More than a decade ago, American society was overly focused on the newly wealthy; those who were making money seemingly overnight. Remember the zeitgeist of the year 2000, the top of the Silicon Valley boom era which (according to the SF Chronicle) minted 64 new millionaires a day. During that time we began to work with these new wealth success stories and discovered that having lots of money didn't necessarily make people happy or satisfied; not a panacea for all of their ills. In fact, an over focus on money created a myriad of problems that many did not anticipate. We coined the phrase Sudden Wealth Syndrome (SWS) to describe the issues and the psychological symptoms that resulted from the experience of new wealth--a counterintuitive idea for many of us who believe that money, in and of itself, will solve all our problems.
Now, our society is again overly focused on money but this time it is about not having enough of it. People are scared and anxious about paying their bills, affording their mortgage and their children's college education. The Great Recession and globalization have resulted in mass uncertainty about money and work, challenging many people's very survival. People are finding that money strategies that may have worked well in the past no longer work today. We are witnessing a virtual financial anxiety epidemic, carried by waves of fear: people feeling off-center, losing a sense of control of their financial and personal direction.
The stories of the outbreak of this epidemic are pounded into us daily by the 24/7 media and web; raising our blood pressure, increasing our anxiety and sense of powerlessness. This psychology of financial fear, aided by a loss of trust in large institutions, adds to our daily erosion of feeling in control of money matters at all levels: personal, national, and international. There is a money psychology sea change, a mood swing in our society: a shift from opportunity, a ‘we can do it' attitude, and a sense of possibility, to psychological and economic pessimism and contraction. This narrowing of socio-economic focus results in a parallel restriction of our mindset: in one's thinking, creativity and optimism about now and the future. It may be human nature to "hunker down" when times are hard, but unfortunately this restriction of mindset is the wrong medicine for the illness. When there are fewer jobs, or vocational pathways that no longer take us where we want to go, what can we do?
We need greater open mindedness, curiosity, resilience, and optimism in our thinking: to expand rather than restrict our focus. We need to rethink and re-envision what is possible; instead of feeling forced into a corner, locked in pessimism and fear.
When we feel "up against the wall" we automatically use psychological defenses to protect ourselves. When our defenses serve us, they provide safety which allows us to move on. But our defenses may not provide the right protection for the challenges we face in this current financial reality. Instead these defenses that may have worked so well in the past may keep us stuck, or going in circles, following old habitual patterns that no longer work. When this happens it is important to expand our perspective, to think outside of what one sees as "normal", to challenge old defenses and behavioral patterns and begin to do something differently. So if financial anxiety is giving you a headache, if you feel you may become another victim of the epidemic, then stop the action: Now is the time to approach your thinking and actions about money differently. Now is the time to re-invent your relationship to money, values, and life goals.
In our book Affluence Intelligence we recommend starting with an assessment of your strengths and vulnerabilities on the key attitudes, behaviors and strategies. The output of this assessment is your Affluence Intelligence Quotient, which includes a profile of your results. So for example, you may have been very successful at getting a certain type of job, like computer programming working for a large firm. Now, you find that many of these jobs have been outsourced to programmers outside of your state of residence. You feel disempowered and uncertain and you keep on looking for the same type of work. It is human nature to repeat patterns that have been successful in the past. We have learned that those with affluence intelligence understand that when a past pattern of behavior or way of thinking, good or bad, no longer serves them, it is time to move on or change what they are doing. It's time to let go of what worked before but no longer works today; never an easy realization, but a very necessary step.
After taking the test you can look at your Affluence Intelligence Profile, taking stock of your broad range of strengths to carve a new future for yourself. This may mean working in a related industry, working out of state, working as an independent contractor or doing a completely different kind of work based upon a strong passion or capacity that you have in a different area. So, for example in our book we talk about a woman who was in a dead end social service job who couldn't save enough money for her daughter's college education. After taking the affluence intelligence test we discovered that she had a passion for working with animals. She had for the past 20 years volunteered at the humane society as well as taken in stray dogs and cats. As part of her Affluence Intelligence action plan she decided to start a part time dog training business. After one year this business was so successful that she had to hire a second person.
Here's the good news, something we have had the pleasure to witness many many times: When people step outside of the norm and are not being driven by anxiety about money, many new perspectives as well as new opportunities surface. Sometimes they surface from your hobbies or passions; sometimes they are vocational routes that were right in front of your face but you've been blinded by old habits and defenses. Most importantly, we need to stop being "carriers of the financial anxiety contagion; Knowing and exercising your Affluence Intelligence will help you regain the locus of control for your finances and your life. There is no worse psychological outcome of this nasty economic downturn then blaming yourself, beating yourself up, and feeling defeated by societal forces which were not your fault, and not of your choosing. This is the great psychological disease of this Great Recession. The only way to get on the path of healing is to take back your sense of control and to focus on what you can do.
Many of our very successful clients came from difficult backgrounds and experienced multiple failures at work. As one successful venture capitalist said, "Everyone focuses on my one big win, not my ten failures before that." We learned that our clients have failed and struggled but they were remarkably resilient, before they made their money. The key here is to learn from your failures and move on. Don't settle into self loathing and regret as a lifestyle. It is a dead end.
While we are not telling you to ignore your feelings about the current economic climate and the burden it has created, we are saying that dwelling on your feelings can only make it worse. It is important to remember that you can't control what is not in your control. Don't surrender your well being, or your self-esteem: Remember: Your financial worth is not equal to your self-worth. The bottom line: You and only you are in control of what you think, feel, and can do.So doing what you can do rather than focusing on what you can't do will help to mobilize your resources and your sense of capacity.