Deirdre's popular blog on all things leadership and communication is the perfect example of her personal brand of "mild audacity". Because she gets to say what other won't, her messages get to the core of the real issues behind the challenges we face, the frustrations we feel, and the solutions to making it all better.

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What We Can All Learn from My Monthly Freak-Out

I’m about to allow myself a moment of vulnerability with you. Brace yourself.

There’s a certain day about once each month that I dread more than any other day.

It’s the day I go into my accounting software and take a good, hard look at the numbers.

I look at what I brought in. I look at what I spent. I compare them to what I think they should be. And then the inevitable happens.

I freak out.

All at once the money that’s going out is too much. The money that’s coming in is too small. No matter what the number, the net result isn’t good enough.

Which leads to one final, awful conclusion.

That I’m not good enough.

My anxiety level skyrockets. I’m not making the money I should be at this stage in my career. I’m not going to have the life I want right now. I’m completely messing up my future.

The moment passes quickly once I realize the truth.

None of it’s true.

I remember this when I get my perspective back. (I’ll tell you how in a minute.) But the freak-out happens every time. And I know I’m not alone.

Because it’s all connected to the thing that each of us constantly thinks about…dreams about…perhaps obsesses about.

It’s money.

We all know deep down what money really is. It’s a tool used in transactions…a piece of paper or metal.

Yet it’s so much more than that.

Because for most of us it doesn’t just represent the way we value a good or service we are buying, selling or earning.

It represents the way we value ourselves. It becomes the ultimate driver in the professional and personal decisions we make. It leads to terrible lows and, sometimes, explosive highs.

Let’s stop here for a moment for a reality check.

I’m no fool. I do recognize that money makes the world go ‘round. It gets us what we want. It in itself is not happiness, but it sure can lead to some pretty cool things and experiences.

This isn’t about the good and evil of money.

What this is about is the way we feel about ourselves – and others – based on the money we have or do not have.

What this is about is the decisions we make – or do not make – because money is involved.

What this is about is how we allow ourselves to feel simply because of the connection to money.

Each of us was born into a family who taught us our first, core messages about money.

What did you learn about money?

  • Was it something your family never had enough of, something that led to sacrificing things you wanted or needed? Did it create arguments, stress, fear?
  • Was it something that your family always had plenty of? Did it lead to the sense of value you placed on yourself and others?
  • Was it even discussed at all? Was it an issue of shame, embarrassment?

The lessons we learn aren’t bad, necessarily. Yet they do teach us things that continue to drive us today.

Which is where the problems arise.

When we value ourselves based on our salary, based on our net worth, we will never be good enough. There will always be people in a better position. Which means we might decide that these people are better than us. Which means we might then turn to those below us in the hierarchy and decide we are better than them.

Even though it’s not true.

When we make money the number priority, we become risk averse. We stay in jobs we hate because of the salary. We don’t go on the trip of a lifetime because spending our hard-earned cash will make us less secure, less valuable. Our hearts race at the mere thought.

Even though it’s not true.

Don’t get me wrong. We must be responsible. We shouldn’t take risks that could lose us everything.

But.

Far too often we allow ourselves to make decisions for the wrong money reasons.

We allow ourselves to feel trapped, to believe we are lesser than, to believe we are greater than…just because of the numbers in our bank accounts.

We allow ourselves to become paralyzed with fear, anxiety and dread once money is involved.

I do it every month.

But here’s what else I do.

  • I force myself to recognize that the value of any one month, of any one check, of any one purchase, does not reflect the value of me. I remember the value that I do bring to my life…the experiences, skills and characteristics that make me who I am.
  • I force myself to look hard at projects, personal choices and career moves that put money at stake, and weigh things out carefully, never using my fear as an excuse to stay in something I hate or avoid something that might be grand.
  • I force myself to remember that money is a currency. And even though many people will judge themselves – and each other – based on it, I will not.

Here’s the other thing I do. I get real with my own numbers. I create a budget and figure out what I need to bring in to pay for my expenses. I know that those facts are what need to drive me.  Not the fear. Not the ego.

This week…

Think about what you first learned about money and what has stuck. Think about how you let yourself feel better or worse based on money. Think about how money drives your decisions.

Then put it in perspective. Do a budget. Remember what money really is. Remember that you are valuable no matter what…and others are, too.

And know that, about once each month, you might freak out anyway. But the moment will pass.

And, in the end, you’ll use your new perspective to make the right decisions. Which will make you more successful.

Which, as luck would have it, will lead to more of the exact thing we all love, need and fear the most.

Money.

Now, go do good…and do it well.

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6 Responses to What We Can All Learn from My Monthly Freak-Out

  1. Sue Anne Reed July 10, 2012 at 7:20 am #

    I think there are two things that our ingrained in to us as children that are the most difficult to change as adults — our relationship with money and our relationship with food. Often it’s not about what we’re taught, but what we’re shown through our parents, etc.

    I grew up lower middle class. We were never homeless and always lived in good neighborhoods, but we were also often on church welfare. Your first bullet point really rang true “Did it create arguments, stress, fear?” That was my mother’s relationship with money. It was the source of near-daily screaming matches between my mother and my step-father. As kids, we were constantly thrown in the middle of it and felt like there was never enough. It was a constant state of feast / famine and “surviving until the next paycheck”.

    I know people who had less than I did. A good friend grew up with 7 siblings and his father was often the only paycheck (his mother would occasionally work as a substitute teacher for extras). He never went without. Did he drive the nicest car? No. Did his mom get creative when it came to birthday presents, Christmas presents, parties, etc.? Yes. But, he never felt like they were poor or “in financial trouble”. He graduated with a double masters with zero debt. He is now raising his four kids on his salary as a government employee while his wife is able to be a stay-at-home mom. His parents taught him to have a good, responsible relationship with money and he’s been able to carry that with him through the rest of his life.

    I recently moved from the San Francisco Bay Area to the “mid-South” largely for cost-of-living reasons. I was tired of living paycheck to paycheck and worrying about how I was going to survive the first half of the month since over half my take-home pay went to pay the rent and utilities.

    However, one of the things I’m trying to break myself out of is the “feast / famine mentality”. I’m working on it piece by piece and know I’ll get there someday.

    • Deirdre Maloney July 10, 2012 at 8:53 am #

      Wow Sue Anne – thanks so much for sharing your thoughts and sharing your personal experiences! I think so many of us have been through similar situations, and even though we think we shake our old messages they can still pop up at any time (and that seems to go double for the food lessons – which I completely agree with!).

  2. Patricia Costa July 10, 2012 at 3:39 pm #

    Thank you Deirdre for such good incite and an analogy of money. My father was an immigrant who worked very hard to support his family. We weren’t rich but we always had everything we needed. I learned how to make responsible decisions and later on how to enjoy it as well. Great tips!

    • Deirdre Maloney July 10, 2012 at 5:34 pm #

      Thanks so much for your comments, and for your personal story! I appreciate your willingness to share!

  3. Visitor January 3, 2013 at 6:55 pm #

    Why don’t just love money …:) instead of falling in love with them like death with life in “a jealous, possessive love that grabs at what it can” (― Yann Martel, Life of Pi)
    It’s lovely that you are saying that it’s not true to use a “money” measure towards anybody… but you picked up another ruler – “success”, which might put one in the same state of anxiety…:) … True reason is not money…:)

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  1. The Two Words That Suck Our Power Away - November 26, 2012

    [...] You might recall I’m quite prone to this (for proof check out my post what we can all learn from my monthly freak-out). [...]

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