The new year is typically a time for retrospectives and reflections on the twelve months past, lessons learned, as well as a re-commitment to the things that matter most. I was reminded of these topics myself after a conversation with a much-valued mentor recently.
The last year has been a journey with tremendous learnings, insights and effort some of which was seemingly fruitless. Regardless of all this, I asked myself what the spark and fuel is that seems to drive me almost inexorably to a goal I can barely articulate. The answer came in a flash this week: in the form of a different vision of the “happily ever after” scenario.
Happily ever after, the traditional story
The traditional version of the fairy tale has the young and pretty girl suffer untold trials and tribulations at the hands of cruel parents, step-parents, siblings and other caretakers, only to suffer patiently and usually silently. This intolerable state of affairs goes on for a long while until, one fine day, she is rescued by some version of Prince Charming, to live happily ever after in a beautiful castle in a sunny land far, far away.
The beautiful thing about this story is that in this castle she presumably never has to worry about who is going to pay the bills, disasters never happen (along with the attendant hassles of dealing with insurance companies), and of course, she is never short of cash and doesn’t have to sully her pretty hands with anything as banal as having to work for a living.
It’s never stated, but also assumed that magically, she never outlives her spouse or partner, and therefore never has to worry about managing a household alone. Last but not least, she doesn’t have to select among a mind-boggling array of financial products each more complex than the next, each promising greater rewards than the next.
It therefore goes without saying that she never experiences any self-doubt, she is happy and content playing this clearly-defined role, and never suffers any feelings of incompetence or inadequacy, or having to deal with the constant fear of whether she has been sold a bag of goods, figuratively speaking.
I imagine that our princess would have a rough landing were she left to fend for herself in the hustle and bustle of modern life today.
The challenge is that for many of us, the tales of “happiness” we grew up with and unconsciously internalized have left us with a big and very uncomfortable behavioral and expectations gap when it comes to dealing with money. In many instances, we don’t have role models at all, being unable to look up to aunts or mothers or other such women in our immediate orbits, on whom to pattern our own behaviors and actions.
In many instances, even publicly respected role-models unconsciously or unintentionally reinforce this image, as Sheryl Sandberg, hero of “Lean In” fame (at least until the recent issues) did in her 2013 interview in Time magazine. When asked about her net worth post the Facebook IPO, Sandberg ducked the question by implying she did not know the answer because her husband (at the time) managed their money, and that she had no interest. The stance of public role models on the topic of money is a topic for a whole other conversation, but suffice it to say that the trends are not encouraging.
Add to this the unspoken taboo of women and money, and you have the recipe for a perfect disaster of the financial kind: when the storms strike, as they inevitably do, many are left not only having to deal with extremely stressful and intimidating tasks, but have to do so when grappling with feelings of shame, self-doubt, guilt, anxiety, fear and regret. The runway to recover from expensive mistakes may be pretty unforgiving too, if they have put all this off for too long.
Happily ever after, re-imagined
But is there a happily ever after for the modern woman — the one who may or may not have a Prince Charming to turn to, and who has a 90% chance of having to manage her household finances by herself at some point in her life? The one who deals with constant self-doubt and feeling of inadequacy when dealing with issues of money and personal wealth? The one who is juggling tasks that are too many for anyone to manage with sanity?
I had a sudden realization this week that a different version of a happily ever after, though only intuitively felt and dimly visible, has nevertheless been the single strong and unfailing source of fuel for my efforts in this area.
Let me describe that vision for you:
My dream of happily ever after is a world in which women no longer stress about money. It’s a world where they, regardless of their current level of wealth or expertise, believe and know for a fact that like every other challenge they face, this too is one that can be conquered with patience and effort, and where their strong common sense actually stands them in excellent stead in making good and sound choices for their welfare.
It is a world in which women have the means and the ability to get on the path to self-sufficiency and self-efficacy through many small steps, seeing for themselves the significant progress that can be made with simple measures consistently taken, as they gain increasing confidence and validation in dealing with every matter pertaining to money.
It is a world where they can fully deploy their unique strengths of whole-brain thinking, holistic decision-making and prudence to their own benefit, and find ways to gently correct for those areas where they know they have exposure or vulnerability, as does every human being, male or female.
It is a world where they don’t have to constantly doubt their own competence and ability, or have the need to prove and demonstrate their value and worth to everyone around them, particularly in dealing with matters of money.
It is a world where they don’t need to fight for a decent shot at a secure life that they have worked hard to earn. It’s a world where they don’t feel like they have to earn a university degree just to understand something as basic as their financial position and prospects.
Most of all, I dream of a world in which they can rely on none but themselves to find the path to the life that spells contentment, fulfillment and meaning in their own view, without the constant and added fear of being taken for a ride or getting a rougher deal just because of their gender. A world where they get taken seriously, get their valid and legitimate needs met in a way that is natural and intuitive for them.
I dream of a world in which women find it easy to equip themselves to make the most of all the winds in their favor, and deal strongly and resolutely with the inevitable storms, knowing that they have done everything they possibly could to ensure safety, security and contentment in the later part of life, for themselves, as well as those they care most about.
When I look at it this way, the struggle somehow seems worth it.
(Originally published on skchakravarthy.com)