Recently I met a small business owner, Maria, Â who inspired me to think differently about my dream of personal finance mastery.
My new friend’s business happens to be food, but listening to her talk, it hit me that food is just the delivery mechanism for what she’s really selling – compassion, understanding, and acceptance. Sure, she loves to cook, and she’s trained, and she’s owned a restaurant and everything – she’s got the credentials to be in the food business, in other words.
But if you took the food business away from her and dropped her into, say, an auto mechanic business, I have the sense that she would use changing your oil as a way to deliver compassion, understanding, and acceptance.
That’s simply who she is. Food is just the way she expresses it.
Food and money have a lot in common, in that they tend to be emotional chits. Ask Geneen Roth, who has written a number of books and made a career of helping women understand their emotional connection to food, and who most recently wrote about losing all her money at the hands of Bernie Madoff.
In the aftermath of that experience, she realized she was reliving the same emotional maelstrom that she used to endure when it came to food.
Yet another case of wherever you go, there you are.
I think Maria might say that the reason people get into trouble with food is because they treat it like an escape, and escape becomes addiction. Food can be an escape from pain, sadness, and fear. For some of us, it’s just not that hard to fall into the behavior of running from our real feelings straight into the arms of a bowl of mashed potatoes.
But what if we saw food as a form of self expression, instead of a place to hide?
I think I could apply that same kind of thinking to my struggles with money. I treat it as an escape. Well, actually, I’ve gotten a lot better about that since I’ve been writing this blog, because at least once a week I have to come face to face with my thoughts about money. But my habit of long standing has been to escape into it.
Spend money to feel better.
Spend money – I deserve it.
Throw money at it.
Whatever it is I’m feeling that is too big or too unpleasant to actually feel, I have so often turned to money to escape.
Alas, it’s no secret that the escapism fuels the original discomfort. Depressed? Spend money to feel better. Which is depressing, because now there’s not enough money to pay the rent. So, spend the money I do have on a pedicure.
I’m so depressed, I’ll take the manicure too.
I wonder how it would be different if I could openly express those icky feelings, instead of running from them. Could I just fully feel my feelings, and find out they’re not so bad and they do, after all, pass? Maria told me that when she feels anxious, she cooks hot and fast. Put the pan on the stove, turn it up high, throw a piece of fish into it, lob some seasonings at it. Out comes a delicious dish – a positive outcome of what might otherwise feel very uncomfortable if left to fester.
I haven’t figured out yet how I could do that with money, but I think it’s got something to do with a shift in thinking.
I would have to see my feelings not as something to avoid, but as something to express. That would be really hard for me. I’m fine expressing the fun feelings, like joy, excitement, celebration, love, and enthusiasm. I’m not fine expressing the un-fun ones. I tend to bottle them up and bury them, and then buy books and yarn.
Thinking about this while writing (also known as “stream of consciousness,” in case you haven’t already recognized that this is a stream of consciousness post), I just got the aha.
For me, mastering personal finance is not about honoring a budget. It’s not about the envelope method or cooking from the pantry or knitting from the stash, or reading the books I already have before buying new ones. It’s really not about mastering money at all. It’s about mastering my fear of experiencing my un-fun feelings.
Why do I suddenly feel like a quick surf through my Amazon wish-list?
Jayne Speich is a small business coach/consultant who writes, thinks, and coaches extensively on customer service, business finance, and ways to thrive in the new economy. She has an exciting new business venture with sister dreamerÂ Remy Gervais, calledÂ The Gazelle Goal. She is the owner ofÂ Onsys21 Dental, a coaching/consulting firm for dental practice owners. Plus, you can find her atÂ theselfreliantentrepreneur.com. Jayne’s post day is Saturday.