rules of Life – We tend to copy what others are doing.  We borrow others’ recipes.
Instead of emulating others’ actions, understand their motivations.  For instance, let’s say that a friend is a teacher and is super happy being one.  Instead of trying to become a teacher, figure out what it is about their job that they enjoy. Maybe for them it’s the fact that they find purpose doing their work, and it leaves them time to spend with family and friends.  Trying to follow the exact same steps as others when we don’t know where they’re going or what’s important to them is like baking a cake without knowing what type of cake we are even trying to bake.
By understanding people’s “Whys” behind choosing certain ingredients we allow ourselves the room to choose ingredients for our specific needs.  

Step 4: Balance Desires with Reality – Finding a career or story that overlaps between what we want and what is possible is huge.  For instance, we might have wanted to be an astronaut when we were younger; however, if we are terrified of getting in a space shuttle, and don’t want to go to Astronaut school (is that even a real thing?), a career that allows us to train astronauts or even study them might be more realistic.

Step 5: Show Ourselves Grace – Most of us are trying to balance so many sides of ourselves at once.  Wait But Why uses the analogy of an octopus with five tentacles, each tentacle only focused on one side of ourselves.  These tentacles are social, moral, practical, lifestyle, and personal. For instance, trying to keep our moral tentacle happy by volunteering might cause our practical tentacle to scream at us “We could have worked instead and made more money.” Or trying to take care of our personal tentacle, which might be wanting rest, might anger our social tentacle who is looking to night boogie the night away. Often times these tentacles are competing.  It’s a never ending game of learning to listen to ourselves, see where we are at, and accept that each of these stories and sides of ourselves takes both work and love to feed. With our stories and decisions, we might also need to pick certain tentacles to listen to and others to ignore for longer periods of time. For instance, if we want to be a doctor, for 10 or so years we might need to ignore the personal tentacle telling us to “be happy,” “get rest,” or “worry about studying later.”

Step 6: Organize these stories based on priority. For instance if we currently have the story that “being a great dad means being able to pay for our kids to go to private school” and  the story that “being a great dad means not working so much that we miss our kid’s games or recitals,” (unless we can figure out a way to make more while working less) we will likely need to pick which story is a higher priority. 

When prioritizing what’s important to us, it can be helpful to use the analogy of shelves: Non-negotiable shelf, Top shelf, Middle Shelf, Bottom Shelf, and Trash Can. The more clear we are about the stories, beliefs, or things in our life that are non-negotiable, and the less that is on this shelf, the better.  Often times being “successful” at anything is a matter of focus and ignoring the other things competing for our attention.  Also, organizing our stories or yearnings for our life provides clarity, and enables us to have more room for the things that we truly do want.  Also, feel free to throw a number of things into the trash can. Saying “no” to the things that aren’t important frees up so much more room for the things that are.

“The most important thing in life is knowing the most important things in life.” ― David F. Jakielo

Remember that grace thing we talked about earlier? Feel free to do that step any time!  We are rarely going to know from the beginning that we’ve taken the right path. It is only with time that we’ll be able to look back and see how all of the puzzle pieces fit together.

Try This:Interactive Worksheet to Explore Your Story of Money

 

Step 1: Acceptance – Despite your current circumstance, list 5 things/decisions/choices that you’ve made and can be grateful about within your current situation.

  1. _______________________________________
  2. _______________________________________
  3. _______________________________________
  4. _______________________________________
  5. _______________________________________

Step 2: Get to Know Ourselves – List 5 Beliefs or Stories that you have about money, or what your career should look like.  Put a number 1 to 10 (with 1 being the lowest and 10 being the highest) in relation to how much you still agree with that story or belief.

  1. _______________________________________
  2. _______________________________________
  3. _______________________________________
  4. _______________________________________
  5. _______________________________________

Step 3: Seek to Understand the Rules of Life – Who are up to five people in your life that you admire in some way? List the person and guess a rule of theirs that you feel they live life by.  Examples of these rules might be “They make decisions based on long-term perspective rather than short-term gain.’

  1. _______________________________________
  2. _______________________________________
  3. _______________________________________
  4. _______________________________________
  5. _______________________________________  

Step 4: Balance Desires with Reality – List five types of jobs or things that you want out of a job that also feel at least a 7 out of 10 in terms of being realistic.

  1. _______________________________________
  2. _______________________________________
  3. _______________________________________
  4. _______________________________________
  5. _______________________________________

Step 5: Show Ourselves Grace –  Write down next to each side of yourself want you currently want out of life or a career.Take a deep breath and accept that each of the sides of yourself has its own wants for your current life and career. 

  1. Social__________________________________
  2. Moral __________________________________
  3. Practical________________________________
  4. Lifestyle ________________________________
  5. Personal________________________________

Step 6: Organize these stories based on priority. – List 5 current stories/priorities that feel important to you.  After writing down these stories, label them in order from 1 to 5 (most important story/priority being 1 and least important being 5).

  1. _______________________________________
  2. _______________________________________
  3. _______________________________________
  4. _______________________________________
  5. _______________________________________

How to Choose A More Empowering Story

Reflection

Let’s take a moment to reflect.

Try This: Take a few minutes and answer these questions for yourself. Write down your answers if it helps with self-examination:

  1. What stories do I have about money?
  2. How much money do I actually want? Why?
  3. How much do I value money? In what way do I value it?
  4. What do I want money to achieve for me?
  5. What do I expect money to bring me?
  6. What do I assume about others seeing me with/without money?
  7. Do I compare myself to others financially? Why? How? What conclusions do I come to? Where do those ideas come from?

Other Empowering Stories of Money

The Four Cornerstones of a Meaningful Life are Service, Discovery, Love, and Expression.  Pursuing these four things is a simple way to take a step towards a more meaningful life.  Finding little ways to examine our career, values, or how we spend our time in accordance with these four cornerstones can make a huge difference in one’s sense of joy.  The Bliss Map will also enable someone to view a job through a new lens of perspective and meaning.

Upon examining our relationship with money, there might even be a few stories that we are holding onto a little less or are potentially ready to let go of.  A few new stories around money are as follows:

“All you need is love.” — The Beatles

“When we seek money, or a good relationship, or a great job, what we are really seeking is happiness.” – Deepak Chopra

Do beautiful things with beautiful people.

“If you worship money and things — if they are where you tap real meaning in life — then you will never have enough. Never feel you have enough…On one level, we all know this stuff already…The trick is keeping the truth up-front in daily consciousness.” ― David Foster Wallace

“Better is a little with content than much with contention.” – Benjamin Franklin

“In the end, only three things matter: how much you loved, how gently you lived, and how gracefully you let go of things not meant for you.” -Jack Kornfield

“What we really want to do is what we are really meant to do. When we do what we are meant to do, money comes to us, doors open for us, we feel useful, and the work we do feels like play to us.” –Julia Cameron

Thinking/worrying about money all the time, even if you have a lot of it, makes you poor.”  – Deepak Chopra

“Everyone Needs to Hear This” by Jay Shetty
Everyone Needs to Hear This- Jay Shetty, a former Monk and world renowned speaker, challenges the “American Dream” and many of the stories that we’ve bought into as a society.  He thoughtfully holds up a mirror to the stereotypical 9-5 and some of the unquestioned views we have on work/life balance. 5 min.

Philosopher’s Notes TV, Spiritual Economics by Eric Butterworth
Philosopher’s Notes TV, Spiritual Economics by Eric Butterworth – Brian Johnson here summarizes a more spiritual book on abundance and defines what hope, abundance, prosperity, security, and our mind have to do with wealth.  10 min.

The Table Where Rich People Sit – Byrd Baylor
The Table Where Rich People Sit – Byrd Baylor: This short story shows how a set of parents consider riches to be more than money, and teach this lesson to their children as well.  Originally the daughter challenges the parents as to how much they make and why they don’t choose more conventional jobs that pay more money. The parents begin to count up the beauty, connection, freedom, and experiences that they get paid in by doing jobs they love.  Eventually the whole family realizes that the family is much richer in experiences and love than money alone can provide.

Final Questions:

  1. If I had to give my current story of money a title, what would I call it?
  2. What do I want the next chapter of my story of money to be called?
  3. What’s one step that I can take to help take a step towards my ideal story of money?

“Money itself isn’t the problem. Money itself isn’t bad or good. Money itself doesn’t have power or not have power. It is our interpretation of money, our interaction with it, where the real mischief is and where we find the real opportunity for self-discovery and personal transformation.”― Lynne Twist, The Soul of Money: Transforming Your Relationship with Money and Life

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