“A Taste of my $Money Story”
My daughter recently wanted to take something to school that represented her heritage. She had selected a china plate that she knew came from my grandmother, her great grandmother, who had died years before she was born. I persuaded her to take a silver serving spoon instead, because it wasn’t breakable.
“What crash, Mommy, what do you mean?” she asked with concern in her voice.
“It’s time to go to school, Honey, and that’s a longer story than I have time to explain right now.”
Unsatisfied, she picked up her backpack, threw in the silver serving spoon, and jumped in the car. As she and her father drove away, I thought, “How am I ever going to explain that to her?” I knew I had opened the door with my comment, yet the complexity of the situation stumped me.
Not just about explaining about Black Friday, and the economic crash and Great Depression that followed the economic boom of the 1920s. My wonder and concern also had to do with the power of telling such a story, and its influence on her, knowing the influence of this experience and the stories told about it to my parents, and to me.
Deep roots of my $Money Story go back to this time. Both of my parents were born in 1932, during the Depression, and their formative years were spent during this era and that of World War II. They were married during the boom of the 1950s, and I grew up during the profound, explosive and war-filled years of the 1960s and 1970s.
As intelligent and professional as both my parents were, we had very little money while I was growing up. My mother didn’t work outside the home, believing that her role was to take care of the family, despite the fact that she had a masters degree in library science. My father chose to teach at the University of Washington in Seattle, a land-grant university that surprisingly paid among the lowest salaries in the nation. Seattle was not then the mature city it is now, with the wealth that high-tech and coffee brought to it.
I grew up in a working- and lower-middle class African American neighborhood, one of just a few white kids in my elementary school. I experienced the Civil Rights Movement from the unusual position of being a white minority, the child of professionals who chose to raise me in an environment that could not have been more different than the ones in which they grew up. Except, except—that the economic conditions oddly mirrored aspects of their own experiences of the Depression.
Instead of stepping forward into the upper-middle class that could have been theirs based on their educations and upbringings, they lived a level of prosperity that more closely aligned with their childhood experiences.
How conscious was this? Some certainly, but my guess is that some of it was not. Some came out of their $Money Stories that operated from deep below the surface of their awareness—just like the rest of us.
Because there are also other factors in my family history that influenced this situation—on my father’s side, a suspicion of wealth, business, and people with money that runs deep. I was brought up to believe that it’s better to be smart and respected than wealthy—not just safer, but more morally correct. Wealth was seen as dangerous, corrupting, likely to lead to power out of control. Best avoided.
So my $Money Story is full of paradoxes. And this is just a taste of it!
Yours probably is, too. Most people’s are. Because money has come to mean so many different things for different people and different communities.
Even though money itself is neutral, it is laden in our psyches with many, often contradictory, meanings.
Even though I thought I “knew better,” when I created my first career, as a university professor, I created similar economic conditions for myself that I grew up in. I did have more prestige than my father, teaching at an Ivy League University. But I did not make much money, certainly compared to what other people with far less education made working in corporate America or later in high-tech.
It wasn’t until 17 years ago, when I started to really examine my $Money Story, that things began to change. And it’s been quite an experiment ever since, as an independent business owner, something for which there is no precedent in my family of origin!
The best news is that whatever your upbringing, you need not be at the mercy of it. Not when you know what it is, and you decide to take command of your situation.
What do you know about the roots of your $Money Story? What have you come to understand about this? What have you kept, and what would you like to uplevel to be more in alignment with who and where you are now?