This morning, I was sitting in my "meditation room" - an amusing phrase to use in describing the only visible floor space (about 2' x 2') in our closet. I felt extremely peaceful, which was surprising for a week of too little sleep and hard-driving work. My heart and solar plexus were relaxed. My face was empty of tension. There was a soft, un-forced smile on my mouth. And it was barely 6:00am.
I began to think about why I work so incredibly hard when I'm working (which is only about 2/3 of the time, lucky for me). When I was young, I was taught both by example and in words that life is a struggle, that you have to work hard at school, Boy Scouts, orchestra, gymnastics, anything you want to excel at, and then you get to play or relax. As a result, I've always applied myself to anything I've been involved in rather forcefully. I remember the checklist that my band director gave me in 7th grade, where I had to check off each time I practiced my clarinet for thirty minutes or more, and there needed to be at least four checkmarks per week, signed off by my mother. I never turned one in that didn't exceed his requirement.
In my professional life, of which 2008 will be the 20th year, I've continued this habit. I feel guilty when I'm not working by 9:00am, or when I don't put in forty hours a week. There are many weeks when I don't, but during those weeks, I'm often having an inner conversation which goes something like "Well, I was up until 1am a few nights ago doing emails, and I'm going to be traveling for 10 out of the next 13 days," as if there's a phantom boss sitting in front of me asking me to account for my time.
There isn't. I own my own company. And yet these voices and habits persist. I asked myself what my financial Core Story (a term from my forthcoming HarperCollins book, It"s Not About the Money) is with regard to this insight. The answer: "You have to struggle to have money."
As has happened to me countless times before when I've brought something which was previously unconscious into my conscious awareness, I immediately felt the relief of not being held prisoner by an unseen warden. I also was aware that while there is some truth to this Core Story, there is also falsity.
I thought of my friend Tim, who works about three hours a week and earns over $600,000 a year. I also thought of my friend Mickey who works over sixty hours a week and earns $60,000. They both went to USC, are both intelligent, hard-working guys, and yet they have such completely different relationships to money. The difference? Tim's Core Story is that you should make as much money as you want in order to enjoy the good things in life - despite his high income, he has almost no savings to show for it. While Mickey's Core Story is that he will never have real financial security unless he's working his tail off for it. And their lives have become physical manifestations of these unconscious beliefs.
I've worked on this many times before in myself. I know that money doesn't have to be a struggle. As a Certified Financial Planner certificant and investment advisor, I've seen plenty of clients who've made plenty of money with little effort. In fact, most of my biggest successes in business have occurred when I've stopped trying so hard. But now I felt that I was on a new cusp of breaking through to a new level of non-efforting around money and business.
How this will look I have no idea. My main intention, for now, is to keep making this part of my unconscious Core Story more and more conscious. I do this by putting it into the youngest words I can (there's a section in my book called "A Four-Year-Old Runs Your Financial Life"). So here is what my 'inner four-year-old' has internalized about struggle and money:
"You'll never amount to anything unless you work at it. You can't play yet. Get back in here and finish your homework, then you can play. You think you're already a success. Come on. Look at all the people around you who are younger, dumber, and have much more wealth. Get your ass back behind the computer and make something happen. You want to take time off to go camping this summer. You better grow this business substantially before then."
It sounds harsh and severe (you should try living inside my head all the time), but in truth, there's a relief in articulating it on paper. Now, I actually have the chance to dialogue out in the open with it. The key is to not reject it outright, but to include it in my planning for the day.
What does your 'inner four-year-old' tell you about struggle with money? I'd love to hear about it.