You Might Need This Financial Wake-Up Pill

Photo: Ashim D’Silva
We live in an “outrage chic” society these days, don’t we?

Omg, did so-and-so really say that? Did my sister really go there? Is Trump truly that much of an a-hole? Did that guy just cut me off? Down with the big corporations. Down with white people. Down with black people. Down with men who hate women. Down with heteros, homos, Republicans, or Democrats! Basically, down with anyone who doesn’t “get” me. I matter.

If you’re feeling offended, please notice that you’re already in it, practicing outrage chic.

If you’re not sure of what I mean by “outrage chic” (I believe it was Ryan Holiday who first coined the term), just take a look at your Facebook stream. The underlying outrage is hard to miss.

Although it may feel impossible, try to put a pin in that exploding feeling for a few minutes. Not because you’re not entitled to your beliefs and feelings on the matter of money, but because being outraged is an easy, lazy way of not dealing with an actual problem. In many ways, it’s a guilty pleasure. It’s a way of getting out of taking responsibility for our own actions.

I should make the following disclaimer. To anyone who believes money isn’t real or that they can manifest money through vibes or that money is evil, the rest of this article won’t make sense to you. Do move on.

To everyone else, I’m hoping to rattle your internal cages a bit to see if you yourself want to step out of the outrage and shift gears. I think you are.

There’s nothing like money and how it’s spread out in our society and how it’s used by others that chaps our hide. It’s social dynamite as far as issues go.

Do you feel like you have a comfortable relationship with your money? You may be asking, Jane, what does that even mean?

Does what you do with your money reflect who you are, and support your deepest values? Or are there a heck of a lot of mis-alignments going on there?

Because that is what your money’s supposed to do for you in life, right? Reflect who you are. Support what you give a shit about and breathe life into your values instead of some other values you believe make the world a slightly crappier place.

Your values need money. Otherwise, they weaken and die in the world. In finance, we call this the “monetization” of values.

I usually write pieces that focus on your personal finances alone, kind of like you exist in a bubble with your money. How you can make your money work for your purpose better. How you can make it more productive, efficient, more meaningful in your life. But that’s only half the story of you and your money.

Somewhere in the dark recesses of your psyche, you may know it but it may be too painful to look at.

You may be a financial a-hole.

You may be part of the problem. The bigger problem. Everyday, you’re adding to whatever issues our economy has, to how much poorer the poor is getting, to how much power companies who do a lot of social damage are wielding, how financial opportunities for the middle and lower class are shrinking, how much worse-funded and less functional our education systems are becoming, and generally, how crappy your own life and the life of your loved ones are getting.

We’ve got a problem with our collective values and financial behavior. They suck. The way we currently spend our money makes our lower values become stronger and our higher values die.

You probably think you’re different. Maybe. But hold off on confirming that belief until you’ve read the rest of the article.

Most of us tell ourselves our private financial decisions on what to spend our money on and what not to spend on is no big deal because, you know, it’s only me, and what I do with my money doesn’t matter. Plus, it’s nobody’s business. When we lie like this, our psyche needs to cover it up like a kid caught in a lie. So we typically go straight to outrage chic as a trusty defense mechanism and point the finger at others.

“It’s their fault that my finances suck.” These days, it’s chic to blame the rich. A lot of rich people are indeed assholes, but many are not. So, what are we doing? Blaming a certain subset of people for acting human? What a waste of time. Bringing down the rich won’t make you rich, my friend. Only you can do that.

You know that what you do with your money day in and day out can matter more than any single decision a Bill Gates or a Mark Zuckerberg could make. But we don’t want to believe it. Instead, we choose to keep feeling unworthy or expect others to pick up the bill of doing the right thing.

The few times we regular folks take financial responsibility for a social direction like during the election of Barack Obama, the results are pretty shocking and spectacular. But we don’t do it often.

When we think our power is too small, or that we have more power than others, it’s actually the same problem. We think too much about ourselves.

We’ve become a society of financial narcissists. I think that social media has had a lot to do with it and the disintegration of our overall mental health, but that’s a topic for a different blog.

What is wealth about?

We hear the advice on numbers, and having been brought up in a “numbers” kind of Asian family, I appreciate the story numbers have to tell, whether it’s of a person or a company. But what almost everyone misses about finance is that money and building wealth is about creating and nurturing a flow.

Building wealth is about maximizing the flow of money through your life, so that over time, more flows in both directions, in and out.

People who get this and grow the amount of money that flows through their lives and toward their values and back again, win big.

Money works the same way in reverse.

People who adopt a scarcity mindset and accumulate money just for themselves get sick on the inside. They put money ahead of people and end up driving away anyone who would treat them with genuine humanity. You know people like this. No one cares if they live or die. They become kinda like human dust bunnies, occasionally making life a little more insufferable for everyone else. Over time, they become irrelevant no matter how many dollars sit in their bank account.

They’re the assholes in the Range Rovers who angrily honk at you because you’re in front of them and you refuse to go through a red light to yield their way.

They’re the jerks who Instagram every moment of their dinner at Nobu and act like it’s cool to be rude to their servers.

No one cares about them. It’s kind of sad.

The point I’m making is, you’re not one of them.

You’re aware on some deeply human level that money is meant to be circulated and directed by you toward your highest values. What are they? Hopefully, some of your values include kindness, empathy, affordable education and health options. Better lives for all.

You’re probably someone who wants to do amazing things with your life and your money.

This applies to how you manage it toward your personal purpose for sure. But it also applies to how you manage money through investments and spending. As in, how you affect the world with your money.

I’m not talking about individual gifts to charities, or social organizations.

I’m asking you, who are you paying?

Are you paying people who are kind to you? The doorman that always opens the door for you with a gracious heart? The pizza delivery guy who clearly just immigrated here from Eastern Europe who probably has a family he’s feeding with your tips and happens to keep your pizza extra warm every time?

How about the street artist who clearly has honed their craft and makes the energy around him inspiring and a little more beautiful for you?

How about the creators of an app that makes your life better, especially the ones who are struggling to do it without VC funding? Or the writer who changes your life with her stories?

Who are you paying?

Are you paying a company like Uber who makes everyone’s lives (including its own drivers’) shittier except yours at the moment you’re saving a dollar?

Are you paying a company like Facebook who’s adding to the level of our social neuroses and promoting fake lives (and making everyone else feel shittier about their own real ones)? Are you monetizing a company who tracks our every move in order to make more money for themselves? (Jason Fried, CEO of Basecamp, explains a recent decision of his.)

Are you spending all of your money at places like Walmart who’s historically and systematically drained local economies and mom-and-pop businesses, for shareholders that don’t care about you or your community?

Who are you paying? Because you’re paying someone.

It sounds like a fucking motivational poster, but I’ll say it anyway because it’s true. Your money is power. Let’s look at these two simple scenarios as personal proof.

When your boss compliments you on how well you tackled a hard problem for the company and pats you on the back without a raise, how do you feel? Warm and fuzzy maybe.

But how do you experience your boss’ appreciation when she backs it up with a financial raise? Hell-a different, and you know it. When the first scenario happens, there’s probably a part of you silently yelling, “Then why don’t you pay me more?”

Money’s not just real to you. It’s real to everyone. How you direct your money matters.

Companies like Uber, Walmart, and Facebook are growing like weeds while our middle and lower classes struggle and die because a bunch of people like you and me are choosing to not take financial responsibility for our values.

Who do you pay?

It’s time to claim your power, no matter how “small” you think it is.

Who you pay today ends up being the ones who have the money to pay you tomorrow. Do their values look anything like yours?

Who are you giving your power to? Make no mistake about it. You matter. You are the economy. You’re monetizing values left and right.

Consider stepping beyond the outrage you currently feel for being called out on your past choices and ask yourself, what you want to do after the resentment subsides?

You may be a good person, but an accidental financial jerk. Should it be like that?

No one’s perfect. Maybe we could just pause a little more often before plunking down our financial power for something we think we want, but don’t really want in the longer run.

Maybe we could just start there.

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