Money Message Principle #6: Money Baggage and Work

We design our work lives around our money baggage without realizing it. Perhaps you are working below your true abilities or are in a job that pays a lower wage than you deserve. Maybe you are working long hours at a job you don’t like. Your money baggage is the culprit behind these patterns. Until you find out what it is, it will be as if an invisible force field is keeping you in your current circumstances.

Roger, a participant at one of my workshops, was typical of many people who know what they want to do but stay glued to their unsatisfying job. Roger was a marketing executive: crisp suit, starched white shirt, talking to everyone around him before the class started,
confident, smooth, well-liked.

At the beginning of class I always ask, “Why are you here? What do you want to accomplish by being here?” The first words out of Roger’s mouth were, “I hate my job. I hate marketing; I can’t do it any more. I make a ton of money but it’s killing me.”

I asked him what he would do if he weren’t doing marketing. He didn’t have to think for even a second. “I’d be a teacher. I’d love to teach math. But I’d only make a third of what I make now.”

“Well, could you possibly support yourself on a teacher’s salary?” “I don’t know, I don’t have any debt,” he said. “I do have a lot in the stock market. I never really considered it.”

As Roger was growing up his mom told him repeatedly, “You are only as good as the amount of money you make. If you have money; you are a better person.” Roger’s uncle worked as a brakeman for the railroad. His mom told him, “You don’t want to turn out to be like Uncle Fred.” The fact is, Roger admired his uncle, who had a huge heart, played guitar, was fun to be around, and taught Roger a lot of great things. But his mom made it clear: Roger needed to rise above any occupation that seemed blue collar or ordinary.

Other times his mom would say, “See that person? He’s a social worker. It’s too bad. He doesn’t make much money. You can do more for the world if you have money.” Roger’s money baggage was clear: Money determines my self-worth.

He got a business degree and, as soon as he graduated from college, went for a job that would make him a lot of money—marketing for a pharmaceutical company. And he was very successful.

“So your lifestyle might allow you to become a teacher,” I said, “if you took a hard look at it. But you dread having the conversation with your mom, telling her you have decided to follow your heart? Is that it?”

“No,” Roger said. “Mom’s been dead for ten years.” I was stunned. Ten years, but he still heard her voice in his ear, keeping him from pursuing his passion to teach. That is how powerful our money baggage is. As long as we don’t examine it to find out why we make
the decisions about money that we do, we will be frustrated in our attempts to follow our hearts.

Our money baggage not only keeps us from pursuing work we love; it also can keep us in lower-paying jobs than we deserve. Virginia, one of my clients, runs the information technology department at a state agency.

Virginia is exceptional at her job. She keeps up with the latest technological advancements and she is constantly expected to do miraculous things with few resources. On call twenty-four hours a day, she is the one who has to fix things if the system crashes or malfunctions. She only gets called when there is a problem—and when there is, it always needs to be fixed right away. She has worked at the agency for twenty-one years. In six more years she can retire. But the job is wearing her out.

One irony about her situation is that she works within driving distance of many software companies starved for skilled workers. Often she trains someone who then gets hired away at a starting salary far exceeding hers. She could easily triple her income and work
shorter hours at a private company.

I told her, “Quit! Get out! Who cares?” Based on the retirement projection for her and her husband (who makes pretty good money as a mid-level bank manager), she really doesn’t need to make a lot of money, maybe $40,000 a year. “Do you know how many jobs
there are in the world paying $40,000–$50,000 that you are completely qualified for? Even if you didn’t have the right skills, you could get them in a relatively short time.” The more I asked her why she stayed and why she didn’t go get another job, the more she fidgeted in her seat.

My logic fell on deaf ears because her money baggage is: I can’t risk—the world can’t be trusted. Her father was an entrepreneur who made lots of money but went broke again and again. The family was always in upheaval. “It’s our lot in life, honey,” her mom would say.

To Virginia, taking a risk in her life called up the uncertainty of her childhood, going from boom to bust and back again. Despite all the possibilities before her, she loved the security of her current job and she was unwilling to go beyond her comfort zone. Her money baggage told her that if she took risks, she’d probably get hurt. She would rather suffer than explore the options available to her.

But she couldn’t realize any of this until she uncovered her money baggage. Then it became clear to her why she was clinging to a painful dead-end job.

The world is full of talented people working at jobs below their abilities. They stay in professions that don’t pay very much money or that they don’t like. They believe that staying safe is better than leaving, even if staying is painful.

I don’t believe our souls buy into this idea that stagnation is a safe place. I think our soul wants us to grow. I believe our soul wants us to find our own unique gift. To find work that expresses who we really are, what our true passions are.

Ask yourself if you love your job. If you don’t love it, why are you still doing it? Why aren’t you moving on? Do you deserve a raise or more time off and are afraid to ask for it? Do you tell yourself that the reason you work so hard is that you have to support your family? Do you take lunch breaks? Do you take all the vacation time you have earned? The answers to these questions are pointing you toward your money baggage.

It might be useful to list every job you’ve ever had and see if you can find a recurring theme. Were you following your deepest interests and your heart? Were you paid what you were worth? What types of bosses did you have? Take this information and use it to better understand your money baggage, and become more conscious of its influence in your life, especially at work.

Next week, we discuss Money Message Principle #7: Money Baggage and Finances.


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