We need more artists in the financial conversation

One of the reasons I’m passionate about making a home for artists in the finance world is because there is a real need for diversity of thought in money conversations.

We need more ways to tell the story of money. We need people who don’t think in spreadsheets, who aren’t only optimizing for wealth maximization.

The financial world needs writers, painters, dancers and actors.

These two worlds have so much to learn from each other. Yes, there is so much for the creative world to learn from the financial, but it goes both ways.

Identifying with Crooked Tomato Plants

In the early days my tomato grew up. This is the way things should be. I was pleased.

But after returning from some time away I found it had made a choice to grow sideways. Straight sideways. Right into the middle of a bush.

I was less pleased. But I also have never felt closer to the decision making process of a plant.

From a bird’s eye (read: person’s eye) view, it’s often clear what good decision making is. Up is good. Up is structurally sound. Up is where the sun is.

But when we’re the one making the decision it’s never that clear. There is always uncertainty. I don’t know what that tomato was thinking, but I’m sure it made sense at the time.

These days, decision are hard. It’s impossible to know what’s coming and what the “right choice” is. I’m sure I’m making lots of sideways decisions.

I take comfort (sometimes) in reminding myself that all I can do is make the best choice I can with the information and emotional resources I currently have. It might mean having to fix things later. It might mean a real set back in metaphorical fruit production.

But it’s all that can be done.

Losing Strength

It’s been a long year, and I have not been the best at taking care of myself.

I don’t really remember the last time I worked out, and I’m eating a lot of ice cream.

The first thing I noticed was a loss of strength. Before the extra bits started to gather around my ribs, my muscles began to lose their power.

I think that’s also how many of our financial lives may feel.

For those of us who started this pandemic with some assets to draw on, as things progress… we’re watching those accounts atrophy. And with it, not just a number, but also a strength.

Having buffers has been a game changer in my money. By having money set aside I’m able to do things that I never thought of doing before, and it’s not just about being able to buy things.

The strength that I have appreciated in this hard time is the ability to wait. To be patient with my business as it grows. To be experimental, to try things that I’m not sure will work out (without worrying that I’m compromising my ability to eat next month).

And that spins off into two thoughts:

  1. The privilege of a safety net or base amount of cash is a huge leg up, especially for those of us who are self-employed and have variable income. It allows so much more ability to ‘play the long game’ and be patient. It allows us to be bold. It allows us to not fear that one mistake will necessitate major life changes.   

  2. Building that buffer is a priority, no matter what you’re trying to do. It’s really hard to pay off debt, save for a big thing, build a home or business while playing jump rope with zero.

I doubt many of us will feel strong for quite some time.

I know that building a buffer probably seems impossible to lots of people at the moment. It may not be a goal for right now, but when … some day in the future.. you have capacity to think about, it’s a very good step one. It’s what can make you feel strong again (or maybe even for the first time).

Note to self: making a living does not have to be a goal

Don’t forget that ‘a business’ doesn’t have to be a goal in itself, neither does ‘a living’ or ‘a wage’.

I’ve been trapped lately, being gravity-welled into general goals that don’t quite fit. They’re close… but close is far more dangerous than way off. It’s harder to recognize. It’s easier to think “it’s just today that feels off, I’m sure everything is fine”.

I’ve been ‘building a business’ for years, but the business doesn’t really matter to me.

To me, a business, is just another tool. Like money.

A business is the way that I can deliver kindness and support. A business is a way that I can support other things in my life.

Remembering that is helpful for me.

Remembering that means that I don’t get too stuck on questions like .. how do I grow my business?

And it means that I spend more time thinking about, what am I trying to do again? Is a business the best way to do that? What kind of business or structure would deliver that better?

How many times do I have to learn that the tool follows the intention. every. damn. time.

“Consumption masked as purpose”

That’s a phrase that floated through my newsfeed and I haven’t been able to shake it since.

The point was, as we reopen things, that the conversation we’re having is not about purpose or non-essential vs essential… it’s about consumption.

In a way, I can’t argue with that. So many of the choices being made right now seem to come from a need to return corporate profits to pre-COVID levels.

But on a micro level there are also people’s lives that are built on that consumption. People’s wages and individual purposes.

It is again, much more complicated than it seems.

Money’s role in the process of radical change

We can stuff money in our ears and ignore it. It can be an excuse for not changing, for not having to change, for standing aside or apart.

It can ignite. Pour it on the fire of passion and progress. It can provide the tools for those fighting, or equip yourself for the same purpose.

It can be a distraction. A shiny bauble taking the focus off the fundamental work that needs to be done. The tool can become the thing. The money is not the thing, it is a tool, a symbol.

We can use money to participate, to protect, to provoke, to pretend that there is nothing we can do, or perhaps to actively prevent the inevitable change.

But let’s not forget that we are not powerless. We are making a choice.

Change happens, often radically, and our money is a part of that.

Left out of the conversation

“Dad would love that!”

That’s what we say now that he’s gone. He can’t tell us, so we fill in the gaps.

The truth is, I was often surprised by what my father loved. But now that he’s not an active part of the conversation… I have to guess.

That’s what happens when you fill in someone else’s part in a conversation. It’s a guess. You don’t actually know.

There are lots of people left out of the financial conversation. Lots of people we don’t ask about which things they find hard, or what they would find most helpful. So even the most well-meaning of us in the financial world, we take a guess instead…

And I would imagine, from the prevalence of financial stress lots of people are feeling at the moment… we’re not always guessing right. 

So maybe, if those groups/people are still around, it would be better to just ask… and start building solutions from there.

A guide and a companion

I’m not all that fond of the word expert. It’s never been a hat that fits for me.

I like the word expertise… because it’s something you have, rather than something you are.

But I think my favourite qualifier when it comes to my job as a financial support is: guide.

A guide doesn’t know exactly what you’ll meet on your journey, but they have an arsenal of tools to help with whatever comes up.

A guide can describe the likely upcoming terrain, and how you can be ready for it.

A guide can help you buy the right gear (and steer you away from the stuff that you’ll never use and just weighs you down).

And most of all, a guide is a companion. Sometimes there is nothing to do. This is something I’ve been struggling with as I look for ways to support my community. I can not restart industries. I cannot replace the income people have lost. Sometimes all I can do is be with them in it, to talk about ideas or commiserate. To remind them that they are doing everything that is possible. Not to say everything will be okay, because I don’t know if it will. But to simply be there.

We all have to raise our prices?

It’s something I’ve struggled with since day one, and I know I’m not alone.

Artists may think that other folks have it easier, I have not found that to be true. Turns out it’s hard to price yourself and ‘get paid what you’re worth’ in lots of fields.

I’m a big fan of people getting paid what they’re worth. I’m a big fan of artists getting paid what they’re worth. Let the record show I am a big fan of this.

But I also struggle when I hear:

‘You have to raise your prices’.
“You’ll find people who CAN afford you”

Because that means leaving people behind.

And in finance, that means that the same groups of people always get left behind. This is hard to live with.

There are no solutions here. I work with people every day to better understand their expenses and what income goals they need to support them. Sometimes increasing income is absolutely necessary, but let’s not pretend it doesn’t come without a cost. Let’s not pretend that we can have it all.

If we are worth thousands of dollars for our services, some people will struggle to gain access to those services. This is part of the equation for many of us, not just the very present imposter syndrome at the heart of a low ball offer.

Raising prices IS complex, and deserves careful thought about what you’re trying to do, what you can afford, and what is the best option when balancing your own care and the care of those you serve.

Certified Financial Planner

Last fall, I passed my exams for the certified financial planner designation. This month, I was approved to start using those letters behind my name.

For most of you, this will not seem like a big deal. In truth, it probably isn’t. It’s one of many financial acronyms that people in the finance industry carry around.

But I’m quite proud of it.

I’m proud of it because it was not easy for me. Passing those exams and coursework was difficult. I know I’m not supposed to say that. I’m supposed to pretend like it was easy. But it wasn’t, and I won’t… and I think that’s an important thing to say.

I continually find myself needing to translate the language of finance into something I can more readily understand. It’s why I write in metaphors and indirect language so often. That’s not for other people, it’s for me.

Being good at spreadsheets and reading the tax code is not why I’m a good financial coach and planner. It’s a thing I have learned (and am continuing to learn) so that I can become a better coach and planner.

The same is true for all of you.

If you don’t feel at home in financial language, that’s okay. You’re not alone. Remember that the real complexity of figuring out your money is in the big questions of ‘what do I want to do’ and ‘how do I decide what’s most important’. Remember that you can learn things that don’t come naturally to you.

… and remember that once you do, it will feel all the more satisfying.