Interview with Pamela York Klainer
In your book you talk about "the power that money always
conveys." What do you mean by that?
The power of money is creative. You don't have to have as
much as Bill Gates does to experience that power. You only
have to have a little more power-a little more money-than
others. In a relationship or in a friendship group, there
are subtle things. For example, people will often defer
to you. They'll ask where you want to go to dinner. If you're
part of a faith community and you're a donor, you may be
treated differently than if you aren't. In our culture,
the power of money is the power to set the agenda. To not
recognize and lay that on the table is naïve. And it
is wasting opportunity.
is a power source, like electricity, which can be used for
good, but which can be fatal if mishandled. You can use
money to open up opportunities, to create things, to heal,
to create linkages. You can also use it to shut down access,
to manipulate, to cause people great harm. Once you realize
you have money and money is a power source, you can choose
how to use it. 2.8 billion people in the world live on less
than two dollars a day. For those of us with money, what
does it mean to create goodness in an atmosphere like that?
For some, the answer might be charitable giving. For others,
it might be starting your own business. One thing I know:
when you use money to create goodness, it is a moment of
What keeps people from using money to "create goodness"?
People often get very hung up on the money itself, as if
money is an end in itself. They get mired in questions like,
"What does it mean that I have money and someone else doesn't?
I was given a certain amount and my siblings were given
a different amount . . ." Money is a tool, not an end. To
focus so much on the money is sort of like fixating on a
hammer, instead of what you're building with the hammer.
Money has both a literal and a symbolic meaning. It buys
goods and services, but it also stands in for something,
such as love, affection, or disapproval. So it gets entangled
with a lot of psychological and spiritual issues. People
get blocked by that from actually picking up the money and
doing something with it. By putting money to use, we create
the meaning. It doesn't come with meaning. We have to put
it to work in order to figure out what it means.
What do you recommend to help people take that step?
First, it's important to figure out what money stage you're
in: denial, anxiety, exploration, or integration. Money
stages aren't sequential; we go in and out of them. The
ideal is to have money integrated into your daily life.
I call it making money ordinary, a part of your life that
you can talk about and relate to fully. If you can't talk
about it, you can't learn from it.
you need to develop baseline skills about money. You need
to know enough to understand what your financial advisor
is talking about.
you have to explore your own values and determine what use
of money will bring you the sense of meaning in life that
people really long for. There isn't one answer. When I was
writing my book, my publishers said, "Can't you just write
the ten best ways to use your money?" But there aren't ten
best ways. You can begin a process that asks, "What's important
to me in the world? What strikes my attention? What articles
do I read? What do I do in my free time? What do I respond
to emotionally?" You have to do some investigating.
You write about "harnessing the power of your money story."
What do you mean by that?
We all understand and tell stories about our heritage or
our ethnic background. They're part of our identity. Most
people, though, don't understand that everyone has a money
story. Because our money story is the one we explore the
least, if we delve into it, it has enormous power.
are three parts to a money story: 1)
The formative events
that shaped your life.
For example, if you lived through
the depression or got caught up in a dot.com bubble, what
lessons did you take away from those experiences? 2)
subtle influences money exerts in shaping your life decisions.
These can be difficult to tease out and discuss. Often,
there is a choice involved; for example, choosing a life
partner, a career, or a neighborhood. In what ways did money
influence those choices? Money often provides a silent subtext
to our decisions, and is the one we talk about the least.
The symbolic meaning of money.
Money may be used
as a scorecard, or people may give money because they're
afraid of intimacy. Delving into its symbolic use for you
is the third part of your money story.
your money story, you simply ask yourself questions, like,
"When is the first time I had money and what did I do with
it?" "When is the first time I made money and what did I
do with it?" For example, a consultant in her thirties was
having huge authority issues with middle-aged men. She examined
her money story and realized that when she was a child getting
an allowance, her father used to set aside for savings two
dollars out of every three she was given. She could spend
one dollar, but had to justify every expense. No wonder
she had difficulty with authority issues, and middle-aged
men! You have to tie your story to your behavior today,
and ask, "Is this what I want?" Maybe what you're doing
now will still work, but probably some behaviors will need
to be examined with the light of adult understanding.
of the interesting things about money stories is that they
tend to run in families. Unresolved money issues often cascade
through generations, gaining steam as they go along. In
an odd way, the central money drama can be rolled up into
a particular theme. In my family, the theme is around having
and losing money. My maternal grandfather was an inventor.
He had a family of ten children, a car, a radio and other
nice things-and then he went from that to being really poor.
He lost his company during the Depression because he was
an alcoholic. Any story can be interpreted in different
ways, but this one was told with a sense of shame in our
family. It was a story of having and then losing, and the
moral of it was that everything you have can be lost.
my parents married, my father had a good job; then at age
forty-nine, he died suddenly. My mother encountered the
same theme of having and losing. Suddenly, she was terrified
we would be out on the street. Enormous anxiety about not
having enough money was conveyed to me. I carried that anxiety
long after our situation was completely different. Even
now, every once in a while I'll say to my husband, "Do you
think we have enough money?" My husband and I are both entrepreneurs
and we have enough money.
of your money story, you carry a feeling long after it's
warranted by your situation. You need to say to yourself,
"This isn't based in reality. It's not true or relevant
to my life anymore." You can go back a long time in the
family story. The longer the stories are not dealt with,
the more power they get.
How do you change your money story?
To change your money story takes a sustained effort, like
changing any other behavior. You have to put a new feeling
and behavior in place. Often, there's a huge AHA! moment,
which in itself can be empowering and trigger a change.
Beyond that, you can identify small steps to take. For example,
if your common pattern has been to defer and not ask questions
of people because you're afraid of the conflict that might
provoke, you can start by asking more questions. If people
are aware of steps to take and yet remain stuck, then therapy
can be helpful.
important thing is to get movement around the money issues.
It doesn't mean you have to do something different in your
life. It means you enter into a process to discover how
you want to relate to and use your money. For example, a
woman in her early forties who had inherited wealth had
never as an adult worked for pay. That affected her relationships.
She was afraid people were making judgments. She dreaded
the moment when people would ask, "What do you do?" because
she felt she was "less than" others who work for a living.
I told her there was no necessity to feel shame about the
fact that she had an inheritance. When I said, "Get a job,
if that's the crux of your shame," she laughed. Then she
got frightened and we talked about what she might do. She
had enough money to fund a venture, so she didn't need to
look for a job-she could make one for herself. She developed
a business plan and began to proceed. She had gotten pretty
far down the path when she stopped and said, "I don't want
to do this. I'm a philanthropist and an investor." She didn't
end up doing something different by understanding her money
story. For her, it meant going through a process in order
to discover that she was a community activist. Money is
a fascinating window onto yourself and your life, if you
can approach it without judgment.
Interview by Pamela Gerloff
York Klainer, Ed.D.
is an executive coach, organizational consultant, and author
of How Much Is Enough?: Harness the Power of Your Money Story-and
Change Your Life. Dr. Klainer was a financial planner for
ten years and, during the 1980s, was a partner in a diversified
financial services firm that raised in excess of $50 million
to provide equity for low- and moderate-income housing projects.
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