Dirty Money: My Crushing Cash Confessions & How To Own Your Own Muddy Money Story
This post is for absolutely anyone who has ever felt financially disempowered, whether you:
- lose sleep over your financial affairs
- can't save to save your life
- know what its like to live pay-day to pay-day
- racked up more debt than you know what to do with
- don't have a source of income or aren't financially independent (this goes for people borrowing or taking from their parents - yes you)
- or do things for money that you aren't proud of (tobacco lawyer anyone?).
Yes, you, me, all of us, have at one point experienced the discomfort of being disempowered by the dollar.
The good news is, you don't have to feel that way anymore. This is not some (tediously boring) post about how to manage your money better, or some kind of slippery slimy get rich quick scheme, it's about what goes on underneath the money covers, taking a long hard look at what's going on between our financial sheets, and owning your fiscal dirty laundry. Once and for all.
Don't be shy, don't be scared, it's just us two: so, let's talk about money honey.
The almighty dollar, the one thing that can make most grown adults squirm and fidget like babies with a dirty diaper.
Money for many is a dirty word, and for most, the acquisition and accumulation of it, somewhat of a slutty affair.
I for one, HATE talking about money. I would rather tell you about the all lurid details of my 20-year sex life, even the bad-bits highlight reel, than tell you about the state of my financial affairs, so that's saying something huh?
But what is it makes us so funny about money?
I want to explore this with you today. I want to work through all my ick and stick about money, and I want to do it WITH YOU. It's always better together, don't you think? It also makes me feel like slightly less of a f**king idiot for some reason when a problem is shared, for deep down I know someone out there is nodding along, and I find that oddly comforting. It's a little sick, but we all have a bit of that deep inside, don't we?
While we explore this treacherous financial trickster, feel free to journal or write some of your ideas down to think about later. For this is a topic for many we dare not speak of, only in the tightest circles, and even then only in the most hushed of tones. It causes humans to feel both powerless and powerful, wealthy and poor, sometimes simultaneously, and never one without the swift contrast of the other. So, given we're all alone now, just you and I, let's get intimate with how you cut up your coin, or more likely, how your coin cuts up you.
Let's start here: how does money make you feel? What comes to mind when you think about cash? Be honest people.
When you think about money do you seize up or smile? What makes cash king for so many? Does the word hustle make you wince or smile with glee? How do you feel when you see a wealthy person tell a less well off person how to live and what to do with their meagre earnings? What happens when someone says you can't have something you want? And most importantly, what makes us give up so much (time, freedom, happiness) in exchange for a little bit of paper or plastic?
When did financial morality become so flexible? When did we gear up to sell our souls for a Playstation or Prada? When did the need for a dollar override our desire to be free? Wasn't it all a little simpler when we were younger? What happened?
Money is power and power is money. Saving is security, but is security saving us? Preparing for the rainy day may inadvertently result in a deluge of debt, or a metaphoric mudslide in your financial health (ask anyone who lived through the GFC or has gone bankrupt trying to MAKE money).
None of this is healthy, none of this is empowering, all of it is just another form of control, and whether you are being controlled or doing the controlling, it is rarely a pretty picture. Pure economic equilibrium is not available to most. I've seen it all in my time, personally, professionally, and it all makes me deeply, deeply anxious for for at some point the money monster is going to call in its debt, and when it does... Woooooooweeeeee. The thought of it I makes me want to make like a turtle, retreating into my shell, and not come back out. Money can be a mongrel, and mongrels can bite - hard.
We all know that the grind around money is far more complex than simply needing money to survive. For some of the happiest people I have ever seen, have next to nothing, in some of the poorest places on the planet. True wealth is measured in community and connection there. So what makes us Westerners go mental for moolah? I'll tell you this, it clearly goes beyond buying the essential basics for life.
So what REALLY makes us beggars and/or worshippers at the feet of the Money Gods? How did so many of us become money's bitch and not vice versa? Why is there is so much "stuff" around money we just never talk about? What is going on today? How did we, with so much opportunity and options, wind up enslaved, not emancipated?
AND WHY OH WHY, is our shame game around money so strong in so many ways?
Well, its pretty simple actually, money informs us about far more than the fatness or skinniness of our bank balance. It, and our attitude towards it, often speaks of our feelings about security, safety, self-esteem and shame. The perceived safety of the world around us. Money can make us smile or make us shrink. It can makes us sink or swim. Spend or save. It can define whether we feel successful or small. It tells us who we are in some circles, where we should be, where we could be, and who we could be that with. It definitely tells us what is within reach, and what is out of reach. The brave defy money's dictates, but the majority accept their fate, choke it down and swallow the money medicine. But why?
Money tells us whether we belong, where we belong and most of all....to whom we belong. And everyone just wants to belong right? Well....that's a tricky one...
What about you? Do you belong to yourself, your parents, your employer, your business, your bank or your partner? Does it feel good to think you are indentured to someone else? For in one way or another we are all at the mercy of another's money. Some more than others for certain, but very few people are truly financially free. When you think about being chained to another, whether is a person, a place or a corporation, how does that make you feel? Doesn't make you feel strong, powerful or that you have self-control does it? I know it makes me feel small, insignificant and incapable. In short, it sucks.
How does this happen?
We all know really, that the grit around the chit, is mainly because it strikes at the heart of our most basic sense of security, how we can provide for ourselves and our own. It evokes words that imply inherent judgment: good or bad, rich or poor. Indeed we can be both at once, rich financially, poor emotionally. Oh yes, this is a difficult beast. Our bank balance informs us in a very basic way of what have and don't have, what we are and are not. It also allows us to judge and compare ourselves using the perception of others' "success" to tell us whether we are thriving or just surviving. How we behave at a basic level in society is often predicated on how successful we perceive ourselves as. Success as measured only by money. Oh oh. This is not going to end well is it?
Here's a brain buster for you: what WORDS come to mind when you think about money? Write them down now. Are they words that connote a scarcity or a fear about making or having money, for example, words like essential, necessary evil, anxiety, tight, apprehensive, fear, debt, irresponsible, indulgence, shortage. Does thinking about money it make your sphincter shrink? Are your thoughts on money sufficient to make you sweat?
Or perhaps when you think about money you feel a surge of joy, the slow creep of a smile on your face, you might experience a rush of adrenaline, a slow and steady warmth in your belly or a swelling in your groin. Money might be your reason for getting up in the morning, opportunity wrapped in a big red bow, the source of your steadiness, your pride and joy, or the shortcut to your turn on. It might be the thing that makes you feel safe and secure, snug as a bug in a rug, allowing you to feel as if all is well in the world.
I think we can all agree that at the very least money makes us funny.
Now that's we've mastered how money makes us feel, lets graduate to looking in depth on the shame then shall we? Come on, it's just us, you can share it with me, we all have shame around money. How we spend it, how we don't spend it, how we let it control us, how we use it to control ourselves and others. Hang on wait, what? Yes; for most of us money = control. Deny it all you like, but this my friends, is real.
I want you to think first about who controls you when it comes to money. And then...and here's the truly tricky one; who do you control with money? Ooooooh, that's an ouch. Come on: only sociopaths and psychopaths control others with financial carrots, right? WRONG! Money is something that brings out the worst in us all, and we use it liberally and freely to manipulate the environment and people around us - it's a paperless emotional currency with no base by which it can be measured - a bit like Bitcoin. Personally, professionally and psychologically. You are probably being controlled right now, and you are probably doing some controlling of your own. Oh. Oh that doesn't feel good does it? No. There are very few humans who can really say they are cash clean. So here's your chance, wash off all that guilt, set yourself free.
But it should: here's why. YOU JUST GOT REAL WITH YOURSELF ABOUT MONEY. YES!! Woo-to-the-hoo.
For now you have an opportunity, and opening, to renegotiate all those energetic contracts you have made with your soul with others around you. Say for example your husband tells you that because he pays for your life, that you can't be a certain way, you need to be available to him, emotionally, sexually or physically. That's a contract. There are expectations around what you can and can't do - THAT.IS.A.CONTRACT. Or what about the woman that trades handbags for blowjobs she doesn't want to give. Or looks the other way when her husband has affairs. No, honey, not the hooker on the corner, YOU. You may not be getting cash in hand on the spot for services exchanged, but you are definitely in the transactional space. THAT.IS.A.CONTRACT. Or the child, whose parents give in exchange for forgiveness and the child who takes the money and resents their parents for how powerless it makes them feel. THAT.IS.A.CONTRACT.
Most of the time people don't even know they're doing it. Giver or receiver. So here's your chance. Take it from a former lawyer darling, EVERYTHING is always up for renegotiation. That shitty deal you took on 10, 15, 20 years ago when you didn't believe you could do it alone, that's just come up for renewal. You may not know this, but you can say NO, YES or let's talk about this. You can go to those you love, those who are your source of the money magic (including your employers), and say "I'm not comfortable with how things are". I WANT A BETTER DEAL. Fuck yes. Lemme here you say that again: I WANT A BETTER DEAL.
But you gotta get real with YOURSELF first. What's your damage? What have you said yes to that now seems like a really shitty deal from the shopping channel?
Ask yourself: WHAT ARE THE DODGIES YOU ARE DOING FOR THE DOLLAR?
It's awkward as arse, but having just done this first piece myself, right here, right now, I can tell you that you have never felt freedom like this. Trust me.
I'll go first (wince), to help you see that removing the stigma and shame around talking about the dollar bill, is a little like bungee jumping. Looking down, you're sure you'll die, but after you jump, you will feel the freedom of setting yourself free from the things of which you are most afraid. Having someone else witness your shame and guilt and see you for who you really are is exhilarating. Watch me, and I'll show you this is far from a fatal fall into nothingness.
When I asked myself what are my beliefs on money, my ego said this: I don't care about money, it comes, it goes, it provides a nice life and I have never been without it too much. I am in the flow of abundance and the universe will take care of me. Yup. That's me. Easy come, easy go. Miss Cook the free financial spirit.
Yet, I see the devil on my shoulder shaking his head, laughing his maniacal laugh, and my stomach sinks. I know in my heart of hearts, I just told a very very very big lie. I wanted t be cool and devil may care about cash, and I definitely did't want anyone knowing it keeps me up night, and makes me feel all sorts of things that are so dark they sometimes don't even have names.
So, in the name of setting myself free, here's my truth, in all its shameful gory glory: I am not empowered around money, not even a little bit.
It's my nemesis, my master and my minion. I am absolutely, without question, it's bitch.
I signed up to be enslaved by money very very very young. I allowed money to become an emotional currency for the soothing of guilt and sadness. It may not be how it was intended, but that was how I treated it. Money was my entitlement for the hardships endured at their hands. The things I was forced to put up, people in my life that treated me so poorly, that made me feel so rejected, so spurned, were paid for in cash. An equal exchange for my forgiveness for things foisted upon my that were ferocious and painful emotionally. A dollar for a little child's tears. As time wore on, all I did was confirm to myself that my silence was for sale, my pain had a price. I was spoiled with material things into forgetting that my life wasn't fair, that I got more than I bargained for on the home front. This exchange ensured that money become my very own death ray pointed at my own head, and I had my finger on the trigger constantly. So was born my attachment to and loathing of money, equal in measure: the destructive duo.
It started young and it only got worse. And there is only one person responsible for this hot money mess: me. Sure, my information was a little wonky, but what I did with it when I knew better, well that's on me. For one thing I know now is this, the misuse of money is a serious act of self-harm. And I was hacking away at my veins like there was no tomorrow. I just didn't know why.
Add to this sorry mess, a big salary from a lucrative career as a lawyer and BOOM, you have the penny powderkeg. I was reckless because I could be. I spent everything I earned. I racked up debt like a kid given a Black AMEX in a candy store. It was pathetic. It is with no pride, only deep shame, that I say I have nothing to show for a career that I nearly paid for with my life.
I was absolutely negligent, 100% hands up for my incompetence, but the true irony is the punchline in this deranged tale of no ones financial dreams; I just wanted to be saved. Saved from myself, saved from having to brave, saved from a career I had come to loathe, and saved from having to do it the hard way and take the medicine. Worst part was, I knew I would be saved, each and every time. Saved by my family, saved by my career, there was always more where that came from. You just had to work harder to get it. NATCH!
So, you see, this is where the tale takes a turn for the worse;for when you make a deal with the devil, and sell your soul to the highest bidder, you fail spectacularly fail in being the hero of your own story. You never ever end up saving yourself, which is the key to owning your power about anything, saving yourself is where the redemption starts. So each and every time I went in submission to another saying "I can't do this for myself, please give me something to help", I felt a little more of my self-esteem slip away. I didn't do it because I wanted money, I did it because I was sad and desperately wanted a saviour. Thinking of it now, makes me sick.
For the final twist in the tale, I was an addict. Just not to what you think. Not to money, no. I was not addicted anything that could be bought. That would be easy, I could have fixed that quick sticks. For me, it was different. Just like a gambling addict who gets the adrenaline high, not from winning as you would think, oh no, instead it's from the plummet of losing it all. So it was with me. My addiction fix was being on the receiving end of my Dad's lectures, or being starved out financially, bouncing from paycheck to paycheck, or of my friend's disapproving looks when I admitted I didn't own a house, that, that was my high. In the unfunny hilarity that only fragile humanity could provide, when those that loved me looked at me with that disapproving look, or told me once more how hopeless I was, that I was "useless with money" or how they would never again come to my rescue, I was validated. They proved me right. I was hopeless, useless and for sure, unsalvageable. I was the nothing that I had known I was all along.
Fuck me that's depressing, isn't it? Well, yes AND no. That's the thing with radical honesty, it is rarely all "pretty in pink". To own your shit, sometimes you have to really wade around in it. And no one wants that. When you commit to uncovering all things which keep you small, do all your muck, is going to come....unstuck.
It was for this reason, that as I was watching Jay Shetty's piece yesterday on "Everyone Needs to Hear This" (clip below - PLEASE WATCH THIS), about money, purpose and living a life with intention and it hit me like a brick in the face. He said these words, and I felt as if I had been punched in the stomach; "they say that the most powerful prison is the one where you don't even know you are locked up". Well fuck me if I didn't now just look down and see that I am still wearing the jail jumpsuit, and that even though I stepped away from the corporate prison, that for me, Orange is STILL the New Black. I remain a money slave. That is, I did, until today.
For folks this is NOT a sob story, this is the ultimate tale of REDEMPTION. This is the moment when this heroine claws her story back!! This is the PHOENIX RISING FROM THE ASHES.
For today is the day, the day this will stop. I make this my solemn public promise. It is thanks to you guys and writing this article actually, that I am able to own the fact that I am completely irresponsible, reprehensibly so, about money. I live this way, with reckless financial abandon for the thing that so many people struggle to get so little of, the almighty dollar. I do it so I don't have to take myself seriously, so I don't have to put[ myself really on the line, so I can keep myself small, to keep staying on the relative safety of the hamster wheel. Money is the weapon I use against myself, it how I make myself feel powerless, worthless and little.
Well not anymore it isn't. This stops now. I want big things, huge things, enormous things, not only financially, but at a soul level. I want to build and empire based on things that are important to me: love, humanity, community and inspiring people. I want to live with intention and purpose, and pursue my passion of helping others to find theirs. This is my dream, and the true living of it begins today. Goddamit, I want to be Australian Oprah. Yeah. I WANT TO BE AUSTRALIAN OPRAH GODDAMNIT. Can you hear me universe, was that LOUD enough for you?
From today, taking my first step to living with total integrity, I own my narrative around money, I acknowledge that in calling in endless abundance to my life, I must treat money with a respect and reverence I reserve for things I love. I am capable of providing a good life, an incredible life, for myself without having to kowtow to the man (be it employers, my parents or partners) for money I spend only to cover my discomfort with what I do to get that cash. I will no longer infantilize myself so that I don't have to be accountable for my own financial security.
I will have the hard conversations about where to next, and deliver sincere overdue apologies, with/to those I have asked for help from one too many times. I will offer to make recompense where is warranted so we ALL have a clean slate from which to begin this new chapter. I will ask for help, not handouts; investments, not interest-free loans that will never be paid back. I will own my historical disregard for the frustrations of others (read mainly my Mum and Dad) who have watched on with trepidation and fear as I repeatedly made the same financial mistakes over and over again. Conversely, I will not be made fearful by others projections of what security is for them; this is my life and it's imperative that I do this my way. I will free myself from the chains of both debt and greed. I absolutely will no longer blame anyone for setting a bad example for me around money because I am a fucking adult capable of breaking out of every single bad pattern I have, I have done it with other more gnarly things than this. I will absolutely break the back of the money demon.
Finally I will own my own goddamned financial future: be accountable, be present and be honest about all the shadow that lies beneath the calm surface, and know that stepping into this place where I feel as if my skin is about to fall off with discomfort, that this, this is the only place I am meant to be.
Come on gorgeous humans, follow my lead, be the HERO OF YOUR OWN STORY, be your own money saviour - save yourself, your self-esteem will sky rocket when you take control of your financial life, take it from me, this feels amazing.
Amen to that everyone. Turns out you lot are the financial counselors I have waited for my whole life.
Sending you a money tree in thanks for being the best listeners of all time.
Miss Cook xoxo
IMPORTANT AUTHOR'S NOTE:
This piece is dedicated to two people that shaped my life and them bringing me into the world and supporting me to get to this point, is, well, why I am here with you today. My Mum and Dad.
To my supportive, amazing, incredible Dad, who has stood by me through thick and thin, pulled me out of the swamp more than once and who (some might say) ripped out his last hair (arguably they were already gone, but the metaphor stands) watching me try and fail and try again. I know some days you want kill me, throttle me like Homer Simpson does to Bart, but know this, I can and will do better for myself.
I am committed to change for the better. This is on me. For me. My integrity to inspire others and my ability to see myself for the strong and capable woman you and Mum raised depends on it. All I ask from you is that you believe in my dreams as much I do, invest in the New Ange, and I know I will grow to stand completely on my own, and you will be able to say "that's my girl", and mean it in every sense of the words. We have come so far, I am so proud of how we have worked through all the hurdles and all the things that sometimes seemed so enormous they would swallow us. But know this Dad, no matter how much I continue to grow, I will always want you by my side. Always. Even when I am as big as Oprah. ;-). I love you. But you already know that, don't you? :-)
And to my magical Mama, the woman who brought me into the world amongst incredible odds, the tenor of her true bravery probably known only to me (not even she knows of her magic) and who taught me that sometimes a sister got to do it for herself, don't depend on anyone else, because it's a tough world out there, and no one is gonna do it for you. She was right, because to attract those to you who you want by your side, you have to be believe in and be proud of yourself first. Then the miracles come. My Mum taught me to be independent AND generous - and that's a recipe for a good life. I love you Mum.
Thanks Mum and Dad, we definitely got it slightly sideways sometimes, we are so far from perfect it makes me laugh, but we all know that no matter what we do, or how much it hurts, we always come back to love. Near or far, close or apart, we will always be us: our little family of three.
Love you both. x