By Renee Martyna/Photograph by Heather Bonker
HOW crazy are you? Take a look at two of the most reliable indicators: Romance and Finance. While no one seems surprised when their love life is fraught with challenges and a long learning curve, when it comes to money, the shock is palpable.
Truth: Matters pertaining to money are where we show our deepest desires and our greatest insecurities. And because the practical and the emotional frequently tangle around money, it’s easy for neurosis to show up there too.
I had to take a hard look at the role that finance played in my life when motherhood made me an ‘under-earner’— wow, that was hard. I went from paychecks to Pampers overnight. Since I made a choice to be a parent rather than covet a career, I had to face all the hard-wired beliefs I had about my worth in this world. Plus, I had to live on a budget. It was sobering to realize just how tied I was to a ‘measurable’ like money to determine my value, succumbing as I did to a classic addiction in today’s society—the dependence on external validation. But I’ve since learned that mothers aren’t the only people facing such ‘opportunity costs’; whether an entrepreneur, an artist or a student, at some stage or another we will all be asked to choose between our values and our financial viability.
Ironically, getting over my dependence on my bank slips as a marker of success meant that I needed to engage more, not less, in the very thing I was no longer making very much of: money. So I did what all the good seekers on Bali do. I hit the books, called on mentors, and slowly waded through mountains of emotional rubble from my childhood to discover what needed to shift in order for me to broker a lasting peace with money. The journey, as always, continues, but here is what I have learned so far: There are only two real problems you can have with money: Too much, or not enough.
It’s easy to think that all our money problems are a matter of simple math (more=better). However, the reality is that having lots of money does not always add up to a good life. In fact, it’s often the opposite. The more money you have, the more you need to manage, and that in itself is a burden that many people might prefer to do without. We now know that there is a tipping point (about USD
$100,000 in American) past which no amount of money will bring you more happiness. The sub-title here is: be careful what you wish for. That said, the other extreme doesn’t suit everyone either, since most of us won’t renounce all worldly possessions and live in an ashram forever. As with most things, the middle road is probably best, which is why I like how David Lee Roth of Van Halen fame puts it in perspective: “Money can’t buy happiness, but it sure as hell can buy a big fat yacht to sail right through the sadness”. Money definitely softens some of the harder edges in life, but since it’s not our savior, we need to stop acting like it is.
Don’t know how to manage your money? Join the club. It’s astounding how much shame and embarrassment people feel around money. One of our best kept secrets is how little most of us actually know—beyond basic accounting—about how to deal with money. Mainstream money guru Robert Kiyosaki of the “Rich Dad Poor Dad” series says that financial illiteracy is what the financial industry banks on. Without it, there would be sloughs of unemployed accountants, tax lawyers, and advisers. The sobering fact is that this reality behooves us to study up if we don’t want to be burned. The good news is, help is out there. Most developed countries have subsidized debt relief programs, and there are various entrepreneurial and Twelve Step programs that offer free insight into managing your money while tending to your soul. So don’t despair, help is out there, if you take the time to care.
It’s not about the money.
The old adage that “money is the root of all evil” is a mis-quote, because it leaves out a pivotal word from the original biblical text: “the LOVE of money is the root of all evil.”
It’s an important distinction, because when we hanker after money, rather than the freedom and opportunity it buys, we are missing the point. It is Greed, and not money itself, that drives us to value money more than human life, and which leads to war, famine, and all manner of conspicuous consumption. Viewed in this way, money is brought down to size; it s a tool, not a talisman.
Enough is Enough
If we learned anything from the global financial crisis, it’s that we may have been chasing the wrong goals. The ‘security’ we seek in our investment portfolios is just smoke and mirrors for the safety we truly desire—community, connection, freedom and opportunity. You don’t need assets fatter than your neighbour’s to discover that. What you do need is a shift in perception, because abundance is a moving target unless you can learn to love, or at least accept, what you already have. Just ask JD Rockefeller, who, when asked how much more money would be enough, said “Just a little bit more.”
How will you measure your life?
This is a question worth asking before, and not during, your quest for financial abundance; because while money itself doesn’t ultimately matter, measurability does. How else would you know when you have made progress? Herein lies your freedom, because there are many different ways to tally a score, and you get to decide what counts. Is it the quality of your relationships? The array of choices is before you? The wealth of experiences you’ve had? If you broaden your perspective (and prospectus) in this way, you may discover that you already have enough of everything you really need.
Renee is a Rotary ambassadorial scholar, holds a Bachelors degree in International Relations, and a double Masters in Middle East studies and Conflict Transformation. If you would like her to curate a conversation for you, please visit her passion project: www.changeinconversation.com where you can learn how the art of conversation can help