Stacey joined a small IT startup straight out of college. She didn’t make a ton of money but loved the mad energy that every work day brought.
Ten years later the wildest thing happened, that now “not so little start-up” was acquired by a big IT company and Stacey’s share options hit the jackpot in a big way!!
Instead of feeling like she’d just won the lottery, Stacey felt a big ball of dread settle firmly in her gut as she pictured telling her parents. She could see her construction worker father bringing up her “lazy” ways and her “pretend” job where she never seemed to do much work but “sure learnt how to spend money” and her house-keeper mother looking disapprovingly at her new handbag and commenting on the “hoity toity” ways she has learnt from “those rich snobs”.
Stacey had gotten her first taste of money shame.
And while it may seem hard to believe that we could ever feel bad about having a lot of money, surprise, we do!
Most of us have some level of money guilt around where we are financially irrespective of how much we have or don’t have.
And in fact it doesn’t require a big windfall to bring it on. It could simply be that we are earning more than our peers, our parents or simply that we are more focused on building our wealth then our social circle.
The guilt could arise because we aren’t where we want to be money wise or we have ended up somewhere financially that’s outside of our wealth comfort zone and that of our family and friends.
And whether the situation causes the emotional response because it’s not in line with our financial goals or desires or it’s not in line with our money beliefs, our typical approach is to suppress the feeling and this ends up with some level of self-sabotage. Take a look at how many lottery winners have ended up in a worse financial situation than before they won the lottery!
While guilt in itself is not a terrible thing as it can invite a certain level of introspection and self-awareness if we are open to it, which can teach us useful lessons or guide us to take positive actions going forward.
However it we aren’t open to exploring where it’s really coming from it can become a trap for making poor decisions.
Uncover what’s driving the guilt
The first indicator of our “guilt driver” is the story we are telling ourselves about the situation.
What narrative have you going on behind the thoughts. Rich people are selfish, greedy or obnoxious? You have to do great things to be rewarded or the old favourite, money is the root of all evil?.
Secondly where is your narrative coming from. Is this a story you have brought forward from childhood or an experience that created a belief you unconsciously subscribed to.
And thirdly does this narrative stand up to interrogation. Is it a story that can be refuted and as a result, a belief that can be reset?
Guilt caused by a wealth differential could be a tricky place to be in that much of it is driven by the story you tell yourself around who you will be , or be seen to be with money.
Chances are this is a negative story.
The truth is that money and success cannot change who you fundamentally are. You’re still you, and the values that drive you are still the same values.
Ironically much of the discomfort you feel is likely to be caused by the fact you believe subconsciously that this money you have is outside of what you value.
It makes sense then that the mitigant to the money guilt is to align the money with what you do value.
Again, this calls on a great deal of introspection and knowing what’s important to you.
Ask the experts
Money shame can lead to disorientation as we navigate a whole new terrain, more often than not, without our peer or parental example as a guidepost.
This is when money is lost.
A “must do” practicality is to see an expert. Lay out your goals, ambitions and yes, your values.
A good financial planner trained in lifestyle planning can help you make the transition to the new paradigm in a way that feels aligned with those values and authentic to you.
And as you find your footing in the new terrain understand the gift you have been given and the differences you can make in the world and embrace gratitude.
As motivational author Andy Stanley says, “Guilt rarely results in positive behaviour. But gratitude? Great things flow from a heart of gratitude”.