There is a universal truth about your money baggage: it is not true. It is not true that you do not deserve money. It is not true that money is bad or that you have to work hard for it. Money doesn’t necessarily corrupt and people with money and power will not necessarily humiliate and control you. It is not true that a woman cannot be powerful and competent with money. It’s not true that you can’t follow your heart and earn a good living at the same time. Your money baggage only seems true to you because you have made it so inside your head.
Money baggage always speaks in the language of limitation:
Without money, I have no value.
It’s selfish and greedy to want.
I have to take care of myself.
I have to be useful or I have no right to be here.
I have to work hard, hard, hard, or I will fail.
I will be a failure if I am not as successful as my father.
You get money not by following your spirit or doing what you want, but by being responsible and doing what others tell you to do.
It’s not okay to spend money on myself.
I had better save because I can’t depend on anything or anyone.
I’m not worth anything because I didn’t earn it myself.
Money equals self-esteem.
None of these statements is inherently true. And yet we live entire lives assuming they are, doing irrational things with money that seem completely rational to us.
Gordon is someone who has received more inheritances than anyone I know. I was always a bit envious, as I often used to fantasize about getting an inheritance. Like people who fantasize about winning the lottery, I imagined what I would do with all my fantasy inherited money.
Gordon had a unique solution for what to do with his: he gave it all away, every time. When he got an inheritance, he would proudly tell me what he had done. “Oh, my friend had some credit card debt so I paid that off.” Another time he told me, “A great kid in my neighborhood wanted to go to college and didn’t have the money so I gave it to him.” One time it was, “This woman who works in my department really wanted to go buy this piece of land that had been in her family for many years, so I helped her with the down payment.”
Within months of any inheritance, Gordon was back where he was before, working in a job he didn’t really like all that much. He justified it to me by the fact that he “had to work.” And then he would complain to me about how many more years he had until retirement.
I was always astounded by his generosity. I wasn’t sure I could be that generous under the same circumstances. Yet, something was wrong with the picture. I always wondered why he didn’t keep some of it and leave the job he didn’t like. Even if he couldn’t retire, he could at least use it to support a career change that would be more fulfilling to him.
Once I learned about his childhood, I came to see that giving away his inheritances wasn’t just about being generous. It was also propelled by an underlying belief that money is bad. His father, a longshoreman in Texas, had come upon sudden wealth. He had inherited a few acres of land, beneath which happened to be a lot of oil.
Most of us are unprepared for sudden wealth and his dad was no exception. What had been a fairly happy existence for Gordon ended. His father bought a large yacht, quit working, and over time became a bit of a local playboy and carouser. A young mistress entered the picture, a divorce followed, and the family was torn apart.
It was clear to Gordon that money destroys family. His money baggage became: Money is bad; it corrupts.
Gordon got rid of his inheritances in seemingly honorable ways. He gave it to people who really appreciated it, or who really needed it. It seemed very virtuous. But his generosity really stemmed from the fact that he had a deep fear that money would corrupt him.
As obvious as it might seem to an outside observer, Gordon had never made the connection between his altruistic pattern of giving away money and his dad’s behaviors. His early painful imprinting—his money baggage—was running the show, keeping him in a steady low-paying job that he disliked. He was controlled by the fear that money might tear apart his own family and life.
Of course it isn’t true that money is necessarily bad or that it corrupts, but Gordon believed it was. As children, we live in a world defined by our money baggage, a decision based on a misperception of reality. A single event can define our money baggage. But oftentimes, our money baggage develops over many years. It can arise and be reinforced over decades from a mood in the home or a parent’s recurrent attitude. It may not be obvious until we begin to look at its effect on our adult lives.
Our money baggage might work for us for a while. But when we are adults, it stops working, and we can find ourselves living dysfunctional, frustrating, and fearful lives. When we find ourselves in jobs we do not like; when we are unable to find work; when we cannot hold onto money or make enough to support our dreams; or when we attempt to improve our lives but are frustrated at every turn—all these situations revolve around our money baggage.
Money is involved in all aspects of our lives, and when we decide to work on our money issues, we find a powerful access point to multiple aspects of ourselves, an access point that helps bring to consciousness that which is unconscious. It’s the first step in healing emotional pain and finding our soul’s work. It all begins with the realization that our money baggage isn’t true.
Next week, we discuss exercises for discovering your own money baggage!