I’d like you to consider your savings goals for a second. What is the amount of money that, once saved, would represent the financial promise land for you?
Now I’d like you to think about your self-esteem. Will that savings goal affect the way you measure yourself on the inside? In other words, will your personal worthiness, feelings of security, or self-esteem be enhanced by an increase in net worth?
Most of us would answer yes, but for most of us the real answer is no.
Here’s a Little Story About Emptiness
A few years ago I realized I have a fucked up relationship with money.
I found myself at the end of a long-term relationship. During that relationship I learned a lot about money that I’ll carry for the rest of my life. I had also amassed a pile of money about the size of my yearly salary that I was very proud of indeed.
The thing is, I thought about the money and it really didn’t mean anything to me. I felt empty inside.
I thought saving a bunch of money would make me feel secure and powerful. But every time I hit that yearly goal it seemed I felt just as empty and fearful as the previous year. In one way or another, I have been trying to escape that feeling ever since.
Emergency Fund as a Means to Security
I used to repeat the old Suze Orman adage to people, that the purpose of money is for security. I thought that if I had enough money at some point I would not be fearful.
….and over the years I got more money and less security. Each time I looked at that bank account I would think about how I couldn’t lose the money, how I needed to protect it. The effect was that the more money I had, the less secure I felt.
It turns out I’m a naturally fearful and insecure person. In a sense, I was building a wall of financial fitness that ultimately didn’t serve to protect me from my inner demons.
I learned that I used and hid behind money in the hopes that I would one day be free and secure. So I set out to lose all my money, that would surely do the trick.
Money as a Means to Happiness
My friend tried to get me to read Hitchhiker’s Guide to the galaxy last year. This is from the introduction:
“Most of the people living living on this insignificant blue-green planet were unhappy pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem but most of them were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it was not the green pieces of paper that were unhappy, and so the problem persisted.”
There is a major sickness in the world that more money is the answer. Some of us have gotten the money we wanted and realized it was incredibly lacking in inner fulfillment.
Here’s a little secret: a lot of financial bloggers know this about money already. That’s probably why you see so many money and happiness articles floating around.
If you have an idea that a certain amount of money can buy you happiness it is my sincere hope that you get that money quickly so that you can realize it isn’t the answer. I was fortunate to find that out young and I know that some people spend their lives on that crazy train.
I have found over time that my happiness has almost no relation to the amount of money I have. In fact, I’m generally happier when my life is uncomplicated. Money allows me to complicate my life in many fashions if I’ll let it. That’s why it’s important to know how to manage money in a way that it doesn’t impede your life.
Money can be in flow with your joy or it can be a roadblock to it.
As financial bloggers it is our job to help you get money and learn how to manage it, but we would be morally remiss if we didn’t tell you that money will not make you happy or loved or whole. That is not the nature of money.
Net Worth as a Means to Self-Worth
If we look at the meaning of the word Net Worth, independently the words mean something quite different. Net something to catch or trap, or a final amount after all considerations. Worth the level at which someone or something deserves to be valued or rated.
I think it’s safe to say I’ve often felt trapped and caught by the way others want to rate or value me. I want others to value me highly and so net worth can become another way for me to hustle for acceptance and love.
Unfortunately for me, the more I use money as a false measurement of worthiness the more I head back down the path of low self-esteem. The lack I feel on the inside could never have been fixed by anything on the outside. The longer I have spent on outside matters, the longer the inside feelings have gone un-taken care of.
Sometimes you hear rich people talking about net worth as an extension of themselves. “I’m worth 50 billion dollars.” That is precisely the way society would have us value ourselves. If we are not intrinsically valuable by ourselves then it’s a lot easier to persuade us to buy things that will make us feel whole.
As someone who’s been there and back, from financial ruin to financial awesomeness to wanting to lose it all again I’d encourage you to let go of your destinations.
For the FIRE (Financial Independence Retire Early) people the destination is retirement.For some of us the destination is saving enough to buy a house or getting a good job or whatever item purchase that will finally show everyone how successful and worthy you are. Just go be happy now, I give you permission.
When I look back on it all I wished I would have spent more on the journey. I wished I had eaten out a few times or gone and did things that cost some money.
Above all I’ve realized that my quest to lose my money is as fruitless as hoarding money. That line of thinking says that money is the problem, which it isn’t, the problem is my relationship with money which is fearful.
No, I didn’t lose all my money. I managed to learn the lesson before I got there. I’m back on track to savings goals but I don’t see money as a magical cure to my inner lack anymore.
We’re fortunate enough to be born whole but it seems to me that money has us on an endless treadmill of hustle for completeness.
Money is neutral and it will take on whatever energies or attitudes we project onto it. Know your own intrinsic worth, happiness, and security outside of money and don’t use it as a tool to create inner peace. You can then use money as a channel to create new things and new opportunities and even new joy.