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Taking Off Your Money Mask

By Brent Kessel

As we approach springtime, there is an energy of renewal in the air. What better time to refresh your relationship with money—so much of which is driven unconsciously. Why not use this spring as an opportunity to shed light on money beliefs that are normally invisible to your conscious awareness.

My work in the world concerns the integration of our relationship to money with our spiritual lives. Because of this, one of the most important components of my approach is based on the yogic word “satya,” or truthfulness. By becoming exceptionally truthful about our present relationship to money, we are able to see the ways in which we are constrained; then, with guidance, we can transform our financial life into the one we truly want.

In my years of working as a Certified Financial Planner and a workshop facilitator, I’ve noticed that we all have a “shtick” with money. “Shtick” is a Yiddish word that refers to an entertainer’s routine. I often ask my clients and workshop participants, “Where is your shtick most powerful when it comes to money? What’s something financial that’s been hard to admit to other people?” It’s important to be brutally honest about this. It might be about how you spend, an investment failure, or a hidden secret in your family business, your income or savings level, or how much debt you have.

When I first asked myself this question, I realized that I wanted others to see me as generous. In truth, though, for most of my financial past, I had been quite frugal (I had actually even been called a “tightwad”). I also wanted to be seen as successful by women, because I felt that this would create additional emotional security in my romantic relationships. Lastly, because I hang out in yoga and meditation circles, I didn’t want to be seen as an ambitious and driven businessperson, for fear of being perceived as a “sellout.”

These represented what I call in my book my “Money Mask.” The paradoxical thing about a Money Mask is that it never brings us the payoff we think it will, even if we surpass its conditions for success. At bottom, it is using money to try to fill our ego’s needs for acceptance, belonging, and connection to others. The paradox exists because our strategy actually works for a short period of time. My moments of generosity, success, and tempered ambition did bring me the desired result in other people’s eyes. But the ensuing peace was completely impermanent.

Most people are doomed to follow the dictates of their Money Mask over and over again. The unexamined mind knows that it was able to create some relief and peace, no matter how short-lived, by following a particular strategy. Fortunately, as spiritual seekers, we have the gift of experience in examining the underlying motivations and needs behind our actions. To get a better sense of your own Money Mask, spend some time answering the following questions (be specific):

  • What do you know about yourself regarding money that you would rather not know?
  • How do you want other people to think of you when it comes to money?
  • What is the most shameful thing for you about your relationship to money?
  • In what areas of your life are you most unrealistic and dreamlike with money?
  • What thoughts do you have about money that are most distorted?
  • What feelings do you have about money that you find most uncomfortable?
  • What behavior patterns with money have you most relied on to avoid facing difficult feelings?

Answering these questions can shed light on the darkest, most unconscious areas of our relationship to money. Once we are aware of our Money Mask, we can clearly see how it has dictated our financial behaviors and habits, especially the unsatisfying ones.

I invite you to renew your relationship to money this spring and to set the stage for a conscious, intentional financial future.

Brent Kessel is the author of the newly released HarperCollins book It’s Not About the Money and the cofounder of Abacus, one of the nation’s top sustainable investing and financial-planning firms.

©Brent Kessel, 2008