Money Can’t Save You

The Art of Accomplishment Podcast
The Art of Accomplishment Podcast
Money Can't Save You
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Money can be a very tricky, emotional subject. Many of us have all kinds of projections and misconceptions around it. In this episode of a two-part series, we are going to talk about a common misconception that people have, which is that money is our savior and if we just had more of it, it would solve all of our problems. What if we learned how to effectively use money and accept its constraints in a way that would allow us to be even more creative than we would be without it?

“As long as money is here, you can choose to think it is good and I want it, or you can choose to think it is bad and I am going to want it secretly but actually I’m going to try to avoid it or you can say wow, this is the way the system works. How do I use it and accept the constraints of it in a way that allow me to be even more creative than I would be without it?”

Today, we are going to talk about money. Now, money is a really sticky subject. It’s very emotional for a lot of people, and people have all kinds of projections and misconceptions around it. It can be a really tricky subject. We are going to break this up into two episodes.

The first episode, we are going to talk about a common misconception people have, which is that money is our savior and that if we just had more of it, it would solve all of our problems. In the second episode, we are going to go into the opposite misconception, which is money is evil and the cause of all of our problems and it should be avoided at all costs.

Joe, to get started, what makes people have different ideas of what money is?

Joe:   I think it is because nobody knows what money is. There’s one level on which you can look at money and say it is a complete illusion. It is an agreement that a whole bunch of people made and said this thing has value, and it has value because a lot of people say it has value.

On another level, money is this thing that buys you stuff you want. It’s a great tool for creation and/or a great tool for manifesting things. But I think really few of us understand what money is. I know that the deeper I look into money, the more I see about it, the more I understand it, the less I realize I truly know what it is.

Brett: What is not money that people think it is? What is money not?

Joe:   That’s a great question. What is money not? I think the people subconsciously think money is love or money is power or money is their father’s love or their mother’s love. I think that is the subconscious misinterpretation of money that creates a lot of confusion for people.

I remember this one time when I was in, out of all places, El Salvador, and I was in a hammock. I was reading about how WhatsApp had gone public. This is back a while ago when I was a venture capitalist. The story was how this massive success happened with this small investment, and how there was this one venture capitalist who had kind of parted ways with his company just so he could invest in this. I remember it just hit me like a gut punch in the stomach. I immediately stopped and said what is this feeling. I closed my eyes and traced the feeling back to the first time I felt it. I remembered oh man, I’ve made money a surrogate for my father’s love. I had a relationship with my father early on where his love was not something I could get easily, and so money had become this thing I couldn’t get easily. The promise of money, like the promise of my father’s love, was something that would make me whole again or at least I thought it would.

It wasn’t my first iteration with my money. My first iteration with money is that money was evil, and that was also when I was really angry at my father. It’s like I started to put points together to realize that my relationship with money and then I discovered most other people I meet, their relationship with money often follows a pattern of their relationship with the love of their parents or their relationships with love of authority or their relationship of something important in their early childhood. Money has become a surrogate for whatever relationship that is.

Brett: What are some other things that money can become a surrogate for?

Joe:   Like I said, relationship with authority, relationship with parents in that aspect and then there’s another aspect. Money can become a surrogate for security. Money can become a surrogate for community. Money can become a surrogate for power or empowerment. Money can become a surrogate for experience itself.

Brett: It seems like one thing that can happen is that we can build this belief that once we have enough money, we will be able to solve not only our problems but other people’s problems around us and then end up in some really weird relationship dynamics with those people as a result.

Joe:   Yeah, and it goes both ways, too. We can start accumulating enough money where people around us think they can get their problems solved through the money that we have. That usually breeds a lot of distrust.

Brett: How can we tell the difference between a healthy relationship with money and earning money, finding value in our work, finding value in what we do and having enough to have our needs met? How can you tell the difference between this hungry ghost aspect of using money as a surrogate for something that money can never fill?

Joe:   The interesting thing is the mind can tell us we don’t have enough money all the time, and there’s always evidence for it. I remember this point when I was doing this practice, a gratitude practice, every day about what I did have because I was constantly thinking about what I didn’t have. This was like early 30s or something, and I started to be every day appreciative for an extended period of time for the things I did have. I saw my whole world and aspect of money change.

One day I was driving a car, and I had had contact with 2 or 3 billionaires in my life at that point. I was driving the car, and my thought process turned to how I needed more money or some sort of coveting, something like that. I thought to myself oh, the billionaires I know, they think this way too. I’m a billionaire. It was such a strange thought. It’s nonsensical, but it’s like oh I have the same reality as a billionaire. No matter how much money they have or how little money I have, we are both walking around the world having the same thought process.

It is really hard to use the mind to feel like you have enough money. Logically, if you want to use the mind to find out if you have enough money, if you are alive right now and you are well fed, and you have a home over you, on some level you have enough money. There’s this crazy lie that says I don’t have enough money because X, Y and Z, but enough money is that you have your basic needs met is enough money. If you don’t have your basic needs met, then there’s a pretty good argument that you don’t have enough money. Logically, the whole thing can be deconstructed pretty quickly.

The other way you think about money is oh, if I have enough money, then I can get what I want, whatever that thing is I want, when nobody can do that because money can’t actually supply everything you want. In that way, you will never have enough money. What’s really clear is intellectually if you are going to have a relationship with money that’s peaceful, it’s really important to be able to separate what you want from money, money being only one avenue to get there.

Brett: I can see a relation to this in business where there can be a belief that even as revenues are increasing, you just need more money to be able to meet this opportunity or solve that need or saturate some market. We could always be living in that story. In our personal life, it could be I just need a house with an office and a desk so I can do my writing. I need quiet space. I need X, Y and Z.

Once we become attached to something we have gotten, then we need that, and we can’t imagine not having it. Then we need to continue to have that baseline amount of money, and so that seems to be part of this treadmill of feeling like what I have is not enough and what I really need is the next thing, ergo I need more money.

Joe:   Yeah, right. This is a really natural human condition, not the needing more money. The more money piece is just the way that our modern society turns the story around the basic human condition, and there’s something basic in the human condition that says there’s something more I can be doing. There’s something more I can achieve. There’s something I should be doing so that I am safe.

If you ever look at mice, they are the same way. They don’t have the thought process behind it potentially, most likely, but they do have this get up and go. I have got to do something. I have got to do something. I have got to do something. The way our society works is money is the most obvious way to do something.

When you can flip that switch, when you can say it is not resources, it is resourcefulness that I need, then everything can open up. Just the idea that you need money to do something is a limiting belief system. There are people who have started their businesses from nothing. What did they need to start their business?  Apparently nothing.

There are other people who very wisely say being capitalized is a really important part of my business, so I am going to go out and get a bunch of money because it is important for growing my business. Both of those two things can be a very sane approach, but when it becomes insane is when you think resources will solve for resourcefulness. It will never work.

I’ve walked into so many companies and so many homes with so many people who think that resources will make a difference, and it doesn’t. You look at all of the lottery winners, and they have the resources. But it doesn’t make a difference, and it is gone soon. Then you see people who have nothing and they are resourceful, and they get the things they are after in the world.

Life isn’t set up for us to get everything we want, and definitely money isn’t set up. At its basic construct, it is set up to be deficient, meaning that the monetary system. The amount of money out there can’t pay for the interest on top of it that is out there, so there is always a shortage of it. The system is built that way just as our internal system is built that way, meaning that we as human beings have a tendency, almost a natural urge to feel like there’s something we have to do and something more that we have to accomplish.

What’s really weird is if you meet somebody who doesn’t have that, there are one of two options. One, they are depressed, or they become acquiescent. In another way, there are so few of them that are quite at peace and they have done a lot of work to really feel into that discomfort and to channel it in a different direction.

Brett: That reminds me of sort of there is this neurobiological aspect of loss aversion where when we experience a loss, we experience it as twice as intense as an equal gain, which sort of biases us towards always wanting to gain more. It sounds like what you are describing as this gratitude practice gets beneath the root of it. The more that you are able to appreciate what you have, the less you are stuck in the treadmill, which then means you are less in fear because you start to see more of the possible solution space than just the opportunities that money would open up for you.

Joe:   Correct, and I think there is another aspect to that which is just as interesting, which is if we motivate ourselves in the world through fear, then we are very scared to let go of the fear because then we think we will be unmotivated. A lot of people, if they really deeply confront that kind of itch they can never scratch, they are scared to lose it because they are scared they will be a couch potato drinking beer.

What’s interesting is where action comes from if it doesn’t come from that fear. Where does action come from if you feel secure?

Brett: Yeah, that seems related to how a lot of our activities we might intrinsically enjoy can get wrapped up in money, and we think they are not worth doing if we aren’t getting paid. We might not feel like we are going to have value ascribed to us by society if nobody is willing to pay us for the thing that we want to do.

Joe:   Or vice versa. I know plenty of artists who lose their desire to be an artist when they are getting paid for it. It completely changes their whole enjoyment of the activity once they are getting paid. It puts a pressure on them, and then they feel like they have to perform. The having to perform takes all of the joy out of it.

Brett: Once you start depending upon what you are doing to make money, then you are going to start forming the thing you do to be doing it in a way that gets money, so you are going to be more critical of your performance and more critical in this like market aspect of what people are willing to pay for rather than letting what is flowing through you to just freely flow.

Joe:   I’m not sure if that’s even the healthiest version, to let what’s naturally moving through to freely flow. Meaning Shakespeare wrote in iambic pentameter, that’s some crazy constraint. That is some crazy oh my God, I have to make everything fit into this ten-syllable blah, blah, blah, and yet accepting that constraint increased the creativity.

Or I think about Michelangelo, and painting the top of the Sistine Chapel, one of the holiest places on the planet. What does he paint? He paints God reaching with all of his might to touch man, to be in connection with man and man kind of laid back not even willing to lift a finger. What a commentary to say humans aren’t even willing to lift a finger? Maybe even the people here in this church aren’t even willing to lift a finger to touch God. How do you get away with doing that? How do you get away with getting paid to paint this on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel?

On some level, seeing the constraints of money is freedom, and if you learn how to work within those constraints, it creates a creativity that’s amazing. As long as money is here, you can choose to think oh it’s good and I want it or you can choose to think it is bad, and I am going to want it secretly but actually I am going to try to avoid it. Or you can say wow, this is the way the system works, and how do I use it and accept the constraints of it in a way that allow me to be even more creative than I would be without it?

Brett: How can we accept the system works and continue to work in it to our benefit while being conscious of any systemic, inbuilt I guess you could say injustice in the system or just like inefficiencies? Without buying into the way the system works is the optimal way we could have a financial system.

Joe:   That’s a great question. By no means am I saying we should all accept the way the system works and not move to change it. What I am saying more precisely is that it is very healthy to accept the way the system works even if you want to change it. It is very much if you are interacting with another human, you cannot accept the way that they work and you can accept the way they work even if you are asking them to be different, even if you are approaching them in a way that is going to get a response that you don’t want. Asking somebody to be different, asking something to be different instead of accepting them is a very inefficient path to having people transform or money transform or the system to transform.

If I am like screw you, this shouldn’t work, fuck you, do this thing, why aren’t you doing this thing, that’s not a great way to get you to change. If it’s more like I love and I accept you, and this makes me uncomfortable, I would prefer that we interact in this way. That’s a far more effective way to do it. It takes a lot less out of me, and it is the same way with changing a society. Acceptance somehow is conflated as acceptance means that I am not going to draw boundaries, or I am not going to ask for things to change or I am not going to do things to change it. Acceptance is this is how it is at this moment, and I am not going to fight how it is in this moment. I am going to work to change it for the next moment is 100% possible with the acceptance.

Brett: Something else you touched on was how this affects interpersonal relationships. I am curious how having a concept for money, and we are talking right now about the particular concept of money is good and that it is going to solve all of our problems, how does that get in the way of our relationships and the way we view each other and the shame that we might approach a relationship with? Or the judgement or admiration?

Joe:   Money is the kinkiest thing on the planet. At least on the West Coast, you can sit down and ask somebody about their sexual preferences, what’s going on there, what kind of things they like, and they are more likely to tell you about that stuff than they are going to tell you about their credit debt or how much they make. It is the kinkiest thing, and it is an incredible cause of disconnection in ourselves and others to admit that you are poor or to admit that you are rich. Both have a certain level of shame in them that make it so people don’t communicate that stuff.

People get really uncomfortable. I’m very open with my money situation. This is how much I have made, and this is what I have done, with friends, and you can just see the discomfort. It doesn’t stop me, but you can see the discomfort on their face. It’s just not something that we want to talk about because it brings up feelings of disconnection and shame in everybody. It is the kinkiest thing right now on the planet is money. It is amazing.

Really, it’s just. I mean the system is not benign by any stretch, but it’s a tool with pluses and minuses. It’s a tool that can be changed, and yet it has become a god or a deity in the world. It’s an amazing thing. I even hesitate to say all that stuff because then in somebody’s mind, money is bad. They will hook onto that and go oh yeah, people make it a deity. Getting a rich man into heaven is like getting a camel through the eye of a needle. In my world, it’s not a rich man or a poor man that has a hard time finding joy. It’s a person focused on money whether it be If I get more of it, I’ll be happy or I am unhappy because I don’t have it or money is bad. It’s just whenever money becomes the conscious or unconscious driver of things, it’s very hard to find joy, which is how I am translating heaven.

Brett: You pointed to a lot of the shame that’s around money, the shame of having money and the shame of not having money, the shame of not having earned money that you have in some particular way that you feel makes you deserve it. But then there’s also on the other side pride. There can be pride to having a lot of money and then building a self-concept around that. There can also be pride to having no money and sort of flexing on that.

Joe:   There’s no difference around somebody having pride around their money situation, whatever it be, and somebody having shame around it. To me, those are two sides of the same coin. There’s an empowerment stance around money, which is like oh, I will be me no matter what the money situation is. I will have my freedom because I do no matter what the money situation is. That’s an empowerment thing. If that’s the state, if that’s the internal stance, not faked, but actually owned, then what happens to your pride or your shame around money?

Brett: Closing this segment on money being good, that concept of money being good, I am curious. You pointed earlier to how you can change the system if you work within the system, recognize the system is there, maybe not working entirely within it. But recognizing the system exists and you navigate the system, and you can get your needs met, and then you can change the system, how has the system changed you in that journey?

Joe:   Yeah, I mean I do think the system has changed me. I don’t think I can even point to all of the ways that it has. I think that’s really hard. I don’t think I could fully understand the ramifications of all the ways the monetary system has changed me.

What’s fascinating about that question for me is I am raising two girls, and I want to raise them with a healthy relationship around money. Part of what I want to teach them is money is always here when you need it, and that attitude is the best way to make sure money is always here when you need it. Also, to respect money, to see it as a powerful force. Manmade or otherwise, it is a powerful force in the world, and to give it its due respect.

Also, to see the cosmic joke of money, and to see it is a representation of human consciousness and how money flows is very much how human consciousness flows. The stock market in a weird way is the mental outlook of a portion of a society and a way a portion of our society feels. I am pretty confident if you took all the caffeine out of all the major cities that we would have a financial depression. The stock market would go down.

It’s just this fascinating thing, and I want them to experience it the same way you would experience a flower or a cactus or any landscape, but not to feel like it has power over them and to be a victim to it or to hate it or love it, love it in the way of like greed, not love it in the way of having love for it in the way you might have love for a flower or a tree.

To some degree, I feel like all that’s healthy, and on another degree, it is a system in our world and any system in our world affects the way that we think. It doesn’t matter if it is the architecture that we live in. It is really hard to be able to determine how that architecture affects our consciousness. I see people with a ton of money, and there are ways that they start doing things that are more about their own entertainment. Typically, they get out of touch obviously with people who don’t have that level of money, just like people who are really poor are out of touch with the issues of somebody who is really healthy.

There are some of those obvious things. To this day, I will spend a part of every week going and interacting with people who I would not normally interact with, and sometimes those people are homeless and sometimes those people are very poor and sometimes those people are very wealthy, just so I can constantly feel how different perspectives live and to be a part of that. But I don’t think I can really say specifically with any kind of integrity all the ways in which money affects me.

What’s also interesting to me is that and what I’ve noticed is that as my relationship with myself changes, my relationship with money naturally changes to. The more that I can love myself, the more I love money as it is. The more I feel empowered, the more I feel empowered with money. The more I am grateful, the more I have an attitude of gratitude with my money. The more I feel being of service is a joy, the more I am of service with my money. It is a really fascinating thing of like is it a reflection, or is it the engineer, or is it both. What’s that dance? I’ve never lived without it. I’m a fish in water. I can’t see what it has done.

Brett: Thank you, Joe. That wraps up this segment. Keep listening for the following segment, the belief that money is bad.

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