In 2009, three personal financial storms merged leaving me with $571,817.68 of debt and exposing the real problem: I didn't value my own worth.
2009 was a difficult year for all of us. People lost their jobs, their homes. Companies collapsed. The banks took back houses and foreclosure signs littered the streets. And it was a difficult year for me too: I filed for divorce about twenty-four days into the largest housing market crash in United States' history. As part of the divorce process, I needed to liquidate two homes that were once assets and had now become huge upside-down liabilities.
By that point, I’d been quite successful in my coaching career. I’d been working for Martha Beck, one of the leading women in the self-help industry. I’d been a guest on the Oprah Winfrey Show. I’d become accustomed to my classes selling out immediately and to my ever-growing waitlist. I blindly expected that this would always be the case. As I struggled to take care of my daughter and repair my life post-divorce, I failed to notice the tumbleweeds blowing through my calendar. By mid-2009, my coaching income had come to a screeching halt.
I had previously sold a business and financed the loan for the new buyer. The monthly payments were a nice supplement to my income and I was counting on the large balloon payment due that fall. That balloon-payment cushion was going to allow me to get back on my feet after my divorce and give me some much-needed time to heal and repair. But then I got a call that changed everything: no more monthly payments and no balloon payment - he was declaring bankruptcy.
Up until that phone call everything was going to be ok. It was going to be ok that my calendar was barren and the high point of my career might already have been behind me. It was going to be ok that I lost my home and all my money. It was going to be ok that my marriage was over and that the divorce had uprooted my daughter’s life, my life. It was going to be ok that I owed hundreds of thousands of dollars. It was all going to be ok because I had a balloon payment waiting for me at the end of the rainbow. That was how I thought my story was going to end: a big fat check made out to Happily Ever After.
Except that’s not what happened. Now I had no more monthly payments coming in. No balloon payment to look forward to. And no real income to speak of. Stunned and confused, I tried to make sense out of the events of my life. I was a thirty-five-year-old single mother of a six-year-old little girl. I had no money left, almost no career to speak of and a gigantic pile of debt.
Reality inescapably caught up with me, and I came to a place where there was no more room on the credit cards, there were no more lines of credit to rely on, I could no longer rob Peter to pay Paul, nor was there a way to pay even the minimum payments that I’d accrued. I had almost no income coming in and I finally had to come to terms with reality: the bills weren’t going to go away and I was the one that had to pay them. I had to start telling the truth. I made a list of what was owed. I made a list of things I could sell. I started dealing with the hard cold facts of what I was facing.
This would become the work of my life.
Healing my dysfunctional relationship with money, trying to understand emotionally, financially and spiritually why I landed in this place, became the work of my life. Not only on a personal level, but it also became the foundation for the work I do in the world.
In early 2010, I held my breath and pushed “publish” on my first money blog post that began a truthful conversation between me and my readers. I shared openly about my personal finances. I spoke openly about the pile of debt I’d accumulated. I talked about some of my ridiculous mistakes (like the Gucci dress). I expected radio silence or a mass exodus of people unsubscribing from my newsletter but to my surprise, that’s not what happened. Instead I got floods of emails saying, “Me too,” and “Thank you for your courage,” and “Please keep writing, I’m so glad I’m not the only one.”
I’d expected to be treated as a pariah and instead my readers were hungry to hear more. Apparently, I was not the only Gen Xer that had gone to college and lived the good-American-dream only to find themselves now buried in debt without a solid income stream or any idea of a game plan moving forward. There were a bunch of us.
This was a new way to think about money.
Up until that point, I’d really looked at money as a simple math formula: energy in plus some sort of skill equalled money out. To help students make more on the “money out” side of the equation I'd helped them figure out how to put in more energy (work harder) or how to become more skilled, or a combination of both. But post-2009, we had an entire generation of people — people with plenty of energy in and people with plenty of skill — who had followed that simple math formula and lost their asses.
I had a lot of questions and no good answers, so I asked my readers if they’d be interested in helping me do some research. Through hundreds of clients, thousands of hours of teaching and coaching and an untold number of daily emails, trends started to appear and I developed a whole new way to teach and coach on the subject of money. At the same time, I was my own best student as I ruthlessly worked to pay off my debt and kept painstaking notes about what I thought and how I felt as my relationship with money evolved. By 2011, I amassed enough information to organize my findings and publish my book: Money Love: A Guide to Changing the Way that You Think About Money and paid my debt off in full later that year.
Since then, I’ve continued teaching and studying not only my own relationship with money, but also the human experience of money and how our individual relationship to it reflects how we experience all of life. Over these past years, as I’ve delved deeper into the relationship to money, the mystery and depth of this conversation has never ceased to amaze me.
What you believe you have or are allowed to have — whether you're talking about money, love or anything else — comes down to your individual sense of worthiness.
You probably already know that it’s not great to have low self-worth and that you’re supposed to feel worthy. Or maybe you might even believe that you do have high self-worth, but then when you look at your actual behavior and the consequences of your behavior, you might see otherwise. You might see flailing bank account balances or credit card debt. You might see that you avoid asking your clients to pay you. You might habitually keep yourself from buying things that you really want while trying to talk yourself into settling for less. You might see that you habitually live beyond your means. Or you might see that you don’t allow yourself to enjoy what you have. You might see that you always over-deliver and over-work. You might find that you’re afraid to take a vacation. You might see that you allow people to talk over you, or that you have a difficult time saying no. You might completely avoid asking for help or feel a great deal of shame when you think you’re supposed to already know the answer. The thing is: you can’t really feel, see, or experience self-worth, but if you look at the truth of your actions you can clearly see that self-worth effects your behavior.
You are invited to own your worth.
My work is an invitation to live as though you deserve your own attention and respect and I use the unexpected subject of money because it is an excellent teacher and it always tells the truth. This is an invitation to get to know yourself, your understanding of how to be human, what love really means and how to show up more fully in the world. You are invited to remember that you are worthy and to live as if you believe it.