Scared of Financial Success?

At one point in my banking career I was in line for a big promotion that involved a panel interview, and I blew it. People who served on the panel couldn’t believe the same person showed up for the interview who showed up for work every day. Instead of feeling pride and confidence when I first heard about the opportunity, I remember feeling discomfort and anxiety with the new title and bonus potential. It made no sense. Because I thought I might be given the opportunity again, I spent the following year working on the internal and external sources of my fear of success. I improved my inner confidence by joining Toastmasters (see that story here); and I improved my external messages by consciously surrounding myself with people who gave me joy and support. It worked: the next year, I aced it, and got the promotion.

Research on our messages about money has uncovered that some people may have an inner upper limit they have set on financial success. Past that limit, they become uncomfortable. Unknowingly, they will begin to sabotage themselves.  According to Ken Donaldson, LMHC, an emotional intelligence expert in Seminole Florida and author of Marry Yourself First , the upper limit is set by “history, events, programming, parents, institutions and cultural messages.”

Financial professionals often see this with windfalls. When someone has been handed a great deal more money than they have had before, and are uncomfortable with their new position, they may spend it or give it away until they are back in the financial position where they first started. Still others allow the windfall to sit in an account, untouched, unwilling to acknowledge its presence. For some people, the windfall can represent a real or imagined radical change in lifestyle and in relationships. It may give them a new self-identity, and they need time to grieve their old one. Meanwhile, some in their circles will accept them as they are, while others try to drag them down.

To address fear of success, self-made or not, work needs to be done on both inside and outside factors. Two steps in this direction: First, write your feelings about your new position today, then imagine how you would like to be spending your life three years from now. Second, surround yourself only with people who bring you joy and support. This may mean saying “no” to people whom you previously said “yes” to, detaching from them in a loving way.

Keep the messages of confidence flowing – from the inside and out – to embrace success, rather than ruin it.

Holly Donaldson

Holly P. Donaldson, CFP® writes and consults on the psychology of money. Her fee-only, product-free financial planning practice focuses on increasing financial self-efficacy for those seeking a financial navigator to help them make good decisions. She is the author of The Mindful Money Mentality: How to Find Balance in Your Financial Future (Porchview Publishing, 2013) and publisher of the award-winning monthly e-letter, "The View From the Porch." With a fully virtual practice in Seminole, Florida, she primarily serves clients located in the Tampa, St. Petersburg, and Clearwater areas. Holly will also work with clients who are a good fit located elsewhere in the United States.

This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Donna Mansbart

    In my situation unfortunately the negative chatter was family. I did what I had to do for my own health. Society still looks upon it as how dare you that’s your mother, I have no other choice. I reevaluate my situation every 6 months and I am growing so I am OK with my decision so far.

    1. Holly

      Donna,
      Thanks for your comment. Family + money = Complicated! Good for you for growing your awareness of the sources of your money messages, and doing what you need to do to stay sane and healthy.
      Yours,
      Holly

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