How often have we seen ourselves and other people around us be defined by their wealth? Is money and the accompanying pressure why some people struggle with work-life balance? How is earning money for the family resulting into less time for them? Is it really just one or the other? And why does being rich somehow negate being a good person?
Hold on. What is money in the first place? Why does it matter so damn much? And how do we start to navigate our complex relationship with it?
Listen in as we define money – what it is and isn’t, what it means for us and our relationships, and how it all fits in with the rest of our individual stories.
- [01:19] The problem with most money stories
- [05:06] What is money, really?
- [10:52] What money isn’t
- [12:55] Money and false choices
- [19:42] False choices and the end goal of one’s work
- [21:58] What Intuitive Finance sets up
[00:00:00] Intro: We’re saying goodbye to the rigid numbers and strict budgets, and putting relationships back at the heart of personal finance. This is more than a podcast, it’s an invitation to reimagine your money story and journey with us through a landscape of intuitive strategies and abundance. Join a community that nurtures transformative financial mindsets. Welcome to Intuitive Finance. I’m your host, Dylan Bain.
[00:00:36] Dylan Bain: It’s February 2015, and I’m sitting in my small kitchen in Flagstaff, Arizona in my apartment struggling with the decision I’ve made to leave what had been an eight-year career as a math teacher.
[00:00:49] And I’m struggling with this idea because I had wound me as a teacher as part of the central identity of who Dylan was, but I’m also struggling because I’ve decided that I’m going to leave teaching to become an accountant. Specifically, an auditor. I’m going to go back to graduate school, I’m going to get my CPA, and I’m going to chase the opportunity to be in the room where it happens. I’m going to start chasing dollars.
[00:01:19] My goal is to triple my income in the next several years and to be able to provide my children with the opportunities and resources that I know they fully deserve. And I’m struggling with this, because doesn’t that mean I’m going to have less time for my children? I had my kids because I wanted to be a father, and I loved being a teacher because I had this idea that I could always go to their school events and be really active in their lives. And not only that, I would be able to have influence on the lives of future American citizens and really be able to help serve my country on the front lines of the educational environment of our country’s youth.
[00:02:04] Wasn’t I just abandoning all of that? Wasn’t it just somehow corrupting of my moral fiber to decide that I wanted to have a career where I was a decisionmaker, where I was in the room where it happened, and I was paid accordingly?
[00:02:20] I wanted to be a present dad, and I’m struggling because I don’t know if these things are compatible. I’m telling this story, and it’s funny because this is the second time this evening as I’m recording this that I’ve actually told this story. I literally told this story to my daughter, my oldest daughter Harper, this morning when we were talking about — we’re coming up on the house that we live in now — it being the longest place we’ve lived in her entire life. And she’s worried that we’re going to have to move, and we moved a lot for jobs. My wife and I, over a 10 year time period, had 13 addresses as we chased our careers and we chased opportunities, so that we could provide for our daughters in a way that they could flourish and thrive.
[00:03:04] And this conflict, I think, is just all too familiar to so many of us. Because when we think about our money stories, when we think about how we interact with this thing we call money, we’d quickly find that it is an emotional minefield. There’s shame, and there’s judgment. There’s recrimination, there’s fear, there’s skepticism, all wrapped into one, that can come out at any time.
[00:03:32] We carry money lessons that we think we learned from our childhood, or we did in fact learn from our childhood. We have stories of how it doesn’t work, and how it does work, and what’s the right option here. I mean, heck, you can go and take a look at any of the money subreddits, from personal finance to gold to cryptocurrency to stocks. Just spend some time and tool around there, and what you will see are people with mutually exclusive opinions that are completely convinced of their own righteousness in the opinions that they’re holding about money.
[00:04:07] And I’m here to tell you that these things and these ideas that we have around money are a lot of what entrap us into really poor money stories. We hold on to them, and just like me as a teacher, it had become part of my identity. So too do our money stories start to become part of our identities. “I’m the crypto bro.” “I’m the gold stacker because I don’t trust the government.” “I’m the stock guy because I’m gonna day trade my way to a fortune!”
[00:04:33] These are all things that we start to identify as. And what gets lost in there is the human that’s actually living this life, because our identities and the different masks that we put on and we wear are not actually us. They’re just masks. And so the question here is, who’s the human underneath? And so I think it’s important for us to start really defining some terms here to be able to start to excavate that human out from underneath this massive mound of bullshit, which is just really our money stories.
[00:05:06] And a really good basic question to start with is, what is money? I mean, have you ever really stopped to think about it? What is it? And some people will pull out a dollar bill and go, this is money. And I look at it, but what is it? How does that even work? And let’s be real, for most of us who do not work in the service industry or cash based system, most of our money is just phantom digits in a computer. The digits in one bank account move into our bank account when we get paid, and then we use a piece of plastic with some digits in it to transfer money from our bank account to somebody else’s bank account, but no cash is actually trading hands. There’s no good or thing that’s underlying what those things are.
[00:05:50] So what is money and why is it that we have attached so much judgment and self-worth to this thing if we can’t even define what it is? I think this is a great question. So let’s just be real, money is nothing more than an agreed upon fiction. It’s a useful agreed upon fiction, but it’s an agreed upon fiction. And if you stop and you think about this for any length of time, you start to realize that most of our society, most of the things that function almost on a hidden level, because they function so well. Are nothing more than just agreed upon fictions.
[00:06:28] Let me give you another example. What is an LLC, a limited liability corporation? It’s agreed upon fiction that this person can do business but really it’s not them, it’s this other entity called the LLC or the corporation that’s doing it. And therefore the person who’s making all the decisions, who’s really in charge of this, has a liability shield if they were to find themselves in the hot water. We as a society have decided that this is a useful fiction, so we all go with it. And that fiction enables us to be able to conduct business in a way that lowers the risk such that more people are willing to take it. And so we do benefit from that.
[00:07:07] But if you really want to get into it, traffic laws, food conventions, the idea that you can’t go past the front counter at a McDonald’s into the back unless you work there, these are all agreed upon fictions. There’s no hard and fast rule, and there’s nothing solid about this that says this is the way it has to be. When you have agreed upon fictions, you can change them however you want.
[00:07:27] In the United States, we drive on the right side of the road. In England, they drive on the left side of the road and people will say, well there’s good reasons for that, but I’ve never heard one. There’s an entire concept called the residual design about how we made decisions arbitrarily centuries ago, and they’re continuing to influence our thinking now. Road design and the wheelbase on cars are great examples of this because they’re based upon the wheelbase of Roman war chariots, which was based upon the width of two horses asses, and we are still designing things based upon the width of two Roman horse’s asses because it’s convenient for us to do so. There’s actually no real good reason we continue to say that railroad tracks have to be X number of units apart except for we’ve been doing it for several centuries at this point.
[00:08:19] So when you go back to money, the idea that it’s an agreed upon fiction is actually pretty normal in our lives. We just typically don’t think about it. But money does have the use because that agreed upon fiction gives us some abilities.
[00:08:32] Number one, money is also a medium of exchange. Because we all agree that this thing is money, we now can exchange that money for goods and services. A lot of people will compare this to the barter system, but there’s some pretty solid evidence that early economies didn’t actually barter. It was much more like the college pizza based economy where people would say, “I’ll get the next one.” So if you show up and you’re like, well, I need a bunch of sheep, but I only have grain and I can’t give that to you. And the guy says, well just take the sheep, you’ll get the next one. And you come back and be like, here’s some blankets. He’s like, perfect. That’s what I want. That’s the thing. Cool.
[00:09:09] In the same way that in college we had like, well, I don’t have the money for the pizza, but I’ll buy the next one. And then you do, and then you get to continue, and then the people who don’t, well, they stopped being in our friend group.
[00:09:19] But now we have money. Money can be a function as a medium of exchange, which broadens our ability to trade with people we don’t know, which is really the big thing here, because in a tribal-based society, it’s okay to say, well I’ll get the next one because you’re going to see these people again. They’re part of your tribe and part of your community, just like the college people are part of your community in college. But when you’re trying to trade with other tribes, you may never see this person again. And so money becomes very useful as a medium of exchange.
[00:09:49] Another thing that money is, is a store of value. We can say, well, the sheep won’t be forever, but I did exchange them for this gold and the gold will be forever. So in the future, when I want sheep, I can convert gold into sheep because it’s this medium of exchange. And essentially what I’ve done is I’ve stored sheep in gold form. And that’s what we’ve done with our time, we store up value into our money, into our bank accounts, and then we’re able to use that for some sort of future state.
[00:10:13] Money also can be focused on a unit of account. Because it’s an agreed upon fiction, we also have agreed upon fictions called prices. And prices don’t actually indicate anything real about the thing that the price is attached to, this can of beans being 50 cents. We can say, well yeah, there’s all this economic stuff on it, but we’re using the money as a unit account, and then we can translate that back into the time we spent to get that money. And now we can say okay, here’s a price. But at the end of the day, what a can of beans is to one person may not be to what it is to another person. And therefore, the prices on a lot of levels are also, because they’re money-based, agreed upon fictions.
[00:10:52] But you’ll notice here that at no point did I illustrate money as being something that is inherent to a human flourishing, enhances your ability to connect with yourself and others, a measurement of one’s self worth, or something that we’re really gonna matter when we’re in our old age. Because money is none of those things.
[00:11:13] We attach a lot of meaning to it. If I were to give you a choice between a one-year long, amazing, fulfilling relationship that you’ll be very sad when it dissolves and goes away in one year, or $50,000, which one are you going to choose? And some people will say, “I’ll take the $50,000 because I don’t trust relationships.” Well, that’s telling me a lot about you right now, but at the end of the day, there’s a longing that goes with that of, well I’m not taking the relationship because I don’t trust it, but that’s really what I want.
[00:11:44] Nobody’s really going to consciously choose the money. They might choose something, not that other thing. At the end of the day, our ability to connect as humans, our relationships with ourselves and with others are what actually makes life worth living. Human flourishing requires human scale things, and human interaction and connection and contact. This is why I’ve said before we live in this anti-human society and I’ve complained about car dependence quite a bit because it separates the humans. It puts us in little boxes where we can’t interact, and therefore we as the humans don’t flourish, even though the economy might, because our economy is anti-human.
[00:12:26] But people also then want to attach your self-worth to your money, specifically to your wealth and your income. How many people take pride or they look at themselves and say, I’m grounded in this thing. I am great and I am mighty because I have a lot of money or I have the ability to make a lot of money. How many people have spent their entire lives defining themselves based upon those two characteristics only to turn around at the end of their life and go, “I don’t have anything I want.”
[00:12:55] And that’s the point. Why is it that we think about this? So let’s talk about that. Because money’s an agreed upon fiction that has some useful things, but it’s not an ability to connect, it’s not inherent to human flourishing, it’s not a measure of your self worth, and at the end of the day, it’s not going to matter. And when we are starting to look at our society and how we interact with money and our relationship with it, we realize that we’ve created all sorts of false choices.
[00:13:22] Let me give you an example of that. A false choice would be, I can chase money or I can do what I love. And my question is always, why is it one or the other? And I stop and I think about it. Like, I’m an auditor right? I’m an accountant. I’m a CPA. And people look at me and go like, oh God, your job must be boring. No, my job’s fascinating. I really enjoy it. And people would say, well, how could you possibly enjoy that? Well, first off, it makes me a lot of money which is nice, but I also look at it and go, what is the thing that this job feeds to me? This job, yes, I’m grateful that it gives me a roof over my head and all this other stuff, but if money wasn’t an issue, would I still be interested in doing it?
[00:14:01] The answer is, I’m interested in knowing things. I really enjoy being able to take things apart. And as an auditor, that’s what the companies that employ me are employing me to do. Take apart the system from the inside out and look at it. It gives me great joy to understand how things work. And so I can pursue happiness and I can pursue money. And when the thing that I’m doing for work that brings in the money no longer serves me, I have the freedom to just leave.
[00:14:30] How many people are stuck in jobs just trying to gut it out because they truly believe that they can either have the money or the happiness, and they know they need the money because they gotta pay the mortgage. I mean, this is insane. We only get to live once. Why are you continuing to gut things out? Especially when you can look at it and say, “Maybe I should do the things that are interesting to me and I can also make money at the same time.”
[00:14:57] There’s a lot of ways we can make this happen. And a lot of times we never really just ask the question of, what else could I do?
[00:15:05] Let me give you another example of a false choice. I can be rich and wealthy or I can be a “good person”. There’s this idea, and particularly in western societies, we like to quote — and I use that term loosely — this Bible verse of like, money’s the root of all evil. No, no, no. That is not what the Bible says.
[00:15:23] What the Bible says is that the love of money is the root of all evil. That is to say, you stop loving people and start loving money. And we also will say — people will say, well I don’t want to be a glutton. Well, okay, that’s fair enough because the original understanding of gluttony was the hoarding of resources, not just having too much dinner at dinnertime.
[00:15:45] And so we look at this and we say, okay, but there’s a great gap between where I am now and when I’m start to get to a point where I’m hoarding resources. If I were to have a six-figure net worth, have I become a glutton? Have I started to hoard resources? I would say no. But the idea, some people will say, well no — I can’t even pursue the idea of being rich because that will negate being a good person. My question is why is poverty good? Why is not having the means to allow your gifts to flourish in this world, to be able to have the potential, to be able to influence the places around you — why is the world better when you are diminished in a box versus helping to grow yourself, which includes your wealth? It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. And when good people cede the grounds of wealth, then only the bad ones are going to show up there. Wouldn’t you want to be there to kind of balance that out?
[00:16:47] Or there’s always the baby boomer way. “Well, you could have a house if you just stopped eating your avocado toast and getting that grande latte in the morning.” No, these — stopping to have your morning Starbucks, if that’s what’s really getting you going in the morning and you are a better human being because you’re having a Starbucks, then my brother- and sister-in-caffeine, go get the Starbucks. Because you can stop doing that and save every penny, and even with interest, you’re never going to have a down payment in the house. That’s a whole different game.
[00:17:16] You can have the house and enjoy your latte. And if you’re having trouble saving for the house, I’m going to go back to the idea of, well, it is okay in fact to chase money and you can also be happy doing it. You can chase wealth in the dollar and also be a good person. You can have the house and the latte.
[00:17:36] And last but certainly not least, and there are many more than just the ones I’ve listed, I can have a career or I can be a good parent.
[00:17:43] My wife and I struggle with this a lot, with the idea of like, well, do I choose my kids or my career? And I’ll get to it in a little bit as to how I’ve solved that problem.
[00:17:52] But the answer is you can have both. It just requires a lot of intentionality. We have to have control in this and we have to have healthy relationships. Remember, a healthy relationship is one in which you are not defined by the thing you are in relationship with. Because if you are defined by it, then you’re confluent, and that means that you’ve lost your sense of self. It’s important to understand that a lot of these false choices are set up by an anti-human society, and they’re incredibly economically exploitable.
[00:18:21] Especially the one where you say, well, I could be rich or I could be a good person. Because if you stop and think about that, your employer can sit there and say, “Well, I mean, you’re just being money grubbing and going after the money and asking for a raise. Why would you want that? I thought you were a good person.” And you’ll go, “Oh yes, you’re right, I’m a good person. No, keep the money. I don’t need the extra money.”
[00:18:39] Like, no! You’re doing good work and they’re profiting from it. You, in fact, should be paid. That’s the whole point of capitalism. You add value and you are paid for it. If you take more risk, you should be paid for it. That’s how this is supposed to work. That is what a capitalistic system ideally is supposed to produce. And if they’re not going to cooperate with that, then they’re not actually acting in good faith.
[00:19:03] These false choices lead to inauthentic decisions. But think about the idea of when you go and you ask your boss and say, “Hey, I’ve really picked up a lot more responsibility. I’m doing a lot more around here and I would like to be compensated for it.”
[00:19:17] And they say, “I thought you were a good person.” You say, “You’re right, you’re right. I’m sorry I even asked.” That’s an inauthentic decision. You went against What you know in your heart to be true, and that job has stopped being true for you in that place, and you’re presented with this false choice. Because I can just keep my head down and keep this job, or I can stick my head up and then the bad things are going to happen. That’s not actually at all how this game works.
[00:19:42] False choices lead to inauthentic decisions, and when we are inauthentic to who we are, our ability to attach to ourselves and to other people is damaged, and we lose sight of our intuition. If we don’t know who we are, if we’re not authentic to ourselves, then all of our choices are going to be unaligned to who we are. And they’re never going to feel good.
[00:20:04] The pressure that we feel so often in life is actually the weight of the choices we made that were not aligned to who we truly are. And that is the whole goal of so much of all of this work, is to both discover who we truly are so that we can become more of who we are, and then align our lives to that.
[00:20:31] Because we are the axis on which our lives actually turn. End goal of all of this work, of this podcast, of my coaching practice, of the events that I run, is to help you know where you stand in relationship to yourself, and to empower you to be able to make decisions for you and for no one else. That is the ideal state here.
[00:20:56] Because when you walk into your boss’s office and say, “Boss, I’m worth a lot more money than you’re paying me,” and they say, “No, you’re not.” You can say, “All right. Well, thanks for the opportunity.” And start going looking for a new job, and start working your way towards where you want to be.
[00:21:13] If you find yourself sweeping floors in a warehouse and thinking to yourself, I don’t know how I got here. This is your invitation to yourself to say, “Yeah, I got here because I made choices, and some of those choices were completely not aligned to who I am and what I want, but I can, right now, today make different choices. And I can align myself to who I am, and it is okay for me to pursue my goals because they make me happy.”
[00:21:40] If you’re sitting in your car, listening to my voice come through the speakers, and you’re starting to get real uncomfortable, I want you to stop, breathe and know that you’re going to be okay. But I also want you to ask yourself, is it because you know I’m right and you can feel that in your body?
[00:21:58] And I’m not going to say that any of this is easy. That’s what Intuitive Finance is set up to do, it’s to help ease the path. But you still have to walk it. And I know what it’s like to walk that path because I’ve done it. Because I did leave my teaching job, and I did pursue my career. Because I said to myself, no fuck it, I can do both. I’m going to do both because I can be both a present dad and I can be an excellent auditor in the room where it happens.
[00:22:28] Because I want my daughters to be able to have the resources to have the experience to edify and enhance them as people, as these little humans who are becoming little adults, who are gonna become big adults eventually. I want to foster that, and my money and my job is how I do that, and I can get a great deal of enjoyment from it. I think I can do both.
[00:22:47] The way that I squared that circle, ladies and gentlemen, is that when I was at work, when I was working for a Big Four accounting firm, I practiced not work-life balance, but work-life separation. Because when I was gone and I was at the client’s site, I was there 100%. Because I was going to be the best there was, and I was going to show my value every day. And I would stay late and get in early. A couple of times I slept on the floor of the client’s office.
[00:23:16] But when I was home, my laptop was off and my phone was too, because I was 100% there for my kids. I put an out-of-the-office response in my Microsoft Outlook, so if people emailed me on the weekend, it said: “I’m sorry, I’m spending the time with my family. I will be back in the office on Monday.” Work-life separation.
[00:23:39] When I came through the door, it was Papa time. And my daughters would come to me running with smiles on their face saying, “Papa, Papa. It’s Papa time.”
[00:23:50] And ladies and gentlemen, I got to tell you, it’s made all the difference.
[00:23:55] Outro: Thanks for listening. The conversation doesn’t end here. Please share the show with friends and make sure you keep up with all the latest updates on Instagram and threads @TheDylanBain and dive deeper into the world of finance with me at DylanBain.com where you’ll find insights, resources, and strategies to reimagine your money story.