I’ve been living with shame about money for seven years now. And it’s taken its toll.
It started when the recession hit and my business tanked. It never fully un-tanked. There were bright spots, things were always right around the corner, but I never reached my pre-recession earning level. Ever.
It took years for my spending to slow down. Longer than I’m proud to admit. I was just so used to being able to afford certain things. The next big contract was right around the corner. Except it wasn’t.
I spent based on the money I expected to make, any day now.
Any day now.
I am so ashamed of my inability to climb back from the nosedive. Not about the nosedive itself because, hello, the whole country pretty much was right there with me. But how is it seven years later and I’m still struggling? How am I 40 (almost 41) years old and I sometimes feel like I’m still 21, on the outside of the economy, deciding what I might like to do for a living?
In the middle of all this, I got a full-time job. I closed up shop at my consulting firm and went “in-house,” as they say, but it wasn’t a house, it was an office, and after six months, the same company that had relocated me for this high-level job — this high-paying job — decided that my services were no longer needed.
I don’t feel shame about being laid off, I feel shame about being back at square one financially.
There’s a lot of buzz about failure these days. How much character it builds. How the lives of the greats are strewn with failure like flowers on a path to the throne. What it feels like, on the inside, to me, is that I am just wrong for this world, that I want things I cannot and should not want. I want to be an artist, and that is irresponsible, impractical, and will never pay the bills.
So I’ve settled on a career that dances close to art. Using my storytelling skills to help nonprofits and other clients I believe in. Using my acting ability as a public speaker and corporate improv trainer.
But none of this is my soul’s work. And part of me has held back, because this whole time, I’ve been pursuing things I didn’t really want — at least, not as much as I wanted things like the ability to write full-time, to grow my blog, to write more books, to write for TV. Maybe even to be in my own TV show.
All this time, as I’ve chased income, and felt like a failure at it, I’ve been telling myself I couldn’t make a living as an artist. That it was wrong and dumb and shameful and silly to want to do so. That I should just grow up and earn money already.
All this time, I’ve been telling myself that consulting — strategic communications, content, social media — that that’s where the money was.
And I haven’t been making as much money as I want.
And I keep having setback after setback. The recession. The crazy client who cancelled our huge contract. The layoff.
At the same time, there have been moments when it’s like the universe was trying to get through to me on a crackling phone connection. There was, for example, the woman who interviewed me for a full-time job but she’d read my blog and that’s all she really wanted to talk about, and I ended up admitting I didn’t really want the job after all.
Universe, I want you to know, I’ve been afraid to say it aloud these last couple months since the layoff, but: I hear you. It’s taken seven years of beating my head against the wall. It’s taken seven years of shame. It’s taken me writing this, publicly, as a way of acknowledging what I’ve refused to let myself know.
The job is not to chase the money. The job is to listen to my intuition. And to let action flow from intuition.
The job is not to engineer the solution. I’m not in charge. It doesn’t work.
The job is to turn to the critic inside me who says, “You sound like a New Age moron,” and kick her gently in the vagina.
“What a privileged flake you are,” she says, “with all this indulgent talk. Just get a JOB.”
She still gets in my head.
The job is to turn to the skeptic inside me who says, “Yes, but HOW WILL THE MONEY COME? You must be responsible, you must be practical,” and tell her, “I don’t know, but you are not a helpful voice. Where have you gotten me? You have gotten me nowhere. What if you just tried cheering me on? Where might that get us?”
I don’t know what’s next. Have I made that clear? I don’t know. This is not a blog post full of answers and certainty.
But I know the wrongness I feel when I take action that isn’t true to myself. I know that that wrongness is increasingly intolerable.
My intuition is growing stronger and mouthier and I am along for the ride.
I finally watched Brene Brown’s TED talk on shame halfway through writing this piece. It’s galvanizing.
Background photo above thanks to Esteban on Flickr