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Are Your Attitudes About Money Holding You Back?

Part 1 in a 2-Part Series About Women and Money

Valerie Young and her wonder dog, By Valerie Young

This article originally appeared in Issue 177 of the Changing Course Newsletter.

I’m the owner of an online business. I’m also a woman. What that means is I often have to manage something a lot of my male counterparts do not, namely women’s attitudes – including my own – about money. Certainly there are men who have money issues. But when it comes to either investing money in our dreams or making a lot of money ourselves, I find women struggle a lot more than men.

I knew there was no way I could tackle such a complex topic myself, so back in December I asked my readers for input. I’ve included some of their comments here. I hope you’ll add yours as well.

What prompted the discussion about women and money was a Teleseminar I conducted with Alex Mandossian. Alex is an expert on how to develop your expertise and build a list of prospective customers using Teleseminars. During the call, Alex gave example after example of people he’d worked with who’d made tens of thousands of dollars in product sales as a result of introducing themselves to potential customers via a single Teleseminar. He also made a point more than once of underscoring that getting to this level of success takes at least three years.

I got a ton of positive feedback about the call. But I also heard from a woman named Agnes. Agnes told me she wanted to sign up for Alex’s training program but, she said, “I couldn’t help but wonder if it isn’t just a little ‘smarmy’ or something to make soooo much money so quickly? Even though I rationally know there really isn’t anything wrong with it – I can’t seem to put my finger on my own hesitation.”

It was Agnes’s next comment that got me thinking about a wildly popular method for making fast money that no one blinks an eye at – namely, the lottery. She writes, “I would love to win the lottery like everyone else and that doesn’t seem sleazy. I’m not a stranger to hard work and am very willing to work – it’s almost like I feel like I have to work very, very hard in order to deserve to make a lot of money – although now I work very hard and DON’T make a lot of money! Why does that seem ‘okay’ on some level?”

Even people who never play the lottery can relate to the allure of becoming an instant millionaire. I know I can. But clearly there is something deeper going on.

Chance vs. Effort

I don’t know why it seems more acceptable to get rich by chance than by effort, but I certainly can relate to Agnes’s confusion. I’ve been self-employed for about twelve years now. It took 11 years of hard work and sacrifice, but I finally had my first high five figure week. It was a major turning point in my business and in how I looked at money. It was also cause for celebration.

So I made reservations at a pricey area restaurant and treated a small group of friends to a fabulous dinner. When I was growing up, the only fine dining I ever knew was the very occasional Friday night fish fry at Howard Johnson. So it felt great to say, “Order everything you want!” and boy did we! The celebration was in high gear when some mutual friends happened by our table and asked what all commotion was about. “Tell them how much money you made this week, Valerie!” exclaimed my exuberant dinner companions.

I wanted to tell them. In fact I wanted to tell the entire restaurant. But instead of feeling proud, I felt embarrassed. I mean it’s one thing to share the good news with a few close friends, but to talk about how much money you made so publicly? I just wasn’t raised that way. But deep down I knew there was more than just my working class roots kicking in here.

In that moment I remember thinking how I wish I’d won the money on a lottery ticket. No one would blink an eye if I leapt on the table, winning lottery ticket in hand. In fact there would have been high fives all the way around! I know I certainly would have felt different about the whole thing. Intellectually I knew that I had worked, as Agnes said, “very, very hard.” Yet, still, I felt awkward talking about it.

Why is an unearned windfall from an inheritance, gambling, the lottery, or other form of chance somehow more internally acceptable than earning it through our own talents, hard work, and determination? Why do women feel undeserving to be affluent? Why is the desire for financial prosperity considered somehow wrong? I certainly don’t have all the answers but here’s what I’ve come up with so far:

“If I’m Too Successful, People Won’t Like Me”

For better or worse, men’s self-worth is often tied to how much they earn. The downside to this is that it puts a lot of pressure on men to prove themselves financially. On the plus side though I find most men are also a lot more comfortable charging more for their services or with wealth-building in general.

Women on the other hand tend to measure our worth based on the richness of our relationships – not our bank account. Talking about a windfall could be construed as being “too full of ourselves” which could make people think less of us. Being relationship-oriented also means taking care of other people’s feelings. A longitudinal study conducted with young girls enrolled in the gifted class found that if a girl earned an A on a test but her little friend only got a B, she would lie and say she got a B too. Women learn at a young age not to talk about their accomplishments to avoid making others feel bad. 

Some women are afraid that if they are “too successful” other people won’t like them. It may be harder to relate to friends and family, a spouse or partner may be threatened if you start earning substantially more, co-workers may resent your promotion.

I happen to think that maintaining healthy relationships and caring about the impact of our behavior on others is an important virtue and skill. It’s what makes women great managers and in some ways, marketers, and, I believe, what will ultimately save the planet. It’s finding that balance that is the key.

I’d like to see women have both – rich, rewarding relationships and freedom from financial worries. I also want us to find ways to feel good about and even celebrate our accomplishments. For example, these same researchers helped the gifted girls brainstorm ways they could continue to care about their friend’s feelings but also feel proud of their accomplishment.

That leads me to another important clue to understanding women’s attitudes about money. This too has to do with relationships. But here it is about how we feel about money and those who have it.

Our Love-Hate Relationship With Money

Part of my old corporate job included organizing these incredibly lavish sales retreats to reward the top sales people. The events were held in places like Palm Springs, Beverly Hills, or Monaco. We flew in a film crew from New York to shoot video montages, paid a song writer to compose a theme song, constructed elaborate sets. No expense was spared. Needless to say, the sales people qualifying for these events were very well off with no shortage of millionaires. That was when I became consciously aware of my conflicting feelings of contempt and envy around money and people who had it.

So it’s in that context that I try to understand the occasional emails I receive from people – almost always women – who are not just angry, but enraged with me if they are unable to afford to purchase something I may be offering. After all, the reasoning goes, if you really cared, you wouldn’t charge me.

I’m not the only one who has observed this resentment toward successful people. “When do women leave behind the mindset of poverty?’ writes Sandra. “When can they take on the mantle of success and not feel bad about it?” Rather than feeling contempt or envy, Sandra feels inspired. “I like to look to Ali Brown of Ezine Queen for some inspiration. She is not ashamed or shy to flaunt her success. And I mean flaunt in the best way.” I know for a fact that Ali also receives her share of hate mail. (If you aren’t familiar with Ali or her work, and would like to see an example of someone is not ashamed to talk about her financial success go to ChangingCourse.com/recommends/blueprintbox)

Perhaps part of the reason some women have strong negative feelings about people who flaunt their success is that women often devalue their own skills. After all, we think, if I can do it, anybody can. We have a really hard time attaching a dollar figure to our work and an even harder time assigning a high value. Not surprisingly, studies show that women are more likely to take the first salary offer while men are more apt to negotiate.

But here’s the thing. Once you learn to place a higher value on your knowledge, skills, and time, you start to charge more. And when you charge more you become more financially successful. And when that happens, you’ll run into other people who struggle with the same contempt/envy response I had. Some may even secretly want you to fail. This brings full circle… “If I’m too successful people may not like me… and I may not like myself.”

Personally I’ve never aspired to be a millionaire. Even if that were to happen, I’d give a lot of the money away. I mean how much money does one person need? Basically, I don’t want to die a poor old woman and I don’t want you to either.

There is of course much more to say about women and money but I’ll save that for the next issue. In the meantime, I hope you will take a moment to join the conversation at my new blog.

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