I was driving with a friend the other day and we were talking about marriages and why some of them work and some of them don’t. And I told her my theory, which is that how good we are in relationships gets decided within the first year of our life and then we spend all the remaining years trying to move the needle by tiny percentages.
(caveat: This is a very lazy and very unscientific explanation of Childhood Attachment Theory)
But isn’t it the same with money?
I interviewed a financial psychologist last year for an article I was working on, and he told me that every time my husband and I make a decision about money, we aren’t the ones making the decisions, our grandparents and great-grandparents are.
That’s how deeply ingrained money beliefs are through generations.
So if one of my friends is racking up a giant credit card bill or refusing to fly to my baby shower because she doesn’t want to spend the money, how could I make any kind of judgment about that person based on those decisions? If those decisions aren’t hers but are instead preprogrammed inside of her?
Ok, but then we land at career.
Wouldn’t that same thing apply to our career success? Which for most of us is the total sum of our achievement on the planet? (I’m saying most of us because it’s true for me, but I’m guessing some of you are reading this being like, “nope, Emma, that’s just you…)
I don’t know about your family, but in my family, we put SO MUCH into career accomplishment. We talk about people “achieving their potential” and “doing something with their lives” and “working hard for their success” as if there’s some moral marker where better people work harder and accomplish more and lesser people work less and accomplish less. That’s fucking insane.
I look at everything I have achieved and I can tie each thing back to some implicit belief I picked up in childhood, like:
- Be the smartest person in the room and people will love you
- Have money and you will never have to feel let down by other people
- Work hard and people will love you
- When you achieve something, everyone talks about you and it feels like love
- If you can’t be really beautiful (by conventional standards), be really important (and people will love you)
So, obviously, when you look at that list, my compulsion to work and succeed in a career-sense has nothing to do with a higher calling, or just being a “natural workaholic” or anything like that.
It’s just a little kid trying to get gold stars.
I’m guessing if you made your own list, it would look fairly similar (or you’ve never been in therapy in which case you’re like, no, I just love to work and it’s important to succeed, what’s the big deal?!)
But now let’s put motivation aside for a moment and let’s talk about opportunity and who gets opportunity. Everything I currently have (financial stability, a college degree, business acumen) was handed to me and made possible for me. So how can it reflect on me as a person?
How can I look at somebody working at Dunkin Donuts (where I worked in college, BTW) and somehow think their life is worth less than mine, or their commitment to success is less than mine.
It’s like that Drake song, “Started from the bottom, now we here.”
Mine would be, “Started from middle top area, now I’m here.”
What would yours be?
Women don't like hearing other women play down their success.
When I talk about this stuff, I often get told that I’m having imposter syndrome or that women have trouble owning their accomplishments. I get told if I want to be “big” I need to think of myself as “big” and that I shouldn’t be embarrassed by my success.
But I’m not embarrassed. I’m just being honest. I work hard because of a childhood belief that it will buy me love (it doesn’t). And I’m successful because I was set up for success by parents who were also set up for success. It would have taken more courage and individual thought to NOT be successful when you look at the way I was raised and the opportunities my parents created for me.
Spend some time on instagram and you’ll see that status is like beauty...with a lot of people bragging about “creating” something they were handed, whether it’s a small white body or six figures in the bank or some big accomplishment in their careers.
Let's be proud of what we weren't handed.
Here’s what I wasn’t handed: being good at relationships. I’m not good in close relationships. I struggle with intimacy. I’m not a person who was “handed” being good at marriage. And I’ve worked so hard to build my relationship with Andrew and the female friendships in my life. It hasn’t come naturally, I don’t get applause for it, but I get to reap the benefits of it everyday and I am immensely proud of it.
Sometimes, after a great date with Andrew or a friend, I drive home and I’m just smiling ear to ear because I remember all those miserable dates with other guys, all those inauthentic friendships I didn’t know how to shift. I remember feeling so lost and disconnected and lonely, thinking that intimacy and connection and love and warmth and honesty was out of reach for me.
Yeah, when it comes to love, I started at the bottom and I’m here. And that’s mine to brag about.
The rest? Not so much.