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On Money And Self Worth

Okay. So. I was going to write something totally on-topic today, but I can’t. I’m still so immersed in all the things I started thinking about this weekend at Mighty Summit that I gave up. I have to write about that.

As I mentioned, a huge part of this weekend was about thinking and talking about life goals and life lists. Not just life goals like I would like to visit the Greek islands (which I would, but in the end that’s pretty simple—I just have to buy a ticket), but the big huge scary things. Like, I want to sell a book, or I want to start a foundation, or I want to speak at a conference, or I want to write articles for major magazines, or I want to get control of my finances.* You know, the kind of stuff that you think about how you want to do them, and then you immediately throw up a million obstacles in your own path, and talk about how it’s really not possible, and then quit the project before you even start. You know, THOSE goals.

Well, one super super amazing woman at the conference, Cecily (whose blog you must read when you finish with this post) talked about how she wanted to work on her relationship with money. Or really, how she wanted to move past being broke all the damn time, and she was totally overwhelmed by how to do that.

(Side note: I’ve been there, by the way. Once I told David that I’d probably never own a house, because, “Money was not for me.” By which I meant, I’d never really had any money or made good money, so I figured I’d NEVER have money, and I better just come to terms with that early to avoid further disappointment. I think David proceeded to smack me across the head and say something like, “Well I like having money and being able to buy neato tech toys, so get with the program.” Which I did, but I digress.)

Anyway, on the last night of dinner I was sitting next to Cecily when Maggie started talking to her about money. Cecily just wrote a thoughtful post about this conversation, so I’m going to quote her description of what happened:

I was sitting across from Maggie at dinner, she leaned back and looked at me (while wearing a stylish black turban) and said, “We need to figure out what is blocking your flow of money.”

It was a very California thing to say.

I tried to stay open minded, but I was clearly putting on my cynical face. She pressed on anyway, saying that I needed to “make money flow through me” and “open myself up to money.” I felt increasingly skeptical, but this was the host of the event, and I wanted to be polite, so I mumbled some “uh huhs” and “yeps.” I then said, “All I need to be making is (blank amount of money) a year.” Maggie looked gobsmacked and said, “You? A blogger with your influence? Can make five times that.”

I felt like I’d been punched in the chest. And I felt angry. I didn’t know why I felt so angry, but I did. Maggie then said, “Maybe you need to stop thinking about money for you, but instead think of funneling money through you out into your community.”

Maggie then moved on to talk to other people, and I sat stewing for a moment. Nicole, who happened to be sitting next to me, let me babble at her for a while about why what Maggie said wouldn’t actually work for me. But while I was talking, Nicole’s gentle responses opened things up further (with frequent hilarious commentary from Meg) and I suddenly got it.

In many ways, I’ve been on a kind of money diet. Just like I had with food, my relationship with money is “disordered.” I’ve been poor forever; my poverty as a child (and as an adult) has made me have a kind of tunnel vision when it comes to money. I’ve trained myself, basically, to financially subsist and no more. The income I suggested I earn to Maggie seemed wildly extravagant to me. I’ve never earned that much as an adult, so the bigger amount she mentioned just seems crazy and astronomical—and, most importantly, NOT ACHIEVABLE. At least not by me.

All that I’m going to add to that description is that when (beleaguered) Cecily named the amount she wanted to make, her lofty dream, you could literally hear my and Maggie’s heads exploding in tandem. I think I yelled, “WHAT?” followed by, “THAT’S ABSURD!” and “YOU’RE WORTH SO MUCH MORE THAN THAT!” You know, not that I ever have any opinions.

In the next few hours I had a long conversation with Heather (Oh my god, you need to read her blog too, she’s amazing!) about how women chronically undercharge, and hence under-earn even when they work for themselves. The next morning I had another conversation with Maile (who makes these super stylish camera-bags-as-purses and whose life story totally blew me away), about how women will set a financial target for themselves like, “If I make $60,000 a year, I’ll be RICH!” which then turns into, “I’m worth $60,000 a year,” which then turns into “I’m only worth $60,000 a year and more would be greedy.” At which point we cue never making more than $60,000 a year, because that’s your mental limit. This may sound hippy-dippy, but for freelancers it’s pretty realistic (and I’d argue it’s probably true for salaried people too).

Now. I’m not writing this to talk about money, exactly. I’m writing this to talk about self-worth. After spending two-plus days hanging out with some of the most accomplished (in a free-wheeling, freelance, creative way) and supportive women I’ve ever met, I’ve been thinking a lot about self-worth. I’ve been thinking about how as women we often undervalue ourselves, our life stories, and what we’re capable of, and that leads to lost potential. We think, “I can’t do that; I can’t dream that big; I’m being selfish to even think about this; I don’t deserve to earn (or have my company earn) that much money; I shouldn’t have delusions of grandeur.” And when this happens, we all lose. Think of all those projects that could have been created, those businesses that could have thrived, that money that could be flowing back into our communities. When we cut ourselves off at the knees we lose all that, our communities lose all that, we all lose.

So I guess this does come back to our ongoing Reclaiming Wife discussions (quelle surprise!) Because I think the minute that we get married, let alone have kids, the cultural script tells us that our most important job is to nurture others, and the way we can best nurture others is through selflessness. We’re told that to nurture, we need to give up on all our personal dreams, for the “bigger” dream of family.

On my bad days, I tell David I think I’m too selfish to ever be a mother. When he makes me define selfish, I say things like, “I want to own my own business and write and publish and go on trips, and experience things and… and, and, and.” And then David, being the saner of the two, points out that doesn’t mean I’m selfish, that means I’m ambitious and self-aware. And that being ambitious and active and happy is what will make me a GOOD mom. That crushing all my dreams so I could give up all myself for my child would probably NOT make me a very good mom, since it would make me a very sad person.** Or as the amazing Cate Subrosa said, “My baby is not the only thing that matters to me. In fact, the things that mattered to me before matter just as much. There is room in my sense of what matters for everything else to still have its place, despite this enormous space now taken up by the needs and desires of my darling baby. I am still me.”

So. I’m thinking long and hard about the ways that I undervalue myself. I am reasonably good, for a thirty-year-old woman, at valuing myself and asking for what I want, but I know I could be a lot better.

I need to keep practicing saying, “I would like this. Could you give this to me?” And then letting the person I ask say yes or no, instead of deciding that the answer must be no and not bothering. I’m fan-f*cking-tastic at asking for small things that I want (ask my poor web designers, or any waiter ever, or my husband), and not so great about asking for big things. I always think, “Oh I can just do this on my own, I shouldn’t ask for help,” even when I clearly would do better with help.

I also need to do a better job about thinking of money as a tool, instead of thinking of it as the root of all evil. I think as women we do a really good job about shaming each other about money. When was the last time you saw a guy tell another guy that because his new creative project was making money, he was a sellout? I mean, basically never, right? Guys say things like, “DUDE. That’s so awesome that you’re doing so well.” And women say things like, “Have you thought about how you’re selling out and destroying the soul of your endeavor by making this much money?” Because, you know, we’re ladies. We’re supposed to give things away for free because we’re nurturers. Nurturers of the world, apparently, for free. So I need to learn how to turn those voices off, and see success as an okay thing. And yes, see MONEY as an okay thing.

Even for me.

As a woman.

As a wife.

I need to keep practicing being full-of-self, instead of selfless. And rocking the hell out of that.

Picture: Me making the patented Meg Face. Taken by the talented and vivacious Amber, of The Amber Show. She was my roommate this weekend, and you should read her blog too!

*Note: that’s a mish-mash of everyone’s goals, not just my goals

** Can we all agree to realize that when I say this, I’m not somehow implying that moms who stay home are the ones that give up their dreams, and I hate stay-at-home moms? Because, you know, I think you can live your dreams staying home with your kids, and crush them at a soul-less job, and vice versa. It really all depends. Maybe one day I won’t have to give this disclaimer every time…. hum….

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