When you first meet someone, there’s usually a lot of questions on the road toward establishing their awesomeness.
There’s the usual… What do you do? Where are you from?
What’s your favorite position — in Yoga?
Basically, what’s the story?
This Q&A approach is what we use to create a narrative to make sense of things, verify reality and/or sniff out fake news.
We each do this with varying degrees of success depending on our experiences, our knowledge, and the mastery of our cognitive biases. Sometimes it serves us, sometimes it doesn’t.
“Who in the world am I? Ahh, that’s a great puzzle.” – Alice, in Wonderland
Me? I’m from Maryland (born and raised), which nine times out of ten is, frankly, a conversation killer because you probably don’t know really anything about Maryland (except maybe something: Naval Academy, Ravens, Orioles, Crabs, or The Wire – 10 years ago).
It kills the conversation not only because you don’t know much about it, but because that ‘Maryland’ data point isn’t relevant enough for most to pursue, so you don’t. Basically, you don’t care. Maryland is simply a suboptimal option to most, despite the number of fun facts I could point out to the contrary — like it being the birthplace of the Star Spangled Banner — okay, fine, nevermind.
Now, if I’d said I’m from New York… well, that would be different.
You’d probably ask me questions, or tell me about the people and places you love in New York. You’d tell me about your experiences, your hopes and dreams, maybe that you like the Knicks (I’m sorry)… and we’d probably bond and connect — basically, all because I simply mentioned something that actually interests you — New York.
New York is the shiny object. Maryland is not. It’s not complicated, it’s not personal. It’s just how we work.
But, here’s the crazy thing. What if I ask you about something else that’s shiny — an object that is pretty high up in the hierarchy of wants and needs?
What if I ask you about money?
What if I ask you, “what does money mean to you?” Many of you will struggle. Actually, most of you will but it’s something that interests all of us, minus the monks reading this.
Pretty much every single person and set of couples I’ve ever asked has struggled to answer this question — hundreds, if not, thousands of them — they pause, they sit, they stumble, they joke away the gravity of the question. It’s not easy. It’s hard to sit with the truth sometimes. You haven’t really thought about it…
For some people, it might mean power, which is fine. But what kind of power? Power to do what? Maybe it means ‘access’, but to access to who or what? Or success? Does it really? Okay, at what cost?
The point is eventually, you can provide a thoughtful answer, but rarely as quick to answer as, “what do you do for a living?” and yet “what does money mean to you?” is just as a meaningful and important question, with just as many ramifications –probably more. But we never talk about that, do we?
If you’re connecting the dots here, I’m hoping what I tell you next helps a bit.
These are the stories we tell ourselves.
I am a _______.
That means I _______ and _______ and _______.
We actually live a large part of our life in these stories; connecting to them and sharing them.
But you are not your story, nor are you someone else’s. As long as you are alive you are a creator, even while you’re telling and remembering your story. Did I lose you? I hope not.
I think Naval Ravikant captures it best:
“Up until this moment, you have been prisoners your entire lives…now that the prison is firmly in your state of mind, you are being released into self-supervision.”
Put another way — you are the observer, editor, and actor. You consciously (or not) carry stories with you — sometimes for your whole life….whether they serve you or not.
Maybe it’s being that kid certain people called Ding Dong because your last name was Bell. Maybe it’s your annoying sibling or terrible family. Maybe it’s your amazing sibling and an awesome family. Maybe it’s the game-winning goal or participation ribbon. Or, maybe it’s the time you experienced what it feels like when to walk in someone else shoes for a bit that’s given you the miles of empathy you have today. You get the point.
It bears repeating, these stories whether useful or not, are carrying you through a large number of your present days, whether you acknowledge them or not.
The amazing thing is, though, you can look at these stories for answers and growth if you dig deep enough. And guess what — you have money stories too. These are things you tell yourself about money or the money in your life. “Money is evil” or “it’s out of your reach.” Maybe, “you’re just not good with money”. Or, “if you just had X you’d be Y.”
Maybe it’s more deep-seeded — some tragedy has you believing it could all disappear in an instant (and having you afraid to lean in), or maybe you should be like the grasshopper instead of the ant and just live for today.
Whatever these stories are, it is absolutely 100% worth investing the time to explore them, yet most of us don’t. These stories are collections of facts and biases — about your past. They do not need to continue to affect you if you grow to understand what your money story is, and why you’ve been telling it.
So, let’s explore your relationship with money a bit more, shall we?
The first thing you need to understand is when you do spend the time to dig into some of the facts around your money stories and your beliefs, you begin to realize your relationship with money is… complicated.
Part of your relationship to money is based on genetic makeup. Up to 45% of what you do in your risk-taking decision making is basically on auto-pilot. This is our ancestral effort to keep us alive.
We’re 2.0 software operating in 1.0 hardware
This 45% — your cause and effect — it’s your hardwired biases. It’s why you want to buy stocks when they go up, instead of down, or remember the first and last thing that happened to you, but rarely the middle — even though the middle is where most of our life resides.
This programming isn’t insurmountable, but it is difficult to overcome since it’s hardwired. Don’t worry, though. You’re still the major shareholder of you.
And — luckily for us, striving to own that majority also rests in our innate curiosity to question pretty much everything (including money). Well, sometimes. For things that are scarier or harder, like money — we keep those topics at arm’s length.
“It is such a loaded conversation,” explains psychologist Daniel Crosby There is so much subtext and hidden meaning wrapped up in money. Money is shorthand for happiness, power, and personal efficacy, so it can be very scary. Crosby suggest three major reasons we loathe talking about money: it’s stressful , it’s socially taboo, and most of us are uneasy with numbers.” He cites a 2004 American Psychological Association survey showing that 73% of Americans say money is the most stressful factor in life.”
So, let’s review.
We now know we’re hardwired; partly to do things in a reactionary state that’s probably not serving us anymore. We’re also hardwired to ask questions — and make observations. We know that through those experiences we can develop connections and more understanding. We also know that through understanding usually comes better subsequent decisions. AND — let’s not forget — we know we’re stressed about money, but we don’t share anything about that stress because it’s taboo or unpleasant, or maybe too hard.
So…that’s a problem.
We’ve got to start asking more questions when it comes to money.
We’ve got to get used to being uncomfortable finding our origin story, and sitting with the answers. The first step is knowing you have a problem. The second is doing something about it.
So, today I’m going to offer three simple questions in hopes of helping you understand more about your relationship with money and where it fits in your life.
I only have one request — I want you to think about your answers and record them however you think is best, because sometimes the clear view you get is a fleeting one.
I’m going to let George Kinder ask you the first question.
For those of you who don’t know Mr. Kinder, he’s arguably one of the great financial planners of our time, developing the practice and coining the phrase we now know as “life planning.” He wrote the masterpiece, 7 Stages of Money Maturity.
Question One: I want you to imagine that you are financially secure, that you have enough money to take care of your needs, now and in the future. The question is, how would you live your life? What would you do with the money? Would you change anything? Let yourself go. Don’t hold back your dreams. Describe a life that is complete, that is richly yours.
If you get hung up on this one, I get it. It’s a big one. Just sit with it. It might take a couple of days. Maybe a week. Maybe a lifetime, if you’re lucky.
Go for a walk or bike ride in nature and ponder it. I’m confident at the end of your time with this one, you’ll have a very thoughtful, meaningful, and genuine reply.
Question two is a bit more direct and will likely benefit from some conversation. You will want this conversation to be with something you trust and whose opinion and insights you value. Why? Because the conversation will challenge your story in ways that will make your answer more robust — because they’ll be asking you questions about why think that way.
Question Two: What is the first money experience you remember having? Share what you learned, how you felt, and how you think it affects you today still.
Your answer to this could be as simple as raising money for charity as a kid, or your first lemonade stand, or your first job. It could be the time that bully shook you down too… there’s no good answer, there is only your answer.
Which brings me to the last question I will ask you today… also with that confidante.
Question Three: What is the most painful money experience you remember having? Share what you learned, how you felt, and how you think it affects you today still.
This is by no means the end. It is only the beginning of what I hope is a very fruitful journey in rewriting your story. I hope these questions help you find your money story and make it what you want.
And to that end, this is the end, my friend.
This is where I will leave you for today. Our time is up, for now. You can book our next appointment with the receptionist outside. Until then…
What I’m currently consuming:
The Peak and The End – Of Dollars And Data
What’s the one thing about money you wish someone told you when you were younger?” — All About Your Benjamins
Aiming Toward Purpose — Lewis Howes
The New Investment Pyramid — Meb Faber
Who Are The Greatest Investors Of All-Time? – Cullen Roche
Something I Changed My Mind About Recently — Ben Carlson
Our song for the day: