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Africa at 18: Do I say 'I do'?

(a money story)

By Natalie Wagner, CFRC, Finologist - April 26, 2018

One of the best decisions of my life was to spend the first three months of a gap year living in Kenya (yes, the picture is me). Today, I want to share with you a story that I learned from my experience in Kenya — one of my personal money stories.
You might guess that Kenya’s financial world is very different from America’s.  Personally, my experience there was drastically different from the upper-middle-class, suburban environment where I spent the latter half of my childhood. Of course, I knew it would be different going in. But I didn’t know what it would be like or what it would mean to me.
One of my first glimpses of this beautiful country came when my host Mama welcomed me into her arms and family before even asking my name. “Karibu (welcome), my daughter. Karibu!” I fell in love with how children are communally cared for, and how I could trust any mama in any marketplace to protect me if I needed it.
But when it came to money, I experienced a harsh contrast to this strong and caring culture. From the Kenyan perspective, my American nationality indicated extreme wealth. And comparatively, I was immensely wealthy.  I began to feel like a walking dollar sign, and the objectification created a money story that has since shaped my life.
I was proposed marriage roughly 30 times in those three months. And sure, I’m a catch (wink wink). But none of those proposals came from love. I was asked to marry for status and money. When I walked through a marketplace, vendors from every direction vied for my attention. Personal relationships—even great ones—inevitably included an ask for money. It hurt.
I was there with my whole heart, and generally, I was met in kind. I am deeply grateful for my experiences, and in fact, came to love Kenya so emphatically that I went back later in college. But there were times when my honest intentions felt invisible, and I resented being minimized to merely an economic opportunity.
This experience in Kenya created a money story.  A money story is a belief we have about money that is created from our interpretations of the messages we receive, rather than clear understandings based in fact. Unfortunately, because discussing money in personal and detailed ways remains taboo in US culture, our understandings of money messages are particularly vulnerable to misinterpretations—especially when we are young and impressionable.
While in Kenya I came to subconsciously believe that anyone trying to sell me something was trying to take advantage of me. Certainly, some salespeople are doing just that. But others aim to serve, and my money story skewed my perspective. I could no longer appreciate or distinguish genuine efforts make my life better.
It’s important to note that my money story is my own interpretation of a cultural experience, and could have happened anywhere. Or, I could just as easily have internalized a different narrative. There is no one to blame for the subconscious stories we tell ourselves. The key is to bring awareness to our stories, and to the impact they have on our lives.
For me, this story had a tremendous impact. Upon returning to the States, I began to avoid buying things. I neglected to replace tired clothes and would do chores at home while my husband did the grocery shopping.  When it came to bigger purchases, from cars to couches, I leaned against my husband to discern if it was a good or bad buy. My money story made me feel that I was incapable of knowing if I was being taken advantage of, so I just didn’t buy anything.
It was years before I realized my discomfort with people trying to sell me, and recognized the subconscious story it came from. I wonder what opportunities I missed as a consumer, or as an entrepreneur selling my own business? I can see clearly how my generalization of salespeople has deterred me from effectively selling the work I love — work I genuinely believe helps make people’s lives better.
And so I ask: What money stories are holding you back?  There is no limit to the stories you might have, but some common ones include:
  • Rich people are greedy.
  • Poor people are lazy.
  • Money equals happiness.
  • If it makes you happy, you should do it for free.
  • Money is intrinsically evil.
  • More money means you’re a better person.
  • Money and spirituality never touch. 
Money stories create constraints in your perspective that in turn shape your relationship with money.  There is also no limit to how these stories might play out in your life.
So what do you do with a money story that’s holding you back? Here are a few steps to take:
  • Gain awareness. This can be done by writing out your Money Story* or doing a Money Autobiography.
  • Look at where you are now, and at where you’ve been coming from to understand how you got here. Then, consider where you want to go.
  • Is the trajectory you’re on taking you in the direction you want to go? If so, great! If not, what turn do you need to take to be on a path towards the life you want to live? If you need to take a turn, get support to empower your success.
Unconscious money stories may be holding you back, but getting out from underneath them will liberate you to interact with the world in ways that are genuinely fulfilling.
It takes awareness and intention. If you’re ready to address your money stories and move forward, call me. I’ll help you construct a strong, movin’ and groovin’ daily money life that is designed by your intentions. It’s worth it to have a life for which you’d gladly say, “I do!”