More Than Money
Issue #29

Money Changes Everything

Table of Contents

“The Power Money Always Conveys”

An Interview with Pamela York Klainer

MTM: In your book you talk about "the power that money always conveys." What do you mean by that?
The power of money is creative. You don't have to have as much as Bill Gates does to experience that power. You only have to have a little more power-a little more money-than others. In a relationship or in a friendship group, there are subtle things. For example, people will often defer to you. They'll ask where you want to go to dinner. If you're part of a faith community and you're a donor, you may be treated differently than if you aren't. In our culture, the power of money is the power to set the agenda. To not recognize and lay that on the table is naïve. And it is wasting opportunity.

Money is a power source, like electricity, which can be used for good, but which can be fatal if mishandled. You can use money to open up opportunities, to create things, to heal, to create linkages. You can also use it to shut down access, to manipulate, to cause people great harm. Once you realize you have money and money is a power source, you can choose how to use it. 2.8 billion people in the world live on less than two dollars a day. For those of us with money, what does it mean to create goodness in an atmosphere like that? For some, the answer might be charitable giving. For others, it might be starting your own business. One thing I know: when you use money to create goodness, it is a moment of astonishing joy.

MTM: What keeps people from using money to "create goodness"?
People often get very hung up on the money itself, as if money is an end in itself. They get mired in questions like, "What does it mean that I have money and someone else doesn't? I was given a certain amount and my siblings were given a different amount . . ." Money is a tool, not an end. To focus so much on the money is sort of like fixating on a hammer, instead of what you're building with the hammer. Money has both a literal and a symbolic meaning. It buys goods and services, but it also stands in for something, such as love, affection, or disapproval. So it gets entangled with a lot of psychological and spiritual issues. People get blocked by that from actually picking up the money and doing something with it. By putting money to use, we create the meaning. It doesn't come with meaning. We have to put it to work in order to figure out what it means.

MTM: What do you recommend to help people take that step?
First, it's important to figure out what money stage you're in: denial, anxiety, exploration, or integration. Money stages aren't sequential; we go in and out of them. The ideal is to have money integrated into your daily life. I call it making money ordinary, a part of your life that you can talk about and relate to fully. If you can't talk about it, you can't learn from it.

Second, you need to develop baseline skills about money. You need to know enough to understand what your financial advisor is talking about.

Third, you have to explore your own values and determine what use of money will bring you the sense of meaning in life that people really long for. There isn't one answer. When I was writing my book, my publishers said, "Can't you just write the ten best ways to use your money?" But there aren't ten best ways. You can begin a process that asks, "What's important to me in the world? What strikes my attention? What articles do I read? What do I do in my free time? What do I respond to emotionally?" You have to do some investigating.

MTM: You write about "harnessing the power of your money story." What do you mean by that?
We all understand and tell stories about our heritage or our ethnic background. They're part of our identity. Most people, though, don't understand that everyone has a money story. Because our money story is the one we explore the least, if we delve into it, it has enormous power.

There are three parts to a money story: 1) The formative events that shaped your life. For example, if you lived through the depression or got caught up in a dot.com bubble, what lessons did you take away from those experiences? 2) The subtle influences money exerts in shaping your life decisions. These can be difficult to tease out and discuss. Often, there is a choice involved; for example, choosing a life partner, a career, or a neighborhood. In what ways did money influence those choices? Money often provides a silent subtext to our decisions, and is the one we talk about the least. 3) The symbolic meaning of money. Money may be used as a scorecard, or people may give money because they're afraid of intimacy. Delving into its symbolic use for you is the third part of your money story.

To uncover your money story, you simply ask yourself questions, like, "When is the first time I had money and what did I do with it?" "When is the first time I made money and what did I do with it?" For example, a consultant in her thirties was having huge authority issues with middle-aged men. She examined her money story and realized that when she was a child getting an allowance, her father used to set aside for savings two dollars out of every three she was given. She could spend one dollar, but had to justify every expense. No wonder she had difficulty with authority issues, and middle-aged men! You have to tie your story to your behavior today, and ask, "Is this what I want?" Maybe what you're doing now will still work, but probably some behaviors will need to be examined with the light of adult understanding.

One of the interesting things about money stories is that they tend to run in families. Unresolved money issues often cascade through generations, gaining steam as they go along. In an odd way, the central money drama can be rolled up into a particular theme. In my family, the theme is around having and losing money. My maternal grandfather was an inventor. He had a family of ten children, a car, a radio and other nice things-and then he went from that to being really poor. He lost his company during the Depression because he was an alcoholic. Any story can be interpreted in different ways, but this one was told with a sense of shame in our family. It was a story of having and then losing, and the moral of it was that everything you have can be lost.

When my parents married, my father had a good job; then at age forty-nine, he died suddenly. My mother encountered the same theme of having and losing. Suddenly, she was terrified we would be out on the street. Enormous anxiety about not having enough money was conveyed to me. I carried that anxiety long after our situation was completely different. Even now, every once in a while I'll say to my husband, "Do you think we have enough money?" My husband and I are both entrepreneurs and we have enough money.

Because of your money story, you carry a feeling long after it's warranted by your situation. You need to say to yourself, "This isn't based in reality. It's not true or relevant to my life anymore." You can go back a long time in the family story. The longer the stories are not dealt with, the more power they get.

MTM: How do you change your money story?
To change your money story takes a sustained effort, like changing any other behavior. You have to put a new feeling and behavior in place. Often, there's a huge AHA! moment, which in itself can be empowering and trigger a change. Beyond that, you can identify small steps to take. For example, if your common pattern has been to defer and not ask questions of people because you're afraid of the conflict that might provoke, you can start by asking more questions. If people are aware of steps to take and yet remain stuck, then therapy can be helpful.

The important thing is to get movement around the money issues. It doesn't mean you have to do something different in your life. It means you enter into a process to discover how you want to relate to and use your money. For example, a woman in her early forties who had inherited wealth had never as an adult worked for pay. That affected her relationships. She was afraid people were making judgments. She dreaded the moment when people would ask, "What do you do?" because she felt she was "less than" others who work for a living. I told her there was no necessity to feel shame about the fact that she had an inheritance. When I said, "Get a job, if that's the crux of your shame," she laughed. Then she got frightened and we talked about what she might do. She had enough money to fund a venture, so she didn't need to look for a job-she could make one for herself. She developed a business plan and began to proceed. She had gotten pretty far down the path when she stopped and said, "I don't want to do this. I'm a philanthropist and an investor." She didn't end up doing something different by understanding her money story. For her, it meant going through a process in order to discover that she was a community activist. Money is a fascinating window onto yourself and your life, if you can approach it without judgment.

- Interview by Pamela Gerloff


Pamela York Klainer, Ed.D. (www.powerandmoney.com) , is an executive coach, organizational consultant, and author of How Much Is Enough?: Harness the Power of Your Money Story-and Change Your Life. Dr. Klainer was a financial planner for ten years and, during the 1980s, was a partner in a diversified financial services firm that raised in excess of $50 million to provide equity for low- and moderate-income housing projects.


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