Money isn’t evil

We can learn from our mistakes (SA Link)

Welcome to Sunday Koa Kākou. Sunday is the day I answer questions you send to me. If you have a question connected to management and leadership, leave a comment here, or email me.

From the Say “Alaka‘i” mailbox:

I’m ready to put all my blog reading on hold: I know you try to keep us in the positives versus the negatives, but I get very frustrated when I read articles by you and other business coaches these days, for all I can focus on is making money and keeping it. I don’t think I’ve ever been so scared about being able to make a living than I am right now. The prospects are so terrible and my savings have run out. It all seems completely out of my control. Your advice about better management and leadership practices may be great when there’s money in the bank, but until then, I can’t be bothered with reading about what I cannot work on. That old saying that money is the root of all evil is so true, isn’t it.

This wasn’t exactly a question, but it was a heartfelt frustration that I felt compelled to answer both privately and here on the blog, for I am fully aware that times are tough, and I suspect many people have similar feelings.

Believe me, I share your concern. I will openly admit to all of you that 2009 will be a year I will struggle to keep my own business alive and well too; to do so, I must reinvent it a bit, keeping what works and discarding what doesn’t, replacing those discards with newly promising strategies, and that’s exactly what I’m doing. The Hawaiian value I call on most right now is Ho‘omau, that of persistence and perseverance, seeking to perpetuate the good in my life, and continually reminding myself that adversity can make me stronger, wiser, better. It’s an energy-creating self-talk I cannot allow to falter. Neither can you.

“I don’t care how hard this period is. You have to have the combination of believing that you will prevail, that you will get out of this, but also not be the Pollyanna who ignores the brutal facts. You have to say that we will be in this for a long time and we will turn this into a defining event, a big catalyst to make ourselves a much stronger enterprise. Our characters are being forged in a burning, searing crucible.”
—Jim Collins, in an interview with Jennifer Reingold

Ho‘ohana: Shift intention to where attention is

I agree that you must focus on the basics of “making a [good] living” (the value of ‘Imi ola, and seeking your best possible life) before you work on things that are the greater pursuits of legacy-focused work that is ‘affordable’ when times are better for you. Matching up your Ho‘ohana (intention with worthwhile work) to wherever your attentions doggedly must remain is usually a wise strategy. If you need more money, you need more money; that’s the fact of life your intentions must be set toward improving in your favor.

However believing that “money is evil” isn’t going to be very harmonious with that intention to make more of it. That’s like trying to make a nightmare come true instead of a dream. You want every one of your pursuits to be a noble effort you believe in. Your need for more money (and our need for money as a society), isn’t going away, so turn money into your dream enabler instead of your nightmare creator. Money by itself is neither evil nor saintly, but you are.

Money is simply currency. Any “evil” that may be associated with it has to do with bad behavior using money in an ill-conceived, uneducated or unfortunate way. When the behavior improves —with philanthropy for example, and with social entrepreneurship, so does the reputation of money as the tool which enables those more admirable behaviors. Then we give money a different name; donations, funding, or venture capital, but it still is money for good versus money for not so good.

What we are all being reminded of right now, both as individuals and as businesses, is that “times are better” when we have a substantial contingency fund that we have ready access to when a storm rages. That may be our first lesson in financial literacy (#2 here: The Top 7 Business Themes on my 2009 Wish List).

Being ‘broke’ is a mistake, not a failure

I think the biggest mistake we make with money is failing to become better educated with using it. The good news is that correcting that mistake is not that difficult. We simply need to redirect our attentions (and intention) with doing so, i.e. with becoming more financially literate.

Money is our basic transactional currency. We all need it, and we all need to be sure we have enough of a contingency fund available (an emergency fund) when circumstances in our world spin out of our control. A contingency fund finances our basic living requirements when everything else goes haywire.

If your savings have run out, you simply made the mistake of not having a contingency fund in addition to your savings (or one which was large enough). And you are not alone: Many of us are getting quite a reality check with which of the two is ultimately more important (contingency or savings) and which must take first priority, and by how much of a margin. We are learning that non-liquid assets do not readily convert into cash flow. We are learning that some conditions we once thought of as ‘fixed’ can be very volatile, and actually are ‘variables.’ We are learning several financial lessons that the present recession has pulled from back burner to front.

Log your lessons learned in precise measurements that will give you the structure for a new personal financial game plan. Then, articulate them more positively, by turning them into the new goals of your intentions. Correct your past mistakes, and make your goals dreamy.

Learn with a good teacher

I encourage you to seek the help you may need with learning the lessons you must now learn. Great teachers and coaches hold you accountable and shorten learning curves. And I am not implying you must hire someone: You aren’t alone in relearning a newly emerging financial literacy for these times; we’re all doing it. Team up with those who have similar learning goals, and seek those willing to teach you and help you learn what they know, as you do the same for them: Collaborate; barter your knowledge.

And yes, if my blog is not the one giving you the most answers right now, read the ones which are: Match up your attentions to your new intention. Get offline for a little while so you can better focus: Redirect your monthly internet payment into your new contingency fund goal, and read the coaching of financial authors available at your library or local bookstore.