“So what?” you say. What’s so important about an old bottle of French wine when you’re worried about making mortgage payments and you’re being suffocated by accumulated credit card debt?
Well, it’s about financial freedom … and the choices we make.
The more I talk to women who are struggling with their finances, the more I realize that many are fighting a false battle. The real enemy is hidden beyond what I call the emotional and physical aspects of money. “Emotional” includes the money gremlins in their heads that keep them anchored in unhealthy money behaviors. “Physical” is their inability or unwillingness to look their money in the eye … otherwise known as getting honest with their money.
Once those two aspects are addressed and tamed, the logical third one is the spiritual aspect: the vision or purpose in their lives that drives them to put out the needed energy and to focus on their goals. It’s the same vision that motivates them to stick to the changes they’ve made in their behaviors. In short, it’s how they define financial freedom, among other things.
But here’s the flaw: as they’re fantasizing about where they eventually want to be and what they want their life to look like, far too few look deep enough inside—away from the opinions and expectations of others—to identify what’s truly important to them.
Very rarely is a dollar figure a strong enough motivator in the long term. (Especially because the figure keeps growing.) The same holds true for big toys. The most effective motivator is a soul-deep feeling that comes from relishing in a lifestyle that reflects all your standards of integrity and your values. What that lifestyle looks like on the outside is irrelevant; it’s how it feels on the inside. And it’s uniquely yours.
I can’t speak for others because my gauge is different from everyone else’s. But I can tell you that once I got beneath all the layers of Madison Avenue manipulation and well-intentioned peer pressure—and figured out what I really wanted—wild horses couldn’t keep me from achieving it.
Most of you know my story: at age 53, at the epitome of my apparent success, the economic impact of the 9/11 disaster yanked the support out from under my deck-of-cards business. Down it fell, taking my house, my business, and my entire outer persona with it.
But in that space of total loss, the minute I understood what was really crucial to me in my gut, there was nothing I wouldn’t do to get it. I pared back living expenses to where no one thought I’d ever go. I restructured my life. I lost the friends who were more interested in my street address than in my values.
No, the turnaround wasn’t immediate. But it was laser focused. Slowly, but steadily. One foot in front of the other. And, as finances turned around, most of the things I had given up never came back into my life.
What did I want? I wanted to know that I’d be okay financially for the rest of my life (however I defined ‘okay’). I wanted to be able to spend time with special people, even if I’d have to wedge them in between long hours of work for some time to come. I wanted to continue working at what I loved, but more intelligently. I wanted to travel at will to all the nooks and crannies of the world where I feel comfortable, to stay connected to a vital energy I find out there.
I did not want to fill my life with things: not with new cars and big houses, flat-screened technological wonders and designer anythings that would be copied in China two weeks later.
But, instead, I wanted to fill it with experiences that made me feel richer. More connected. A concert—from blues to Bach—that fits my mood that day. A long conversation with someone who challenges me intellectually, even if I never met her before or will ever see her again. A chance to share all I’ve learned. The serendipitous joy of who I meet on my travels. An exquisite meal in the least likely place. A precious piece of Mother Nature. Quiet time with loved ones and close friends. Belly laughs as I poke fun at myself in my stories. And, yes, even the explosion of taste in my mouth from an outrageous bottle of wine … when I feel like it.
Last week I opened a 1987 Pouilly-Fuissé to share with friends over a simple meal of steamed bass and vegetables. No special occasion. It was enough just to hear one of them utter, again and again, “somptueux,” the most sumptuous white wine he had ever tasted. It was all about sharing the moment.
So back to my 1952 bottle. When will I drink it? Will I save it to drink in celebration of some massive achievement one day? Probably not, because the achievement itself—whatever it is—is celebration enough.
Instead, one of these days I’ll wonder what wine to open for dinner. I’ll look at the people around me and if they seem particularly aligned with my standards of integrity and values … we’ll open it and savor it.
Would you like me to call you?
Sharon O’Day is an expert in global finance and marketing with an MBA from the Wharton School. She has worked with governments, corporations, and individuals … yes, she was the secret ‘weapon,’ if you will, behind many individuals in high places. At age 53, she lost everything: her home, her business, everything. Since then, Sharon has interviewed women and done extensive research to understand how that could have happened, especially with her strong knowledge of numbers and finance.
The surprising answers will be shared in her upcoming book “Money After Menopause.” Today her focus is to show women how to reach financial security for the long term. She has developed a step-by-step plan to get past all the obstacles that keep women broke and scared … and from reaching the financial peace of mind they so deserve.